Problem gamblers' hidden shame: 'all of a sudden they're living on the streets'

SALVATION Army major Greg Saunders says Orange’s problem gamblers are so ashamed of their habit, many wait until  it’s too late before admitting their secret.
SALVATION Army major Greg Saunders says Orange’s problem gamblers are so ashamed of their habit, many wait until it’s too late before admitting their secret.

SALVATION Army major Greg Saunders says Orange’s problem gamblers are so ashamed of their habit, many wait until  it’s too late before admitting their secret.

“It’s hidden, a bit like any other sort of addiction, and sometimes people don’t speak about the problem for years, until it’s too late,” he said.

“By the time they admit they have a problem some gamblers have already got themselves into a whole heap of debt, and there’s a lot of shame that’s involved as well.”

Major Saunders’ comments came after figures released by the government this week showed most gamblers wait five to 10 years before they admit they have a problem, by which time they may have lost everything.

Major Saunders said problem gambling was an issue for some of the charity’s Orange clients, who sometimes asked for money to buy food after losing money gambling.

“A lot of people don’t see it as a addiction,” he said.

“The nature of gambling is such that you get hooked and think you’re going to win.

“It can hit anyone, you can be well-to-do and lose it all, it crosses all social boundaries.”

Major Saunders said poker machines were usually favoured by middle to lower socio-economic groups, by both men and women.

“It’s the allure of what could happen,” he said.

“You meet people who may have been playing the pokies for 20 years and they haven’t had a problem and then all of a sudden they’ve got nothing left and they’re living on the streets of Sydney.”

Major Saunders said people often started drinking to deal with their financial problems and became depressed, and this  could lead to breakdowns in relationships and family structures.

He says the Salvation Army offers problem gamblers help by sending them to treatment centres and counselling, however, as problem gambling continues to increase throughout Australia, Major Saunders thinks it’s an issue the entire community should be addressing.

“There’s too much of it happening, and when you look at it, someone’s losing money so someone else can gain it,” he said.

“There must be a solution.”

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THIS week the state government launched a new advertising campaign, You’re Stronger Than You Think, designed to encourage problem gamblers to seek help to kick their habit.

Minister for gaming Troy Grant said often problem gamblers can feel helpless when the damage starts to mount up in their lives.

“The $1.5 million campaign takes a positive, motivational approach, reminding people that they have recovered from setbacks in the past and can do so again,” Mr Grant said.

“This campaign will promote courage, strength and respect to motivate people to seek help from the NSW Government’s range of free Gambling Help services as early as possible and overcome entrenched fears and stigma.”

“We want this campaign to result in more problem gamblers and their families proactively taking up free and confidential services.”

tracey.prisk@fairfaxmedia.com.au