Anti-gambling advocate: gambling harm awareness week ‘a non-event’

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
Anti-gambling advocate: gambling harm awareness week ‘a non-event’

Last week’s Gambling Harm Awareness Week has been labelled a ‘non-event’ by Kate Seselja, mentor and founder of Canberra social enterprise, The Hope Project.

“Gambling Harm Awareness Week has been a non-event, just like it is every year,” Ms Seselja said.

“It seems it [the awareness week] was just a PR exercise, whilst the industry has seen an increase in our nation’s losses to a new high of $27 billion per annum. When you consider we are a tiny nation of only 27 million-odd people, we are in real trouble.

“No one in power in this state or country has any desire to stem the flow of what governments for decades have seen as ‘free money’.

“There is nothing free about this money. It is at the cost of our community wellbeing, wealth, health and even lives.”

The Riot Act reports that her comments come as the 2019 ACT Gambling Survey, released last week, which found about 44,000 people in the ACT, or 14% of the population, were impacted by either their own or someone else’s gambling during the past 12 months.

The Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance (CGRA) also expressed concerns that the ACT Gambling Survey showed that no headway has been made in reduction of gambling harm.

Rebecca Vassarotti, co-chair of CGRA, said the survey provides more evidence that the current regulatory regime is not protecting Canberrans from the harm of gambling and this needs to be strengthened.

“These results reveal that not much has changed in relation to the gambling patterns of Canberrans,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“Pokies continue to cause the most significant harm in the community. While there are small reductions in the money lost on most forms of gambling, this is offset by an increase in online gambling.

“We do not need to wait for any more research proving what we already know, that poker machines are causing a great deal of misery to Canberrans. What we need is action from the government to make pokies less harmful.”

Survey conducted every five years

The survey is conducted every five years which is undertaken by researchers from the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods, which funded by the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission.

The survey involves 10,000 participants, which found 60% of ACT adults participated in some form of gambling activity over the past 12 months.

Centre director and lead author Dr Marisa Paterson says the report indicates the complexity relating to gambling activity and how the impacts of gambling went far beyond financial losses.

“These results are not something we should walk away from and say ‘we’re ok here’”, Dr Paterson said.

“We need to seriously consider gambling and its role in our community.”

In addition, the survey shows the level of harm for young men, in particular, being a major concern.

“Men in the ACT are classified as at-risk or problem gamblers at twice the rate of women,” Dr Paterson said.

Kate Seselja spoke to Region Media and mentoned that her addiction to poker machines cost her about $500,000 and 15 years of her life. She speaks openly about her addiction where she has spent the last seven years working to remove the stigma associated with addictions.

She now offers workshops through the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) which are to help people explore constructive pathways out of adversity without having to reach a crisis point or ‘rock bottom’.

“My speaking engagements and coaching provide me with the opportunity to educate people and to address the full gamut of struggles that people face. This helps people access help and new perspectives so that they can pivot from a place of shame,” Ms Seselja said.

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