Reaching out for gambling help is a safe bet

July 18, 2022

You can’t really win at gambling. The more you play, the more you lose, and over time the ‘house’ always comes out on top. While plenty of people can safely enjoy gambling, others are more vulnerable, and the outcome can be devastating.

It’s something that UnitingCare Gambling Help Service Counsellor Wil McAllister understands better than most. She sees firsthand the harm that gambling can cause for people and their families and with Gambling Harm Awareness Week being held from 18-24 July, she’s keen to spread the word that help is available.

‘The damage that can be caused by gambling goes far beyond financial troubles,’ she said. ‘When gambling has become problematic, a person can spend hours and hours on it, neglecting other parts of their life.’

Then there is the stress of the situation and the lies and the secrecy that surround it. It all takes a toll, affecting people’s work, family and relationships. The Australian Gambling Research Centre estimates that Australians lost around $25 billion on legal forms of gambling in 2018, with the social costs of gambling estimated at around $7 billion in Victoria alone.

Wil and the Gambling Help Service team are there to help.

Working across Far North Queensland and the Wide Bay Burnett region, they support people every day to start taking control of their gambling and turn things around.

In the short term, this can involve developing strategies to protect their finances. However, the real work is in understanding and addressing why they gamble. That’s because harmful gambling is a symptom, not the core of the problem.

‘When someone is gambling in a way that causes harm, there’s usually an underlying cause,’ explained Wil.

‘Perhaps they are lonely, or experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. They are trying to make themselves feel better and, thanks to the dopamine hit their brain gets, gambling achieves that in the short term.’

‘Unfortunately, due to the way certain brain chemicals operate, what some people use to soothe ends up becoming an addiction.’

Recovery is rarely a straight path.

‘On some days, perhaps after a big night on the pokies, a person might feel very motivated to change, and get in touch for some support,’ said Wil. ‘Other times they might convince themselves that they can manage their gambling and don’t need to quit. Then a bad day might change their mind again. We can walk with them for that whole journey.’

As well as individual counselling, the teams also run group therapy sessions.

‘In Cairns we hold group therapy at three rehabilitation centres and in the Lotus Glen prison,’ said Wil. ‘It’s a good way for us to reach more people’. The counsellors also have strong relationships with the venues in their local area.

‘On occasion we will wander around the venues and chat to people,’ said Wil. ‘We have clients who have taken our card and called us the very next day.’ The teams service a wide area, stretching out from their bases in Cairns, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Hervey Bay to reach more remote areas. Phone and video counselling options allow the counsellors to connect with people they can’t physically get to, but an important strategy is also upskilling local community service workers in those places.

‘They are the experts in their communities,’ said Wil. ‘and our one-day workshop “Reclaim Control” is designed to help them feel more able and more confident in approaching harmful gambling.’

‘If your gambling is causing problems in your life, it’s not a sign of weakness,’ says Wil. ‘Help is available and change is possible if you reach out and take that first step.’

If you or someone you know is being harmed by gambling, you can contact one of the team in Cairns on 07 4050 4988 or Wide Bay Burnett on 07 4191 3100 or outside of office hours the 24 hour Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.