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When is gambling a problem?

Did you know that Australians spend more than $23 billion each year[1] on gambling? Whether it’s on the pokies, the races, lotto and scratchies, sports betting, the casino, or online, Aussies spend more money per person on gambling than in any other country.

When gambling turns into problem gambling, it often occurs in areas where people are most disadvantaged. In the city of Brimbank, for example, a staggering $134,000,000+ is spent just on poker machines every year[2] — that works out to more than $367,000 spent on pokies every single day. People in Brimbank spend more on pokies than in any other area in Victoria, yet it also ranks third in terms of socio-economic disadvantage.


Why do people gamble?

Most people have gambled at some point in life. They might buy a scratchie, play the pokies, or place a bet on a horse. However, for many people, gambling can be a normal part of life.

People who gamble often or more than they should do it for many reasons.

  • It makes them forget about their worries and stresses.
  • It alleviates loneliness or boredom.
  • It makes them feel better about themselves.
  • It’s a rush or thrill.
  • It’s a social or fun activity.
  • If they’re already hooked in gambling, it feeds their addiction.
  • They believe they can win money or get ahead financially.


When does gambling become a problem gambling?

Problem gambling is when the gambling is no longer something done for fun and instead causes problems.

If you hide or lie about gambling, spend money you shouldn’t, or you have arguments with your family about it, then you could have a problem with gambling.

It’s common for people to deny, hide or lie about their gambling — and sometimes they’ll lie to themselves about it. They might even tell themselves that a partner is to blame for ‘pushing’ them into gambling.

Problem gambling is a trap because people caught up in it might start to ‘chase their losses’. They believe they can win back the money if they gamble just that little more.

Many gamblers are also hooked on how it makes them feel. Gambling can become an addiction that takes them to another place.

When gambling becomes problem gambling it causes many problems.

  • Losing money and falling into debt. It gets worse if you gamble money meant for bills, rent, groceries, etc.
  • Relationship problems. You might have arguments with family or friends. If you lie about how much you lost, people could feel they no longer trust you.
  • Family violence. Arguments and disagreements can get out of control.
  • Problems at work. Some people can’t stop thinking about gambling and they might get distracted or lose motivation. Others might even gamble during work hours, on their smartphone, or spend their lunch break at the pokies.


What are the signs of problem gambling?

Gambling is a recognised form of addiction that can affect anyone, rich or poor.

People with a gambling problem often show common warning signs.

  • Spending more time gambling than doing other duties like parenting or working.
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty about gambling.
  • Thinking about gambling all the time.
  • Gambling more when they’re feeling stressed or anxious.
  • ‘Chasing losses’ by attempting to win back the money.
  • Getting angry or irritable when they can’t gamble.
  • Spending grocery, bills or holiday money on gambling.
  • Trying many times to stop gambling but being unable to stop.
  • Resorting to drugs or alcohol to cope with how they feel about gambling.
  • Blaming someone else for being responsible for their own gambling.


Why won’t people get help for their gambling?

There are many reasons why people won’t stop gambling or won’t get help. If you reach out and talk to someone about their gambling, consider that some people may not understand (or don’t want to realise) that they have a problem. Others may feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Here are some common reasons why problem gamblers don’t seek help.

  • Some people feel shame or embarrassment about their gambling. Others feel they cannot admit to having a gambling problem.
  • Gambling addiction can affect the brain in a way similar to drug or alcohol addiction. Going cold turkey is not easy.
  • They feel there is stigma or that they will be harshly judged about gambling.
  • Many problem gamblers believe that constant gambling or always being broke is normal. This might be because they grew up in a household where there was regular gambling. For non-gamblers, this is usually not a normal way of life.

Need to talk to someone about gambling? If you are concerned, you can talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


[1] Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Latest edition of the Australian Gambling Statistics, accessed 25 May, 2018, <>

[2] Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Pokies across Victoria, accessed 24 August, 2018, <>


The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.