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Helping problem gamblers kick the habit


Zoe Satherley
3 December 2009
A Southern Cross University team of researchers is seeking to identify the reasons why up to 90 percent of problem gamblers don’t seek out professional help for their addiction.

With about 400,000 moderate to severe problem gamblers in Australia, Dr John Haw, a research fellow with the University’s Centre for Gambling Education and Research, in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said this research would help demystify the complex reasons why problem gamblers typically don’t get help until they have reached ‘rock bottom’ and hopefully point the way to strategies that may encourage them to seek help earlier.

For this study Dr Haw and Professor Nerilee Hing will be interviewing problem gamblers at three stages of their addiction – those who gamble regularly and are contemplating help; those who have just made the first call for help by dialling the National Gambling Helpline; and those who are actively undergoing counselling for gambling. They are also interviewing recovered problem gamblers.

Problem gamblers are ‘those who have difficulty in limiting the time and/or money spent gambling, leading to adverse consequences for themselves and/or the community’, Dr Haw said, and they comprise over two percent of the population.

“In general these people don’t seek counselling or any other kind of formal help until they are absolutely broke, have amassed a large debt and perhaps can’t even afford to pay for food or their accommodation,” Dr Haw said.

“When they feel they just can’t sink any lower, they may try and get help. Often they don’t seek help earlier because they may be in denial that they have a problem, or they may feel shame or guilt. They might have stolen or misappropriated money to gamble, having had a belief that they could gamble themselves out of debt or solve the problem themselves.

“But when all that fails, they may ultimately pick up the phone and call a counselling service for help. I hope this research can lead to some ways in which we can catch people earlier and let people know there’s free help available to them, even before they start experiencing harm from their gambling.”

Dr Haw is seeking to interview many hundreds of problem gamblers for his study – especially those with an Indigenous background or those from culturally and linguistically diverse groups. If you would like to participate in the research, please contact him on [email protected].

The two-year research project has been funded by a $287,000 grant from Gambling Research Australia.

The National Gambling Helpline is on 1800 858 858 and the National Online Gambling Help website offering free, live counselling is at

Photo: Dr John Haw is seeking problem gamblers for his research project.