Australians spend more per person on gambling than any other country in the world, and more on gambling – $21 billion – compared to any other dangerous activity, including alcohol, tobacco, and all illegal drugs.
Meanwhile, the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) highlights that culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities are at greater risk of experiencing gambling harm than their English-speaking counterparts, particularly those who are elderly, international students and new migrants.
In a bid to tackle this issue head on in the Greek community, Pronia received funding as part of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF)’s program ‘Gambling – Secret No More’, to do their part in informing people about the nature of gambling, the risks involved, how harm can be minimised, and where to reach out for help.
In doing so, the head of the program at Pronia and ECCV ‘Break It’ advisory board member, Zacharena Vasiliadis, and her team decided to first target the elderly.
They hosted two seminars at senior citizens clubs in the City of Whittlesea and the City of Monash, both of which have the biggest issue with gambling harm among the local populations.
“Elderly people, and especially elderly people from CALD backgrounds, they’re the most vulnerable with these types of things,” Vasiliadis told Neos Kosmos.
“Ethnic communities tend to live further out, they tend to live more isolated [lives], and the ageing population now, they go to the pokies with their senior citizen clubs, some of them even have them in their own clubs, which is really terrible.”
What also raises the risk factors of gambling harm among older people is that they often have a lack of experience and knowledge about gambling products.
GAMBLING IS NOT A CHOICE, IT’S AN ADDICTION
In a bid to raise as much awareness as possible without it being too personalised, Pronia opted for a panel discussion in an open space with bilingual speakers, including a financial counsellor, psychologist, and also a volunteer with a lived experience as a former gambler, who bravely shared her story.
“Not many people come forward when they have a gambling problem; they kind of stick to themselves and do it privately. We really wanted to incorporate a psychologist and a counsellor in the panel just to highlight that gambling links back to an addiction; it’s not a choice; it’s not that people can just choose to stop or choose to go; it’s that they’re addicted to it. It’s a bit of a public health issue,” Vasiliadis explains, likening it to smoking or being an alcoholic.
She emphasises that like any addiction, there is often more than meets the eye.
“There’s always an underlying issue as to why someone’s gambling, always. For example people might be lonely; a lot of people go to these venues just to kill time,” she says.
FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES AND TIPS
There is also a practical side to gambling, with real-life financial consequences, some people going on to lose their home, after having “literally gambled it all away”.
Aside from informing the elderly about the risks of gambling themselves, attention was also drawn to the possibility of being taken advantage of by family members, or friends, who may have a problem.
“Let’s say someone has a child who is a gambler; if their parents are elderly and non-English speaking, they might come to them and say ‘oh mum, I need some money to pay for my house’, and then they go and take a loan out from the bank under their parent’s name, and a lot of the time the parents don’t actually know what they’re signing up to, it could be anything and they don’t know.”
By giving them the funds, Vasiliadis explains that it is also enabling that addiction as well.
They offered practical tips to protect oneself, with options including putting a caveat on a house, especially if part of a couple, always having an interpreter present at any legal or bank appointments, and also to inform any institutions that deal with finances, such as banks and utility companies, about experiencing gambling harm.
“They do have strategies in place to help people, it’s just that no-one really utilises them that much because no-one opens up that they have a gambling problem,” she says.
REMOVING THE STIGMA AND SEEKING HELP
What makes gambling such a challenging issue to navigate and tackle is that unlike other addictions, it doesn’t quite have the same, obvious ‘symptoms’, and as a result can go undetected for extensive periods of time.
Hearing from someone with a lived experience appeared to be the most effective part of the seminar.
“Her story really took them aback because she had stolen from people throughout her journey as a gambler, and I think it really opened their eyes that anyone can be a gambler. When someone is drunk or under the influence of drugs, you can pick someone who has that type of problem. But with a gambler, you could be on the train and there could be five people in front of you that have a gambling problem, and you would never recognise what a gambler looks like; you can never tell,” Vasiliadis says.
Meanwhile, seeking help is often particularly complicated for CALD communities, often requiring a culturally sensitive and responsive approach, given that there can be a stigma and shame attached to the idea of having a problem with gambling, and so it creates an even bigger barrier.
For Pronia, it was particularly important to inform attendees about counselling services, which is another taboo within the community, and a significant inhibitor of getting help.
“People in the Greek community don’t really talk about going to counselling; they don’t open up about it because it’s seen as a bit of a weakness. There’s definitely a stigma attached to it. We wanted the counsellor to highlight that they don’t just talk about your issues, but what’s going on in your life across all areas; from work, family, to social lives, to capture a whole picture of what’s going on with someone.”
HOPE AND PUSH FOR CHANGE
But for people like Vasiliadis, there are also frustrations that arise when trying to assist with minimising harm from gambling, highlighting that there are people in higher places who unfortunately benefit from the problem.
“The government profits from this too, so you can only try so much with policy because they’re not going to want to cut back such a window of high income,” she explains.
“The people that can really make a difference are the policymakers, and they can just get rid of all of those gaming venues – just get rid of them. You’d still have internet gambling, but the majority of the problem would be gone.”
But that’s not to say the situation is without hope. With more programs and initiatives being rolled out to raise awareness around gambling, she’s continuing the good fight.
As part of its program, Pronia also has a host of alternative recreational activities in the pipeline for the elderly and socially isolated, such as book clubs, dog walking, cinema club, and Greek dancing.
“I think the best thing we can do is equip people with this knowledge so they can seek help, and if they have a problem, to not think it’s the last resort, and so people don’t feel alone. There’s other things you can do and there are people to help.”
To find out what else Pronia has planned to tackle gambling in the Greek community, call Pronia on (03) 9388 9998 or email firstname.lastname@example.org