Social gambling or gambling in a social context among friends and family has been part of the way Greeks socialize among themselves for aeons. At its best it is a way of keeping company through games of tavli or card games where money will change hands.

And that gambling aspect has been part the Greek condition going back to ancient times. An ancient vase shows Ajax and Achilles so deeply involved in their board game that they have ignored a Trojan attack on their camp. And their complete disregard of what is happening around them is probably one of the earliest examples of the effects of problem gambling – a dislocation from the world around the gambler.

According to a 2018 Pronia presentation entitled Gambling-“Secret No More”, the problem gambler in the Greek community could be a family member, friend, relative or a professional support person such as a doctor or social worker.

“When the gambler hurts, the family and community hurts.”

Dr Anastasia Hronis, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Australian Institute of Human Wellness told Neos Kosmos that gambling had long been a part of Greek tradition and for many in the community it was not a problem but it was a big problem for some in the community.

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“One key sign of a gambling problem is that it is starting to affect a person’s day-to-day life. For example, it may lead to relationship conflict and tension. A person’s thoughts may frequently be on gambling, which can make work and other leisure pursuits much more difficult,” said Dr Hronis whose work is focused on addictions, including gambling, and the link between addictions and mental health.

“A person’s gambling may be developing into a problem if they find themselves needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired feeling of excitement.

She said the key to breaking the cycle was for the gambling addict to recognise the problem and the impact the addiction is having on the lives of the people around them.

“They need to be committed (to breaking the hold of the addiction) before they can really engage in therapy and help,” said Dr Hronis.

She said that problem gambling was a significant issue with the potential to become much worse. The gambling industry was encouraging the trend towards greater gambling through advertising as well as the rise of online gambling which was attracting younger gamblers.

Dr Anastasia Hronis, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Australian Institute of Human Wellness. Photo: Supplied

“Online gaming is accessible 24/7 so that it can take place while the gambler is at work or with the family. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a definite increase in online gambling and more people went into stock markets,” said Dr Hronis.

Sean Kearney, a Community Educator for Gamblers Help East, said that the lockdown had led to more young men going on to online gambling sites and online sports betting. The lockdowns had led to the closing of traditional gambling venues with pokies favoured by the older generation. The closures, he said had given a relief on savings and had provided the opportunity for people to reflect on their gambling behaviour.

He said that young Greek problem gamblers were less likely to seek help there were counselling services available not only of the gamblers but also for family and friends who were affected.

The Pronia presentation said that Greek males would be more likely to seek help if they were faced with big financial losses or there was a danger that their problem would be revealed to the family or the community or there was the threat of separation from the family.

The number of young Greeks seeking help tended to be very low but once they took part in the process, they were more likely to tell their friends.

Older Greek males were more likely to gamble on horses and Electronic Gaming Machines EGMs. They are very private ashamed and embarrassed about being “caught out.”

Greek female gamblers tended to be older and to prefer EGMs with very few playing any table games or taking part in any form of sports betting.

Dr Hronis said the gambling industry needed to do much more to counter problem gambling and to encourage and explain responsible gambling.

“The responsible gambling message needs to be explained more clearly and betting ads should not be shown to kids. Similar reforms that have already been applied to tobacco and alcohol advertising should also be applied to gambling,” she said.

♦ If you think you may be at risk of gambling problems, or you are currently experiencing gambling problems, it is important to seek professional help. A good starting point is the Gambling Help Online website.