What does harmful gambling look like?

Problem gambling does not discriminate and can be found in all age groups, income groups, jobs, and cultural backgrounds. Some may have developed gambling problems suddenly, while others may have struggled for many years. Problem gambling is not only about losing money, but is also harmful because of its potential devastating impact on the emotional, financial, and physical wellbeing of individuals who gamble, as well as their families.

While there may be no visible signs or physical changes to indicate a gambling problem, harmful gambling generally means that you have started to spend more money than you can afford, you might ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling, borrow money or use household money to gamble, “chase your losses” to try to win back your money, feel depressed or angry after gambling, or when you see gambling as the only solution to your problems.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand. Getting help for problem gambling takes guts – You’re Stronger Than You Think.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Gambling and Emotions

Gambling and emotions

Almost all of my clients have experienced the lowest of emotional lows because of gambling. This typically happens at the end of a session when they have lost everything. Despair about the present and the future, self-blame, self-judgment and suicidal thoughts are all very common in those moments.

These negative emotions are absolutely awful to experience. But what if I told you we can make use of them? What if we can use negative emotions to make a positive change.

Emotions exist for a reason. They tell us what is important, what to take notice of and what to remember. Think of your most important memories, how many of them are emotional? You are probably feeling emotional right now just recalling something important that’s happened in your life. Emotions help us sort out the most important experiences in life from among the hundreds of mundane experiences we go through everyday. This is true for both positive and negative emotions. So what are all those negative emotions you experience at the end of a session telling you about the role of gambling in your life?

When you hit rock bottom, use that emotion! Use it as motivation to spur yourself into stopping gambling. Use it as motivation to make positive changes such as reaching out to your family, talking to a professional or taking on a new hobby to replace gambling. When the urge to gamble comes up, use the memories of hitting rock bottom as the reason to say no.

Emotions, whether positive or negative, are a powerful force. They are also an essential part of being human, which means everyone can make use of the techniques discussed here. Give it a go, use your emotions in smart and creative ways to take your life in the direction you want. You’re Stronger Than You Think.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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My loved one has a problem with gambling – What can I do to help?

Impact on loved ones

Problem gambling does not just affect those who gamble, but also those who are closest to the individual. As a partner, a family member, or close friend, you may have found yourself experiencing feelings of guilt, resentment, helplessness, and confusion. You may have even found yourself asking whether you are responsible for your loved one’s difficulties with gambling. It is important to know that these are normal and valid feelings and concerns to have. These reactions stem from the care and love you have for the one who is gambling.

Other common questions that family members often ask include; “Will the gambling ever stop”, “What can I do to help them stop?”, “Should I give them money?”, “Can I trust them again?” There is no definitive way to answering these questions, as each family’s circumstances are different. However, you need to know that you are not alone and that this happens to other families as well. Support and treatment is available to individuals struggling with problem gambling, but it is also available to family members and friends, as a means of getting you and your family through the negative consequences of gambling and into recovery.

If someone you care about is struggling with gambling and you have experienced these concerns or asked yourself these questions, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, for individual and confidential advice, completely free of charge.

To download or order the range of free resources, including Self Help Guide for Families, or to join the new Gambling Help support forum which has a dedicated section for family and friends, visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au

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Let’s talk about…

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about. It is can be hard to hear that another human being is feeling so much anguish they are seriously considering ending their life and it is certainly difficult to talk about one’s own suicidality – past and present. However, there are reasons this topic should not be swept under the carpet.

In my work I often come across people who are at the end of their tethers. When people come to me they are often in a very desperate situation – financially, emotionally, socially and professionally. Many people in these situations contemplate suicide. I think it’s important to talk about this topic because for every person who seeks help there are many more who suffer in silence. Suicide is often considered taboo in our society and not spoken about, but the consequences of dealing with it alone can be devastating.

When you are facing crushing gambling debts, the loss of family, friends and your job, all can seem hopeless. In this situation emotions usually run high. Feelings such as guilt and shame can be overwhelming.

In times of these, it is important to take a moment, centre yourself and think rationally about your future and your options. Is there truly no hope, no reason for living? Aren’t there things you still want to do in life, people you want to live for? Isn’t there a chance, even a small one, you can turn things around? There are support services available to help you make that change.

When we anchor ourselves from the emotional storm and think rationally, other options emerge, and it makes sense to pursue these other options and seek help.

If you are currently in situation where you find yourself struggling, my advice is to please talk to someone about it. That can be a trusted friend or family member, or a trained counsellor (e.g. Lifeline 13 11 14 – a 24hr service). Talking it through often helps to put things in perspective.

While it is understandable that people with a gambling problem will feel despair following large losses, help is always available. A loss of money, no matter how large, is never worth the loss of a life. Problem gambling is a treatable condition, with many forms of therapy available. Individuals feeling despair from their gambling should investigate to find a therapy that suits them with a person they connect with.

You are not alone – help is available 24/7:

Gambling Help – 1800 858 858

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

If you, or someone you are with, is in immediate danger call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.

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Don’t beat yourself up

dont beat yourself up

Do you beat yourself up about your gambling?

Maybe you think that you deserve to feel bad after a session, as a punishment for going. It kind of makes sense. When kids do something wrong, we punish them, so that they’re less likely to do it in future. Why would it be any different for us and our gambling? So if we go to gamble, punishing ourselves by beating ourselves up about it should make us go less likely to go in future, right? Wrong.

In spite of this, you might think that you deserve to be punished for your continued gambling anyway. You know you can’t win, yet you keep going. This could only mean that you’re dumb or weak for going. Right? Wrong again.

The fact is that gambling problems affect a whole range of people, and having a gambling problem is absolutely no reflection on your level of intelligence or your will power. Gambling problems affect people from all walks of life from bankers to doctors to labourers. Highly intelligent and highly disciplined people can all succumb to gambling problems.

Beating yourself up about gambling is NOT an effective strategy for helping you stop. What’s more, will power alone,  is rarely enough to help people stop. What helps the vast majority of people stop or reduce, is to have a guide, who can help them uncover the reasons why they gamble in the first place. The answers might surprise you.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Why should I understand the poker machines?

An understanding of the ways in which the poker machines operate is an important part in treatment of problem gambling.

We may assume we understand how these machines work because we play them often or because ‘people have told us how they work’. However, an accurate understanding of the poker machines must include an understanding of probability or chance as well as randomness and the random number generator, which can be complex concepts to master.

This understanding is important as playing poker machines involves financial risk. You wouldn’t buy a car without researching the make and model and the car dealership out of concern you might make a poor choice and end up losing money or in debt as a result.

Even if you feel that you already have a solid understanding of poker machines, learning more can never be detrimental and may be more influential than you might assume.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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What is Return to Player?

If you are a regular pokies player, you’ve probably heard of something called the ‘Return to Player Percentage’. It is something often talked about but not always well understood. It is important to clarify what Return to Player Percentage is, as misunderstandings can lead to problem gambling.

By law, every poker machine in Australia must return a minimum percentage to the player. This percentage varies by state and territory. In NSW the minimum RTP is 87%, though many machines are programmed to return a higher amount. 87% or higher, that’s great right? Well it is if 87% of the money put into the machine is returned to the player. Sadly this is NOT the case. Return to Player Percentage is not calculated in terms of MONEY put in, but rather CREDITS bet. There is a big difference between the two, let me show you how it works.

In a typical session, you can expect to get a number of small wins along the way. The credits from these wins are used to bet more and prolong the session. Essentially there is a recycling of credits happening. What that means is the amount of credits bet during a session is usually much greater than the amount of money inserted into the machine. The longer you play, the more credits you’ll cycle through. This has a dramatic effect on your bottom line. Let me demonstrate with an example.

Let’s say you put $100 into a machine and bet $1 a spin. You can easily play through 1000 spins in two hours (assuming 10 spins a minute and some short breaks). The amount of credits you’ve bet during that session is 1,000 x $1 = $1,000. Let’s assume this machine returned 90% of credits bet in the session, slightly higher than the minimum 87% required. Therefore it returned $900 worth of credits to you (90% x $1,000 = $900). How much MONEY did you end up with at the end of the session? Well you bet $1000 worth of credits, but the machine only returned $900, so you are down by $100 in the end. Since you put in $100 to start with, you’ll walk with nothing.

It is very important to understand how the Return to Player Percentage actually works, as it has a big influence on players’ expectations of what they can take away at the end of a session. In reality only 25-30% of money put into machines are actually cashed out. The longer you play for, the less you can expect to take out at the end of the session. This is why people who play for too long on the pokies often walk away with nothing.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Persistence

top of mountain

“If you are going through Hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

Many people with gambling problems feel like they’re literally in Hell, wrecked by feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. Some feel like their lives are worthless and there’s no way out. Many have been gambling for more than a decade. Some have gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars away. Many feel like they’ve tried EVERYTHING to stop, including treatment. It’s all enough to make you feel like giving up. Have you been through this?

If so, then know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

But there is good reason to not give up.

Gambling is among the most treatable of psychological conditions, even for gamblers who have been gambling at intense levels for long periods of time, over decades in some cases. “But I’ve tried treatment, and it didn’t work,” you might be thinking. The fact is that not all treatment approaches are the same, and different treatments may work for different people. So chances are, if you’ve tried a treatment and it hasn’t worked, it may have been the wrong treatment approach for you.

If you’re feeling cold, and you try a jumper on and it doesn’t fit, would you stand bare-backed and let yourself freeze to death? One would hope not. Might be a good idea to find a jumper that fits!

The point is, that no matter how hopeless it seems, there IS a way out. You might just need the right guide to help you find it.

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, help is available.

A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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What to do now I don’t gamble?

SUP

For many people who experience problems with gambling, it can become their main recreational activity and hobby. In addition, they may be constantly preoccupied with the idea of gambling as it consumes their thoughts throughout the day.

So. What to do when you are no longer gambling?

If you have stopped gambling or are looking at reducing your gambling, it is normal to feel a bit lost and/or uncertain about what you are meant to do with your time. Have a think about non-gambling activities that you enjoy, which might include:

  • Social activities
  • Starting a new fitness program
  • Pursuing creative outlets
  • Starting a new hobby/taking up a new sport.

It is important to make time for activities, such as:

  • Taking a walk
  • Phoning or visiting a friend
  • Reading a book
  • Watching a movie.

Taking care of yourself and engaging in new, enjoyable activities can lead to new interests and reduce your urge to gamble out of boredom or habit.

The loss of gambling as the main focus of your time and energy can feel daunting. Seeking individual counselling may assist you in identifying what is really important to you, where you would like to focus your time and energy and determining goals for the future. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Losing Big

Professional Golfer John Daly has always been a maverick in a sport known for its conservative image. He is also a bit of a gambler. In a recent media interview Daly revealed he lost a staggering $55million between 1991 and 2007.

For a long time Daly didn’t know how much he’s lost. He thought it was $20-$25million. It was only after going through his tax records he realised the true extent of his losses. At the height of his gambling career, Daly was playing $5,000 per spin slot machines and seven hands of Black Jack simultaneously at $5,000 to $15,000 per hand. He also used to go on two day gambling benders where he only paused to go to the bathroom. So perhaps it’s not so hard to imagine how he blew $55million.

Daly put his losses down to “stupidity”. However he was also quite philosophical about it: “I did it. I moved on from it. I had a lot of fun doing it.” He seemed like a man who has come to terms with gambling. Even though the amounts are extraordinary, Daly’s experiences are not that different to the average punter at the end of the day. Not knowing how much has been lost, going on benders, not being able to stop when ahead, do these sound familiar?

When quizzed on why he did what he did, Daly said “I go in to enjoy myself; I don’t go in to win. I want to win, but I don’t go in thinking that I’m going to win. Because that’s the worst thing you could do in a casino.” There you have it from someone who has gambled a lot and lost a lot. Gambling is a form of entertainment and nothing more. Expect to lose whatever money you put in and never see it again, just like when you spend money on other forms entertainment. Never go in expecting to win.

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Problem gambling and your lifestyle

The impacts of problem gambling are often thought to be purely financial; however problem gambling can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Gambling on the poker machines is often accompanied by drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Problem gamblers are four times more likely than non-gamblers to have problems with alcohol and four times more likely to smoke than non-gamblers.

Gambling may involve sitting in front of a poker machines for extended periods of time, reducing the time spent exercising or socialising with others, which is important for both physical and mental health. Problem gambling also involves high levels of stress and anxiety, with problem gamblers being 20 times more likely to experience psychological distress. Problem gamblers are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be depressed than non-gamblers and 46% of problem gamblers report problems with anxiety. Stress, anxiety and depression may increase an individual’s reliance on negative coping strategies including the use of alcohol or further gambling.

Playing the poker machines, smoking and drinking alcohol excessively are all unhealthy lifestyle choices and combining them may mean the choice to gamble not only involves a risk to your financial wellbeing but also to your health. Your decision to stop gambling will improve your financial situation and will also have a positive impact on your health and relationships. Speaking to a gambling counsellor can be the first step in breaking the negative cycle of gambling and improving your lifestyle.

A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

(Reference: Beyond Blue, The National Depression Initiative, 2010.)
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Alarm Bells

Ring the Alarm

It might not always be obvious if your gambling or that of a loved one is out of control. Remember, even people with gambling problems start off as recreational gamblers, perhaps going out for an occasional punt with friends over a few drinks on the weekend. No one starts out as a problem gambler.

What’s more, gambling problems develop so gradually, that most people don’t even notice the slippery slope that they’re on.

Do you plan your gambling sessions, rather than going spontaneously? Do you gamble regularly? Do you spend more than 5% of your weekly income on gambling? Do you gamble alone, or stay behind after everyone has left? Do you chase your losses? Perhaps you gamble to get away from negative feelings such as boredom, loneliness, or stress? These are just some of the warning signs to look out for, which could suggest you have a gambling problem, or are at risk of developing one.

It’s best to err on the side of caution, and reach out for advice if you have any doubts about your gambling, or the gambling of a loved one. You have nothing to lose by asking for advice, but have an awful lot to lose by pretending like everything is alright. Early detection of a gambling problem makes treatment or prevention much quicker and easier in most cases. And remember, treatment is effective in the vast majority of cases, even for people with rusted on gambling habits.

So if you hear the alarm bells ringing in the distance, heed their call!

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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That’s so random

shuffle

Poker machines work randomly. Every win, every loss, every spin of the reel – completely random. We know this because it’s the law. It’s in the National Standards which are vigorously enforced by governments and independent testing agencies. It even says so in the Gaming Industry’s own Player Information Booklet. So why do so many people still see patterns in the machines?

The answer lies deep within our brains.  Humans have evolved to seek out and recognise patterns in the world around us. This ability has served us well. It helps us make sense of the world and improve our lot in it. It has enabled the development of science and technology that have shaped the modern world. However the same ability can get us into trouble too. It can lead us to see patterns where none exist, such as within the random spinning reels of a poker machine.

Randomness does not sit well with us humans. When we are faced with randomness, our natural instinct is to find patterns even when none exist. When Apple first brought out the iPod with its shuffle function, many people complained it was not random because they kept hearing the same songs. Apple was accused of bias, of programming the shuffle function so that it favoured certain “pet” artists or songs downloaded from iTunes. The fact is a completely random selection of songs will often produce the same songs. This is how randomness works. Each time a song is randomly selected, it is as likely to select one that has been played previously as any other song. In the end Apple had to reprogram the shuffle function so it did not repeat the same songs. Whilst this made the shuffle function LESS random in reality, it had the reverse effect of making song selection seem MORE random.

When our brains play the same trick on us whilst playing the pokies, the result can be dangerous. We may think we can see patterns emerging, and increase our bet sizes and session times to try and win more money. So the next time you are playing the pokies and see a pattern of wins or losses emerging, remind yourself it’s a trick your brain is playing on you. There is NO pattern, ever. The reality is poker machines ALWAYS generate results randomly and there’s nothing you can do to predict the outcome of the next spin.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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What have you got to lose?

“What’s the point of getting treatment for my gambling? Why would speaking to a complete stranger about it help? What would they know that could possibly make a difference? And besides, I don’t want to anyone to know about my gambling. I’d hate to show my face at one of those clinics.”

Have you ever thought about seeking help for your gambling, but thought ‘better’ of it? It’s totally normal to have reservations about seeking help in life. And it’s healthy to have a degree of scepticism about people interfering. What are some of the things that you’ve said to yourself to talk yourself out of getting help? Maybe you’ve even talked yourself out of it without realising? Maybe you’ve denied that you have a problem? Or you’ve tried counselling before but it hasn’t worked for you?

It’s important to know that there are a number of different treatment approaches out there which have improved over the years. The fact is, we now have some VERY effective therapies aimed specifically at helping people reduce their gambling. In fact, in one treatment evaluation, 92% of gamblers reported that their gambling was still reduced two years after completing treatment, and 50% had totally stopped.

You might be thinking “yeah but I’m the 8% which is untreatable”. You’re not alone in thinking like this – but you’re probably wrong. The vast majority of clients who identify as being “untreatable” DO benefit significantly from treatment.

So if you think that you might have a problem with your gambling, it might be worth calling Gambling Help to work through the pros and cons of seeking treatment. What have you got to lose?

For those who think they may have a problem with sports gambling, poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation

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Why do I have a problem with gambling while my friends don’t?

Thoughts of a gambler

Thoughts about gambling are one of the main factors which differentiate somebody with a gambling problem from a non-gambler or a recreational gambler. “Why do I have a problem with gambling while my friends don’t?” is often a question that people with gambling problems bring to treatment. The answer to this question can be found in the thoughts you have about gambling or about a poker machine or horse race.

The defining feature of a problem gambler’s thinking is the tendency to overestimate the chances of winning. The thoughts underlying this have to do with a misunderstanding of probability (how likely something is to happen) as well as a tendency to overestimate the influence of skill (how you play the machine or how much you know about a sport) compared to the influence of chance (all the other things that are out of your control).

These ideas are complex as we often don’t question the accuracy or truthfulness of our own thoughts. This is usually adaptive, however can become problematic when our thoughts are inaccurate or biased as we continue believe our inaccurate thoughts are true and act accordingly. This is the case with problem gambling, we often think (and strongly believe) that our thoughts about gambling are accurate.

Looking objectively at the outcome or evidence for these thoughts is a useful way of testing the accuracy of our thoughts. For example having the thought ‘I understand the poker machines and I can win’ could be tested by reviewing the evidence – have you ‘won’ more than you have lost or spent on the poker machines in the long-term? Are you in debt because of this thought? Does the outcome of your last five gambling sessions provide you with evidence that supports this thought?

The focus of gambling treatment is testing the accuracy of our thoughts regarding gambling and may involve providing you with the evidence and tools to change your thinking regarding gambling and your ability to ‘win’.

Knowing how gambling works helps people develop a true belief that they cannot win. Start informing yourself and begin the journey of overcoming your gambling problem today – Gambling Help can support you along the way. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for free and confidential support.

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Inside the counselling room

Despite Hollywood portrayals, counselling is not lying on a long leather couch talking about your motherDespite Hollywood portrayals, counselling is not lying on a long leather couch talking about your mother..

Did you know that only one in ten people who experience problems with gambling are in treatment at any given time? That’s a very low percentage, especially given the many negative consequences of problem gambling. It got me thinking about what’s stopping people from seeking help.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room first – stigma. There is stigma attached to problem gambling. If someone has a gambling problem, they generally don’t want other people to find out, for fear of being judged, looked down upon, labelled etc.

Another big issue is confidentiality, which is closely related to stigma. People don’t want other people to find out they are in gambling counselling because of the stigma associated.

Another common barrier is most people don’t know much about what happens inside a counselling room. There is a natural fear of the unknown. Expectations are usually based on what’s shown on TV and in movies.

Lastly because many people don’t know much about counselling, they naturally wonder “Will it work for me?”.

There’s not much any one individual can do about social stigma. However let me assure you gambling counsellors’ primary goal is to help the client and they do so in a non-judgemental way. Counsellors also take client confidentiality very seriously. Some would say it is a sacred duty. Counsellors would not disclose client information to anyone unless the client has given approval or the law requires disclosure.

Despite Hollywood portrayals of counselling being lying on a long leather couch talking about your mother, what you’ll usually find in a counselling room is two adults having a normal conversation about a serious topic. The client is having some sort of life problem and the counsellor would use their training and experience to help the client solve that problem. Think of it as talking to a close friend about your problems, a friend who has the professional skills to help.

Lastly, it’s quite legitimate to ask whether counselling will work for you. Well you’ll never know if you never try. Try a few different counsellors and find one you are comfortable talking to. Try different counselling methods – phone, online, in person. Do some research on the different services out there. Don’t be afraid to ask your counsellor questions – what is your success rate, what is your treatment approach, how much experience do you have, can you accommodate my unique personal circumstances? At the end of the day what matters most is getting your life on track, and having the right counsellor in your corner helps a lot.

For free and confidential support and treatment, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au. To ‘meet the counsellor’ in your area, visit the Gambling Hangover YouTube channel.

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Having the strength to reach out

Stick your hand up for help

In recent decades, awareness about the importance of talking about our problems, instead of keeping them hidden, has increased among the community. In spite of this, many people think that talking about their problems, or asking for help, is a sign of weakness, and that dealing with problems on your own is a sign of strength. It seems that notions of the “strong silent type” endure. Some people even think that if they talk about their problems they’ll be thought of as “whingers” or “downers”. Others believe that sharing a problem might turn it into a “big deal”.

There are a number of reasons why people keep their problems to themselves. In many cases people are looking for excuses not to reach out. Why? Because opening up about our problems can be extremely daunting. Sticking your hand up for help takes an incredible amount of courage and strength. Realising this, we can also appreciate how unnecessary it is to keep your problems hidden and suffer in silence. Strength lies in having the courage to seek help when you need it.

While getting help might make you feel uncomfortable in the short term, it is bound to make things easier in the long term. Keeping things to yourself on the other hand might help you avoid a few uncomfortable conversations for now, but in the long term, it may mean that you will make slower progress or that your problem will get worse. “A problem shared is a problem halved” may be a cliché, but is, more often than not, true.

So if you’re still trying to figure out if you have a gambling problem, or if you know you have one, but are not sure whether you want help dealing with it, have a think about what’s stopping you from reaching out. Perhaps it’s simply fear getting in the way?

You don’t have to be afraid or embarrassed, and you don’t have to deal with your problems on your own. For free and confidential support and treatment 24/7 call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858; or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au to find a free face-to-face counselling service near you. The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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The impact of gambling on loved ones

Impact on loved ones

People with problematic levels of gambling are not the only ones who suffer the negative consequences of gambling. Those closest to them, such as a partner, a child, family member or close friend, may suffer too. This distress can often go unnoticed.

Recent research has indicated that partners of individuals with problematic levels of gambling are at increased risk of emotional problems, social isolation stemming from shame and secrecy, a decline of physical health, relationship dissatisfaction and financial insecurity. Children and other loved ones may also suffer confusion, uncertainty and a range of mental health problems.

Similar to what the individual suffering from the gambling problem experiences, loved ones may feel alone, isolated and uncertain about what the future holds. They often carry this burden in secret and feel guilty, frustrated or unsure about the best way to help the person they care about.

Family members, close friends and partners will often have questions such as, “Should I take control over the finances?”, “How can I best encourage them to seek help?”, “Why can’t they stop?”, and “Where is the best place to seek help?”

There is no one right answer to any of these questions, as every individual and situation is different.

If someone you care about is struggling with gambling and you are asking yourself these questions, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, for individual and confidential advice, completely free of charge.

To download or order the range of free resources, including the ‘Self Help Guide for Families’, or to join the new Gambling Help support forum which has a dedicated section for family and friends, visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au

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Riding the wave

Urge surfing

Often when we are trying to break a habit we find that we experience urges – thoughts which seem to try to persuade us to engage in the exact behaviour we are trying to avoid.
People with gambling problems often report feeling the ‘urge’ to gamble with thoughts such as “I’ll just have a quick bet” or “I just have to put $10.00 in”. These thoughts can be difficult to resist and can lead to relapse.

These thoughts and feelings can be unpleasant and even frightening for those who experience them as they feel they have no choice but to bend to the urge and gamble. However, there are strategies that can help you prepare for and manage these urges when they occur.

A useful mindfulness strategy is ‘urge surfing’. Urge surfing is based on the idea that fighting against urges or cravings actually increases their strength, and that a much more effective way to deal with these urges is to ‘ride out’ or ‘surf’ these urges. The effectiveness of this strategy is based on the understanding that all urges are temporary, that with time they will pass. During this exercise, it is important that noticing the urge is non-judgemental, that is, not thinking about your thoughts as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but simply just noticing these thoughts and feelings.

The first step of urge surfing is to sit quietly and simply notice the urge, that is, pay attention to the thoughts you are having ask yourself – what is the content of this thought? What is this thought urging me to do?

Then notice where in your body you feel this urge – is it in your stomach? Or your chest? Once you have found where in your body you are experiencing the urge, pay attention to the sensations you are having. Is it a tightening in your stomach, or a slight racing of your heart? Do the sensations feel like pressure, tingling, warmth or coldness? It may be useful to think of the sensations in terms of colours or temperature.

Following this, bring your attention to your breathing – notice each breath in and out – what does the breath feel like? Is it warm or cold? Continue this for 5 minutes. You may notice that your thoughts return to the urge or drift to other thoughts, simply notice this and bring your thoughts back to your breathing, focusing on inhaling and exhaling.

It may be useful to visualise yourself riding a wave – continue the exercise until you feel the sensations in your body decreasing or becoming less intense.

The more you practice urge surfing, the easier this exercise will become and the more aware of your urges and the sensations that accompany them you will be. Urge surfing may be a useful strategy in breaking the habit of problem gambling and increasing your chances of overcoming problem gambling.

If you need help to manage your gambling, free and confidential support and treatment is available through Gambling Help. Call 1800 858 858 to speak with a counsellor at any time, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au to find your nearest face-to-face counselling service in NSW.

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Budgeting

Budgeting

People with gambling problems often find themselves in financial difficulty. This can be an overwhelming and stressful situation that can often serve as a trigger to continue gambling in an attempt to regain the money they lost.

A helpful step when trying to get your gambling under control or get your finances back on track is to create a budget.

A financial budget has several benefits:

  • It will help you to determine and understand the patterns of spending.
  • It will assist in determining areas where you can minimise, or cut down, on non-essential expenses.
  • It can help you divide your income into different areas, allowing you to manage bills, have money for day-to-day expenses and allow an allowance for recreational activities.
  • It can assist in managing any debt incurred through gambling.

Starting a budget may seem overwhelming, however and if you feel you need professional assistance, free help is at hand.

Financial counsellors can provide information about options and assist in budget planning and debt management. To find out more about how to budget or where to find a financial counsellor near you, contact Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for free and confidential advice.

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Problem gambling and the workplace – keep an eye out for a mate

Keep an eye out at work for a mate

This week, 26-31 May, is Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, and this year Gambling Help services are working with local businesses across NSW to promote the free range of support services available, and to encourage people to keep an eye out at work for their workmates.

There can be many psychological, social and financial consequences for individuals who are suffering from gambling-related harm, however gambling is often shrouded in secrecy and shame, so how do you know if a colleague or employee is struggling with gambling and what is the best way to approach them?

If you notice that an employee or workmate is experiencing any of the following warning signs, it may be a sign that they are suffering from gambling-related harm:

  • Frequent lateness
  • Unexplained absences
  • Frequently leaving work early
  • Long, unexplained lunches
  • Frequent use of phone or computer for gambling related activities
  • Borrowing money from co-workers
  • Bills arriving to work rather than home
  • Contact from family members about salary
  • Misuse, or unexplained/excessive use, of company finances
  • Decline in grooming habits and self-care
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Decrease in efficiency and productivity
  • Decline in standard of work
  • May appear preoccupied
  • Inability to concentrate

It’s important to remember that while these signs can indicate gambling problems, they may also be a sign of other problems such as depression or other problems at home, so to work out exactly what is happening you need to have a conversation with the person you are concerned about.

It can be difficult to know how to raise problem gambling with somebody, but if you feel that an employee or workmate is struggling with their gambling, the following tips may help to broach the conversation:

  • Approach the person in a private and confidential environment
  • Discuss what you have observed in a clear and non-judgemental manner
  • Use specific, work-related examples
  • Explain how the problem is affecting their work
  • Respect personal boundaries and don’t pry unnecessarily
  • Explain that you may be wrong, but you genuinely care for them
  • Do not ‘diagnose’ them
  • Provide information about seeking help – have the number for Gambling Help ready – but ultimately leave it up to them

Many people know of someone who gambles to excess – a workmate, a friend, a friend of a friend, a partner, family member, or employee. If you would like more information on how to help somebody who may have gambling problems, you can contact Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au

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The signs of relapse

Caution_slippery

Gambling can be a very difficult thing to stop – it is a process that takes time, energy and often there are bumps along the way. However people do get there and often feel relieved after going a considerable period of time without gambling. This sense of relief from ceasing gambling activities can come with its own challenges. Gambling is omnipresent and can be difficult to escape in your day-to-day life; going to the pub, the races, watching television at home and seeing advertisements – gambling is everywhere.

Due to this constant exposure, individuals with a controlled gambling problem may find themselves having ‘one off bets’ and having thoughts such as ‘I’m in control of this now’… and this may be true. Perhaps, you can gamble just once a year, but how do you know when you’re back on the slippery slope of a gambling problem?

There are three important signs you should look out for that may signal a relapse:

  1. Chasing Losses – if you have placed a bet and lost money do you continue to play in the hopes of gaining this money back?
  2. Degree of regularity – how often are you gambling?
  3. Planning to gamble – are you planning your gambling activities as opposed to a spontaneous/spur of the moment activity?

If the above signs are familiar to you and you’re concerned about relapsing, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for free and confidential support.

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Pokies can cause pain

Pain

Electronic gaming machines, or pokies, have been widely demonstrated to be a particularly risky form of gambling, with a higher proportion of pokie players going on to develop gambling problems than those on any other form. Do you play the pokies regularly? If so you may be at significant risk of developing a gambling problem.

Do you ever bet more than you afford to lose? Spend more time playing than you can afford to? Feel restless or irritable when you try to reduce your gambling? Perhaps you feel guilty about your gambling, are criticised about it, or maybe you hide your gambling from others? Maybe you’ve even tried to win back your losses? These are just some of the warning signs to look out for. If you’ve experienced any of the above, it may mean you may need some help in controlling your gambling.

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, help is available. To find a gambling counsellor call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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What am I thinking? Thoughts within a gambling session.

thinking brain

The focus of a person’s thoughts or cognitions changes throughout a gambling session. These changes give us insight into what is keeping them playing and why a person may go back to the machines time and time again – even after heavy losses.

Before a gambling session, typical thoughts might focus on money and usually include ‘I’m due for a win’ and ‘I’ll just put in $50 and see how I go’.

During a gambling session the focus of the individual’s thoughts continue to be about money; these cognitions are about capitalising on wins: ‘I’m winning a little, this machine is going to pay – I better keep playing’ or chasing losses: ‘the feature has to be coming soon – I have put so much money in!’.

Interestingly, the content of people’s thinking changes after a gambling session, their thoughts focus on the self. That is, if a person is ‘up’ after a session they have positive thoughts about themselves and their self-esteem is protected. However, if a person has lost money during a session, they might have self-depreciating thoughts, which may include thoughts like ‘I am an idiot’ and ‘How did I let that happen’ and ‘I am out of control’. These thoughts are usually accompanied by feelings of guilt and anxiety, feelings that categorise what has become known as a ‘gambling hangover’.

In this way, a person struggling with problem gambling might find that their self-esteem, mood and thoughts about themselves are controlled by a microprocessor inside the poker machine. Given that a player will always in the long-term lose more money than they win, they will spend the majority of their gambling life thinking about themselves negatively and feeling guilty or anxious.

The problems associated with gambling therefore can extend much further than financial loss, and can impact on our sense of who we are and our mental health. Finding healthier alternatives to gambling, including investing time and money into travel or spending time with family and friends may be a way to increase and stabilise self-esteem and improve mood. A gambling counsellor can help you identify these alternatives and help you develop your self-esteem independent of gambling and the outcome of the machines.

Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for free and confidential support, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for more information.

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The romanticised idea of gambling

Gambling has been romanticised since time immemorial. Romanticised ideas around gambling emerge early, through the celebration of games such as “two-up” and figures such as Phar-lap in our national lore. Movies such as “21”, “Ocean’s Eleven” and the James Bond franchise also do much do romanticise the idea of gambling, depicting it as an activity for charismatic, attractive and successful people. More recently, billionaire David Walsh, who has made a fortune from sports gambling, has captured the public’s imagination, giving people the hope that they can too beat the system, and end up on top.

In short, we are all exposed to stories which encourage us to romanticise gambling as an attractive activity that successful people engage in, the implicit message being: “If I’m clever enough, I too can win and end up on top.” Have you ever had these thoughts?

These unrealistic ideas lure people in, and contribute to the formation of positive associations with gambling. But these positive associations can lead to a slippery slope.

For those of us who have ever experienced problems with gambling, it’s clear that these ideas disguise an uglier reality. The reality is that most gamblers lose, no matter how clever they are; it has nothing to do with being intelligent. This is because every gambling game is specifically designed to favour the house. So winning in the long run is impossible by definition for luck-based games such as the pokies, scratchies and roulette, no matter how clever you are. But even games with a skill component such as horse racing or sports betting, are near impossible to win on in the long run, with odds for turning a meagre profit over a year of regular wagering not much better than one in a million, even if you do your homework.

Do you romanticise the idea of yourself as a gambler? Do you believe that you can win if you work the system? Do you know you can’t win, but can’t stop anyway?

If gambling is, or is becoming, a problem for you, help is at hand. Free, confidential and non-judgmental support and treatment is available – call Gambling Help at any time on 1800 858 858.

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Random?

An understanding of the inner workings of the poker machines is reliant on an appreciation of randomness. ‘Randomness’ is a tricky concept, in that we often think we understand what this term means and may use it frequently without even realising that its true meaning evades us. As a test, if you were asked to define the word random what would you say? What does ‘random’ really mean?

The term ‘random’ is made up of two related concepts, for something to be considered random it must operate as an independent event and it must be unpredictable.

The word ‘random’ implies independent events; when we say that two events are independent we are saying that there is no connection or association between them. For example, if I drop a pen at my desk and at the same time a person at the local pub gets the feature, these two events are independent as they are not connected or associated in any way. Interestingly, each spin of the machine is independent of all other spins, the machine does not connect previous spins with the successive spins, and therefore each spin is an independent event.

The word random also implies that the events in question are unpredictable, that is there is no rule which governs what will happen next. If an event is random, as is the inner workings of the poker machines, there is no way to predict what will happen on the next spin or series of spins as there is no rule to what is happening. What has happened previously, for example the last 10 spins of the machine gives no information or indication whatsoever of what will happen in the next spin.

A misguided understanding of randomness influences people’s beliefs about the machines and their chances of winning. A problem gambler may think that they can in some way control or influence the outcome of play, without realising that the randomness of the machines means that this is impossible. An accurate understanding of the random operation of poker machines is a way to change the way you think about the poker machines and allow you to make informed choices about your gambling.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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We need to change the way we talk about gambling

change the way we talk about gambling

Have you listened in to someone at a gambling venue playing the pokies? There are similar statements that seem to arise regardless of which venue you are at:

“I’m up”.
“I’m having a good run”.
“I’m on a winning streak”.
“The machines are hot today”.
“I have won $200”.

The problem with these statements is that they add to the illusion that you can ‘beat the machines’. How do statements such as these create this illusion? Through 24-hour accounting. The way we talk tricks us into believing we have won. If we were to use a different time period, for instance a year, month, or even a week, we would be unable to use terms such as “I’m up” or “I’ve won $200”.

The truth is that you have been losing since you started gambling. Think of all the times you have put money into the machines over the course of your gambling history; a $200 win on one of these occasions does not in fact mean you are ‘winning’, but rather that you have “only lost X amount”. Even if you have ‘won’ today, you have still lost money in the long-run.

If you think you have been using 24-hour accounting and are concerned about the amount of money you have lost while gambling, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for confidential and free advice.

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Keeping Secrets

secrets

Whether gambling is a problem for a person depends on the circumstances and experience of each individual; however, a typical feature of problem gambling is that it is often shrouded in secrecy – that is it lied about or covered up in some way.

Problem gambling is often a cause of embarrassment, guilt and shame, and as a result is often kept a secret from others. In contrast, recreational gambling usually involves a social setting in the presence of others, and the amount spent, won and lost is not kept a secret.

Individuals with gambling problems often try to keep the amount of money lost a secret from even themselves, by rarely checking their account balance or avoiding calculating their losses, particularly for longer periods of time such as weekly or monthly losses. Individuals may also use alcohol to relieve the feelings of guilt or shame following a gambling session, which in term may exacerbate the harm caused by gambling.

Your gambling is a problem if it influences your life in a negative way. It may start as little ‘white lies’ or omitting details about a gambling session such as how much was lost or the length of time at a venue. The tendency to downplay or lie to others about your gambling in many cases leads to relationship problems and fosters denial.

If your gambling has become a source of secrecy, you can call Gambling Help at any time on 1800 858 858 for free and confidential support, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for more information on the free services available in your area.

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Youth Gambling

Youth gambling

Did anyone watch Insight on SBS last week? There was a vigorous and informative discussion on youth gambling (Insight – Youth Gambling).

Gambling is a popular pastime in Australia and Australian youth are no exception with a participation rate of 70-80%. However one in every twenty young Australians will experience problems with gambling before they are 25, and a further one in six are at risk of developing gambling problems. Young people are at least five times more likely to develop gambling problems compared to the general adult population, and almost ten times more likely to be at risk. These are sobering statistics.

Young men are much more likely to have gambling problems than young women. Amongst the young male population, international students are particularly vulnerable due to social isolation and cultural factors. One in ten male international students gamble at problematic levels.

Over recent years we have seen a major shift in how people gamble. Sports and online gambling are becoming more popular, at the expense of traditional mediums such as poker machines. The boom in online gambling makes gambling much more accessible and available. The new mediums naturally draw in young people due to their strong connections with sporting culture and the internet.

So what’s the takeaway from all this if you are a young person who likes to gamble? Be informed about the bets you are making and the games you play. Learn the odds, the probabilities of winning (and losing) and keep track of your wins and losses – Gambling Help have a mobile phone app to help you set a gambling budget and stick to it. If you find yourself spending more money and time than you can afford, then it’s a good idea to talk to someone about it.

People who experience problems with gambling don’t often seek help, and young people are even more reluctant than the average adult. A conversation now can prevent a lot of problems down the track. Stay safe, be informed and talk to someone if you think you are in trouble.

Gambling Help provide free and confidential support and treatment. You can call Gambling Help around the clock on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for more information.

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The Glamour of the Gamble

CA.0613.dr.no.bond.

Picture it. A beautiful woman in a long evening dress, hair and make-up immaculate. A dashing gentleman in a 3-piece suit, cigar in one hand, martini in the other. The rich, vibrant atmosphere of the casino, the very essence of the building feels rich and luxurious. The world almost seems like a fantasy… and that’s because it is.

The ‘James Bond’ world described above is often the first image that comes to mind when thinking about casinos. Casino owners and Hollywood would like us to believe that this glamorous world exists, that the big win is just around the corner, and that we too could live a life of luxury but the reality of the casinos is far different.

The reality: You are more likely to come out with less than when you went in. Millions and millions of dollars are spent each year in order for casinos to remain running, and yet they still turn over a profit. So where does the profit come from? The gambler’s loss.

The Australian Government (2010) place the total losses through gambling in Australia to reach $19 billion (2008-09) and the social cost to the community is estimated to be at $4.7 billion a year. 115,000 Australians are classified as problem gamblers, and a further 280,000 are at risk of becoming problem gamblers.

Don’t become one of these statistics, play your cards right and seek some help. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for 24/7 free and confidential support.

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Gambling as an escape

Escaping reality

While people get into gambling for a myriad of reasons, problem gamblers often engage in gambling in order to escape from negative emotions. These emotions might include loneliness, boredom, anxiety, stress and even depression. For example, many gamblers might rush off to the local pub or club after an argument with a spouse, or to “de-stress” after a hectic day at work. Does this sound familiar to you?

Many venues are safe and friendly environments, with regular patrons often surrounded by friends and acquaintances. Is it any wonder a gambler’s mood improves upon entering? Once a session commences, a gambler’s mood usually further improves, as their attention shifts away from personal problems and focuses in on play. Thoughts focused on winning dominate: “Am I up?” “Am I down?” “How long until the next feature?”. This intense focus on play is a powerful distraction, and personal problems seem to miraculously disappear. Have you experienced something similar?

Gambling can be such an effective means of distraction, such a powerful means of escape, that many individuals don’t see their gambling as a problem in their lives. Rather, they believe it is part of the solution, something that makes their lives more liveable. Have you ever felt this way?

The reality though, is that gambling nearly always plays a detrimental role in the lives of heavy gamblers. It can cause a range of harms including financial problems, relationship difficulties, health issues and emotional problems to name just a few.

Most importantly, while “escape” explains what gets gamblers into a venue in the first place, it doesn’t explain why problem gamblers are unable to stop gambling once a session has begun, while recreational gamblers can. Understanding why you can’t stop once you’ve started is a crucial step in controlling gambling. The good news is that a counsellor can help you with answering this tricky question.

If gambling is, or is becoming, a problem for you, help is at hand. Free, confidential and non-judgmental support and treatment is available – call Gambling Help at any time on 1800 858 858.

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Knowing vs Believing

Two human head silhouettes with cogs and gears

“I know I can’t win”. How many times have you heard a person with a gambling problem say that? If you have a gambling problem, how many times have you said that to yourself? Yet despite this, people with gambling problems continue to gamble. Why?

There is a difference between knowing and believing. We can know something without truly believing in it. Human beings are complex creatures. There is often internal conflict between what we know is good for us and our habits, needs and desires. That’s why someone may know they cannot win on a rational level, but when they are at the venue they can’t help but gamble excessively.

What can we do to resolve this conflict between what we know and what we actually do? We need to move beyond merely knowing and arm ourselves with knowledge about how gambling really works, in order to develop a true belief that we cannot win by gambling. When we truly believe something, then our actions will be consistent with our beliefs. So spend a little (or a lot of!) time and effort to understand exactly WHY you can’t win. As a starting point there is a range of excellent educational resources available online (e.g. http://www.whatareyourodds.com.au/).

To demonstrate the power of knowledge, let’s consider the popular poker machine game Black Rhinos. Playing one line at a time on a 5c machine, it would take 6.7 million button presses costing nearly $330,000 to have a 50% chance of winning the top prize of $10,000. You will have other smaller wins along the way, but you can expect these will not even come close to covering what you put in. Are these sorts of odds worth betting your hard-earned money on? Are they worth the time and energy you put in, the heartaches, the impact on your family?

Knowing how gambling really works helps people develop a true belief that they cannot win. So, start informing yourself and begin the journey of overcoming your gambling problem today – Gambling Help can support you along the way. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for free and confidential support.

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Acceptance and Commitment – Part II

In Part I, I talked about acceptance – acceptance of what cannot be changed in life and of our imperfections. Today I want to talk about how to commit to taking action on what we can change, so that we can live a richer and more meaningful life in line with our values.

What are your values? Values are freely chosen and are as unique as each individual. In our heart, we all know the values we want to live by, the values which will make us truly happy and fulfilled. But how many of us actually take a moment to review if we are living our lives in line with our values? If you haven’t done this recently, then perhaps it’s time for some quiet reflection, or a heart-to-heart with someone you trust. Let your values be the compass that guides you through life and keeps you on track.

Once we’ve clarified our values, we can then commit to taking action to live by them. A common pitfall is to commit to big exciting goals and later feel disappointed when we cannot achieve them. Instead, take small steps – make small, realistic and incremental changes over time. If gambling is not in line with how you want to live your life, then identify a few small things that you can change and carry those out within a set timeframe. For example you can organise family or social activities on the days when you normally gamble, leave your ATM card at home when you go out gambling, or ask for support from a trusted friend or family member. Regularly review your progress and adjust your action plans accordingly. Be honest with yourself and be flexible. If things are going well then take on some more challenging changes, if they are not going so well then step back and focus on making one small change at a time.

As you make incremental progress towards a value-driven life, the pain caused by excessive gambling will dissipate, though it will never entirely disappear. Therefore it is important to continue to make room for negative thoughts and emotions as they come up. The goal is not to live a pain free life, because such a goal is not realistic. Instead, aim to lead a rich and meaningful life that includes all of its inevitable disappointments. By accepting our mistakes and taking committed action to live by our values, we can all move closer towards such a goal.

Free, confidential, expert help and support is available anytime by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visiting the website.

just take the first step

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Acceptance and Commitment – Part I

Accept what you cannot change

It’s 5pm, knockoff time. You just got paid today. You are thinking of dropping into the club on the way home and going for an hour on the pokies. You’ll withdraw $100 and if you lose that, that’s it. There’s a little voice at the back of your head saying you won’t be able to stop at $100, but the urge is too strong and the little voice is suppressed. Besides, you are bound to hit a winning cycle soon and maybe tonight’s the night.

It’s midnight. You walk through the club car park in a daze. You are not sure how you got to your car. As you drop into the driver’s seat all you can think about is the whole pay you’ve just blown on the pokies… again! You can picture your wife’s frown as she opens another Final Demand letter. You can sense the fear of your children as yet another argument erupts. That little voice isn’t so quiet anymore. It’s shouting at you now: “You are the worst father and husband ever. You are worthless. You are a loser.”

Does this story sound familiar to you? If it does, then know that you are not alone. I’ll let you in on a little secret – everybody (myself included) has these struggles in their head. Whether it’s chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, or gambling, we are all regularly tempted by things we know are bad for us in excess. You, like everybody else, will experience urges that are difficult to control. You, just like everybody else, will make the wrong choice from time to time. When you do make a mistake, thoughts might pop into your head that are self-critical, self-blaming and self-devaluing.  There is nothing unusual about any of that. It is all part of the bittersweet experience that is life.

So what can you do to make the right decision next time? The first step is acceptance. Accept that you, like every other human being, are not perfect. You have and will experience struggles in your head about the right thing to do. You have made and will continue to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, accept that your mind will often be one of your harshest critics.

By accepting the gambling problem instead of being caught up and consumed by it, you’ll have more mental clarity and energy for all the other important things in life. If you are not constantly focused on just gambling, or being consumed by self-blame, how much more will you get out of life? For the first time in years, you may truly appreciate a cuddle from your child, or rediscover the joy of your favourite movie, music or book.

So far, I’ve talked about accepting our imperfections and what cannot be changed in life. In Part II, I will discuss how to make changes to what you do have control over, in order to overcome problem gambling.

If this post strikes a chord with you, and you’d like to talk about it, a professional gambling counsellor can help guide you through this journey of transformation.
Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858.

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The Marketing of the Machines

Random Number Generator

The construction and marketing of poker machines is a massive and constantly expanding industry. Success in this industry is based on the ability of game designers and marketing teams to create machines that give players an illusion of control. The illusion of control is the tendency for people to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.

The intention of game designers is to make players THINK they have some control the machine or are able to influence the outcome of a game when in fact the outcome of the game is completely random or predetermined. A real life example of the illusion of control is the belief often held by young children learning to cross the street. If they press the button to cross fast enough or a particular number of times they might think they can control the changing of the traffic lights, which are in fact programmed to change at specific intervals determined by the expected flow of traffic of a given road.

Every element of the gaming experience, from the symbols and sounds of a game to the curvature of the machine’s screen are the product of hours of research undertaken by the gaming industry for the sole purpose of increasing a user’s sense of control over the outcome of the machine.

Director of Game Development for Bally Technologies, Brett Jackson says “One of the things that really sets apart slot machine design is that our games cannot be skill based, they are about random outcomes, … so to make it exciting for they player quite often what we will do is create the illusion of skill where there is a lot of interactions but they do NOT change the outcome of the game”.

Modern technology creates new ways for the gaming industry to deceive players into thinking that they are in control of a game in which they are not.

Curved screens make the player feel they are participating rather than watching the game and help players stay in the ‘zone’. The use of ‘turning reels’ makes the person feel that the timing of their touch of the button has an impact of what symbols appear, when in actuality the symbols which appear are chosen by a random number generator and appear three seconds after the first button press. The random number generator chooses particular symbols regardless of the timing or pressure of the person’s button press.

Touch-screen poker machines have increased the interactive- element of poker machines, with animations including bubbles or hearts when players ‘rub the machine for luck’.  The continual development of gaming machine technology mean that players must be educated on the tactics employed by marketing  agencies and game designers who aim to trick players into thinking they control a game which is governed purely by chance.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

For those who think they may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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Sports Betting

Sport

The legalisation of internet sports gambling, accompanied by the development of smart phone gambling apps, has made sports betting ever more readily accessible and acceptable. This widespread acceptance of gambling in Australian culture has seen a large increase in gambling advertising during sporting events. Tom Waterhouse’s in-game presence with the NRL’s TV commentary team, spruiking betting odds, was perhaps the most notorious recent illustration of gambling pervading mainstream culture.

All of this exposure has integrated gambling into the fabric of everyday Australian life. Gambling is portrayed as a fun activity, commonly associated with socialising, drinking, sports, and taking some time-out. With all of these positive impressions out there, it is not surprising that many of us form positive associations with “having a punt” with many unaware of the dangers of gambling.  For some, this positive association can lead to a slippery slope of increasingly harmful gambling.

For those who think they may have a problem with sports gambling, poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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What are your triggers?

TriggerIdentifying personal triggers for gambling is a difficult task, but the identification of such triggers is the first step toward being able to control them.

They may vary between individuals, as we are all unique in our personal experiences, but the list below provides some common triggers that many gamblers experience.

Low Mood: Feelings of stress, depression, loneliness, fear or anxiety can increase the risk that people will gamble to escape or relieve their distress.

Elevated Mood: Feelings of happiness, optimism or excitement can also make people more susceptible to engage in a gambling session, as they may be celebrating or ‘feeling lucky’.

Boredom and Time: Spare time can be a strong trigger for gambling, as people may wish to escape their boredom by engaging in gambling to provide entertainment. Free time can also lead to the formation of ‘scheduled gambling time’, for example if you have free time between work and dinner you may form a habit of gambling during these hours.

Money: Having access to ‘spare’ money and financial difficulties can both trigger a gambling session.

Access: Easy access to gaming venues, smart phone gambling apps and betting venues also increase the likelihood of a gambling session.

Alcohol and Drugs: The presence of alcohol and drugs can impair our self-control and ability to make rational decisions. Alcohol and drugs may also serve as an independent trigger as many individuals may only gamble when under the influence of these substances.

So how do we learn to manage these triggers? Strategies might include: distraction, relaxation techniques, financial planning (such as only taking a daily cash allowance and removing cards from wallets or giving control of our finances to a trusted family/friend/financial planner), and avoiding/reducing intake of alcohol or drugs can all help. Counselling or psychological treatment can assist individuals to identify their personal triggers and provide additional, personalised information about the strategies listed above.

If you recognise or relate to the triggers above, please contact Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, for free and confidential support. You can also order or download a free pocket-sized workbook from Gambling Help, to assist you in understanding your gambling, and take steps to make it more manageable or to stop altogether.

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Social Conditioning and Gambling

Family

Many people with a gambling problem question the influence of social factors, specifically the role of their upbringing and family dynamics, on their gambling. They often say that they were raised in a ‘family of gambling’ or that ‘gambling is in their blood’; these statements reveal the influence of social conditioning on problem gambling.

Although many other factors contribute to the development of problem gambling, social conditioning appears to play an important role in this development for some people.

The influence of a family’s level of gambling or opinions of gambling may increase a person’s vulnerability to gambling-related harm. This may be through a person’s increased access to gambling, through family events which involve card games or that are held at gaming venues. Familial opinions of gambling, including the view that gambling is a positive and fun activity or a way of making money quickly may shape an individual’s perceptions of gambling.

Gambling treatment may provide individuals with an informed understanding of gambling and the consequences of gambling. This is one of the many benefits of seeking treatment for problem gambling, as people are exposed to new ideas and ways of understanding gambling, which they have never previously encountered. These new beliefs may provide a greater opportunity for behavioural change allowing people with suffering from gambling-related harm to escape the ‘trap’ their gambling has become and create their own understanding of gambling, independent of the social factors which may have increased their vulnerability to gambling since childhood.

Free, confidential, expert support and treatment is available by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. For more information on the services that Gambling Help offer, visit the website.

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Shame and Gambling

People experience a complex range of emotions while gambling. Some emotions are undeniably positive such as excitement, surprise, and hopefulness – and individuals may gamble in the hope of experiencing such feelings. Unfortunately another emotion is also often experienced while gambling: shame.

Shame has been defined as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the feeling of having engaged in wrong or foolish behaviour, or finding oneself in a regrettable and unfortunate situation. It is an uncomfortable emotion that we want to escape from as quickly as possible. This can be dangerous, as we can then find ourselves stuck in a trap, whereby to rid ourselves of the feeling of shame we engage more frequently in the behaviour that is driving it. This is often the case with gambling.

Tony* has been playing the pokies with increasing frequency over the past six months. As he loses more money and keeps more secrets from family and friends, his feelings of shame increase. This leads Tony into a cycle of shame and gambling. The cycle starts with Tony bargaining with himself – “If I can just recover my losses, I’ll never gamble again and no one will ever knowWhen Tony loses more money the next time he gambles, he starts to have negative thoughts about himself – “There is something wrong with me and I should know better” – which leads him to gamble in order to escape the negative thoughts he is experiencing. This cycle continues and Tony finds himself increasingly trapped between feelings of shame and a desire to escape through increased frequency of gambling.

This shame cycle contributes to increased social isolation, further financial loss and may act as a real barrier to seeking help. If you or someone you know want to beat the cycle of shame, confidential and expert help is available around the clock by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858.

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Why is internet gambling dangerous?

Just last month the New Jersey Devils and the Philadephia 76ers became the first professional US sports teams to be sponsored by online gambling companies. Online gambling is now legal in three U.S. states. Closer to home, online gambling on sporting and cultural events is permitted in Australia. It seems that the rapid growth of online gambling has led to its increasing acceptance in society.

Despite forms of internet gambling such as offshore online casinos and online poker not regulated by Australian law and not allowed to operate in Australia, participation in online gambling is growing across the board. It seems that those who gamble online may be at higher risk of developing gambling problems than those participating in other forms of gambling.

So why is internet gambling dangerous? Firstly, gambling on sites that are not regulated in Australia leaves people open to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous operators. What’s more, online poker rooms may be inhabited by professional players who prey on unsuspecting amateurs, or may even cheat by using sophisticated software called “poker-bots”.

Perhaps most importantly, certain features of online gambling games make them highly addictive. Online gambling is readily accessible, available anywhere and anytime; play is rapid, there are rarely forced breaks in play; players can bet very large amounts in a short space of time, there are rarely delays in winnings being credited. Perhaps most worryingly, players can gamble while alone at home, meaning that online gamblers can lose track of both time and money when they play.

But these addictive features are not only present in online gambling games.
What features of your preferred mode of gambling do you think make it difficult to stop once you start?

Free, confidential, expert help and support is available anytime by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visiting the website.

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Spin City – The psychology behind the lure of pokies

There are many reasons why people start playing the pokies and why they keep going back. They might have been introduced to pokies by their family or friends, they might play as a form of escape, they might keep going back to try to win back their losses. However, did you know gaming machine designers use psychology to lure people in?

Let’s start off with patterns. Human beings have an inherent need to seek out patterns and structure in our world. Poker machines play to this basic need by generating endless random patterns. When a certain pattern emerges (e.g. a winning combination) we recognise it instantly. Seeing patterns emerge out of this randomness is rewarding in itself, and helps keep players engaged.

Patterns are not the only thing we instinctively search for. Humans are automatically drawn to attractive faces, and in particular to eyes. Designers play to this by incorporating attractive female faces with impressive eyes on gaming machines.

The outcome of each spin is determined at random by a computer chip in the machine. However clever machine design can give players an illusion of control. Modern machines are designed with more and more interactive elements, which trick players into thinking there is an element of skill involved. Machine design also taps into player superstition. For example touch screen technology is used to interact with players when they touch the machine, playing to a common superstition that touching a machine grants luck for the next spin. This illusion of control may make you think you can use skill or luck to “beat the machine”, whereas in reality the outcome is completely out of the control of the player. In fact the outcome is always going to be a loss for the player in the long-term, because the machines are programmed that way.

So what’s the point of knowing all this? Knowledge is Power. By better understanding the psychology behind the lure of pokies, you can arm yourself with the knowledge to make the right decisions in the future.

This article is based on VideoScience’s insightful video on the psychology of slot machine design – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYoQrL1hKoo.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

For those who think they may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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Loneliness and Gambling

Community

People with a gambling problem often start gambling as a way to escape feelings of loneliness. They see venues such as casinos or pubs as a way to meet new people and socialise, and this can be an attractive option for those struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Feelings of loneliness may also aid in the maintenance of gambling problems. A person may continue to gamble because going down to their local RSL or casino where they know some of the regulars or staff members might help them feel connected to the community. Gambling may also distract a person from the negative thoughts and feelings they wish to avoid. Problem gamblers often use gambling as a way to escape feelings of loneliness temporarily.

What is often misunderstood is the way in which problem gambling exacerbates or intensifies feelings of loneliness in the long-term. People with a gambling problem usually establish a regular and strict routine of gambling, which can include a significant amount of time alone in front of a poker machine, without interacting to or speaking to anyone. They may stop attending social functions or events which interfere with their gambling routine, such as birthdays, work functions or family celebrations.

Also, in response to feelings of shame or embarrassment, problem gamblers may become more secretive about their schedules and less inclined to talk openly with friends and family. All of these factors isolate the problem gambler from those around them, further intensifying feelings of loneliness. In these situations, the individual may feel that gambling is their only escape and may need to gamble more and more frequently to drive away growing feelings of isolation.

Speaking to a professional about the feelings of isolation and loneliness which often accompany problem gambling may be a useful strategy in breaking the cycle of loneliness. You’re not alone – call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au

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Helping a family member

Helping a family member

It is estimated that there are between 80,000 and 160,000 Australians with a significant gambling problem, equating to 0.5 to 1.0 per cent of Australian adults. This is a large number but the larger number is hidden behind these figures. For every person who has a problem gambling, there are their spouses, children, parents, and/or siblings. For these people, gambling can have a large impact but they are typically left out of the formal statistics. The devastation and emotional suffering that gambling can cause is huge. It can range from seeing a loved one self-destruct and be powerless to stop it, to losing the family home due to the actions of one’s spouse.

John* was gambling heavily over a period of 15 years. John lived with his wife and two children, aged 8 and 10. John was ashamed of his gambling and kept it hidden from his family. Because he controlled the finances, John’s wife did not know that the once almost paid off family home was now owned completely by the bank, due to a series of loans taken out over the past 10 years. It was when the bank moved to repossess the house that John came clean to his wife.  Even though it was horrifying to learn that she had lost her home, the lies bothered his wife the most. She just could not forgive him for having kept this a secret for so long and she felt like she did not know who he was any longer. Three months later, she filled for divorce.

While the experience varies from person to person, the common theme is the significant impact gambling has. Many services that offer free gambling counselling also work with family members of those affected by gambling.

A call to Gambling Help, on 1800 858 858, can put you in touch with trained professionals who can advise on how to protect yourself and help family members with their gambling problem.

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Gambling and relationships

Relationships

People with a gambling problem are probably very aware of the impact it is having on their own lives – not having money, the feeling of loss of control, to name but a few. The area that is sometimes less obvious is the impact on people around the problem gambler. For parents it can be devastating to see a child become addicted to poker machines, not just for the waste of money but also the fear that they may end up harming themselves out of desperation. For friends it can confuse them why they are no longer getting calls or why money that was borrowed from them is not being returned. The impact can be greatest for the person’s partner when they see common money disappear into machines and at the TAB. At times the family home can even be placed at risk as debt increases.

The problems in relationships can seem to be a direct consequence of gambling but it can also sometimes make the gambling worse. As someone gambles heavily and the people around them start reacting by either getting angry or moving away from them, the gambler can feel increasingly isolated leading to an even greater escape into the world of gambling. The losses and the impact on their friends and family can also lead the gambler to gamble even more in the hope of winning back some of these losses and rectifying the problems their losses has created for others.

The impact of gambling on relationships is more complex than simply gambling creating problems for those around. It can sometimes be losses or problems in relationships than can drive someone to gamble in the first place. Either during a period of mourning or following conflict with those around them, a person may seek refuge in the world of poker machines and the TAB. It might provide them a temporary relief from the pain and frustration they feel.

When gambling affects those around the gambler, people will often eventually move away from the gambler, particularly those who are not bound by blood but rather choice such as partners and friends. When this happens, the gambler will often suffer a compounding problem, in addition to direct impact of the gambling – they will lose these important relationships.

Professional help in the form of counselling can help overcome an addiction to gambling and also deal with the breakdown of relationships that often accompanies gambling. Gambling Help can provide a list of counsellors the provide free sessions in your area.

Free, confidential and expert help and support is available any time by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858.

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Why me?

Why me?

Many people who experience a problem with poker machines will at some stage ask themselves the question ‘Why me?’. Why do I have this problem and not someone else? It is an important question and so let’s have a look at a couple reasons that might be at play. Before we do this, allow me to clarify that the reasons presented here are by no means exhaustive and accurate for each person but rather factors that I have found important from working in the field.

The most important reasons for developing a problem with poker machines is something called ‘early positive experience’. It seems that 9 out of 10 people who have a problem with gambling on electronic gaming machines experienced an early win that had a lasting impression.  Although this idea has been around for a while, its significance for problem gambling treatment can be credited to researcher and clinician, Dr Fadi Anjoul. For the 1 out of 10, the positive first impression comes by association – for example being with a friend who had a big win. The early positive experience cements a very important belief in the person’s mind – you can win on a poker machine. Think about this, if you had lost the first 20 times you played the pokies, what would you think of them? Probably something along the lines of, ‘these things are stupid’. Whereas if you win $200 after putting in $20, what would you think?

Another important albeit secondary reason is the role of reacting to emotions. We all feel bored, sad, lonely, poor, and a whole range of other feelings. Some people can sit with such feelings and see them as part of life and remember they will pass soon while others find these feelings very uncomfortable and try anything possible to get rid of them. This includes going to the pub and playing the pokies.

Other potential reasons include genetic or biological factors. Years of research into gambling has shown that those with a certain genetic constitution are more likely to have a gambling problem than others. Brain chemicals such as noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine have also been implicated.

Drugs and alcohol can also play a role for some people. Once intoxicated, we don’t make the same rational decisions as we would normally make, which can include going to a poker machine for a slap.

Finally, not appreciating the nature of randomness can play a part, particularly in the chasing of losses. Some people with a problem with poker machines believe that once a lot of money has been put into a machine, it has to start paying soon. Having lost a large sum can lead someone with this belief to continue pouring more money into the machine with the expectation that their chances of winning have improved.

For those who think they may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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What will your New Year’s Resolution be?

Well it’s that time of year again. The time when people make all sorts of commitments about what they want to change in the New Year. Some people want to lose a few kilos, some want to give up smoking and for others, they would like to have a life free from gambling.

We all know that not all resolutions will stick. So the big question is how can you increase the likelihood that your New Year’s resolution will be successful? There are several things that anyone can do to improve their chance of success:

1. Get support

Once you have made the commitment to stop or reduce your gambling, let significant people in your life know- people that can provide support and encouragement and can also hold you accountable.

2. Increase your motivation

One of the best ways of tipping the balance towards making a change is to write down the costs and benefits of your behaviour. Be honest – calculate the costs of gambling so far. What has it cost you financially, socially and emotionally? It’s easy to discount our financial losses and the cost to our relationships our health and our wellbeing. Be honest with yourself, write it down and talk about it.

3. Consult the experts

Gambling Help is a 24-hour telephone counselling support line. Not only can they give you expert help over the phone, but they can also put you in touch with a counsellor in your area. These counsellors are specialists in treating problem gambling.

4. Find alternative activities

Sometimes gambling has taken up a big part of your life and giving up gambling can cause feelings of loss and sadness. It’s important therefore to get back in touch with what you value and enjoy. Find alternative activities that can take the place of gambling. For some it might be taking up a sport, finding a new hobby or spending more time with loved ones.

5. Reduce your triggers

There are often people, places and things that can remind us of gambling and trigger an episode. Write down the activities, moods, people, places and things that are triggers for you. You can make plans to try and avoid these triggers or alternatively find things to support you in sticking to your goals when these triggers arise. When you do feel urges to gamble, remember research shows that most urges last only a few minutes and will pass.

6. Remind yourself of probabilities and the house edge.

It is important to remember that all forms of gambling are created to make money for the gambling operator. There is always a house edge, which means that the value of a prize is always less than the probability of the win. Keep this in mind and remember that in the long run – THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS and the LONGER YOU PLAY THE MORE YOU LOSE.

Most importantly, it is vital to remember that change is possible and that just because you may have tried without success in the past, this does not mean you should resign yourself to a life with problem gambling. With the right strategies and a strong commitment, a life free from problem gambling is within your reach!

Change is possible

Take action now, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au and make 2014 a year that counts.

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Why stop gambling?

pathway

It may be easy to think that gambling is inherently a bad activity but a closer examination of this assumption will usually lead us back to a puritanical, church-based evaluation of it. While for some people this might be reason enough not to gamble, most people no longer support the idea that something is wrong just because the church says so.

So, what reasons are there for stopping? Firstly, many people may want to stop for the money. If gambling was leading to long-term profits it would not bother many people (stockmarket anyone?). As most people would appreciate, earning money is not easy and losing it to the bookie or the poker machine is not usually people’s first choice of things they would want to spend it on. A related reason is the effect on our mood from losing money. It may not be the money itself but the ‘gambling hangover’ that leads people to re-evaluate whether they want to keep going with their punting. For others, it is the impact on relationships that drives them to want to stop. The impact of gambling on partner can take many forms but it can include financial insecurity and trust. When a significant other puts their foot down, some gamblers decide that it is time to stop. For others, it is neither the loss of money or the impact on others but rather the feeling of loss of control. As human beings we like to feel like we are in control of our lives and our behaviours and so to have a behaviour that we feel unable to stop or control can be enough to want to do something about it.

Whatever the reason, if you are interested in looking at reducing or stopping your gambling, I would encourage you to seek help. A trained professional can make the journey a lot easier and a lot quicker than trying to find the path alone.

Free, confidential, expert help and support is available anytime by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visiting the website.

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Pigeons and Poker Machines

pigeon_holes[1] B. F. Skinner, arguably the most famous psychologist after Freud, made a remarkable discovery in 1948. Using pigeons in a cage, he gave them food pellets through a dispenser but used an important condition – the food pellets were given at regular intervals but it was not related in any way to the pigeons’ behaviour.

Something very remarkable happened to the pigeons – of the eight pigeons, six began an elaborate series of behaviours before each pellet. One bird would turn counter-clockwise three times. Another would repeatedly thrust its head in the direction of the same corner in the cage.

Once the behaviour has been established the pellets can be dispensed less regularly, even hours between each one, and yet the behaviour continues.

While humans and pigeons are different in many regards, this experiment has some interesting implications for understanding human behaviour, notably gambling.

We know that payouts from poker machines are in no way dependent on the behaviour of the player and yet how many patterns do players create?

Certain machines are used above others as they were once associated with a win. Players will try and use certain patterns in their playing such as increasing the bet because in the past when they did this, the machine payed out.

Understanding the random nature of poker machines, as well as the percentage that is returned to player (less than what is put in) can help in overcoming a problem with these machines.

A qualified and experienced psychologist can help work through these issues. You can access FREE help here or by calling 1800 858 858.

Posted in Poker Machines, Tips On Controlling Your Gambling, Counsellor Sam's Advice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaking to someone about their gambling

Couple-Talking019Many people know of someone who gambles to excess- a friend, friend of a friend, a partner or family member. It can often be hard to know how to help. Concerned friends or family members often explain that they don’t know what to say, and sometimes feel they can’t say anything for fear of making the gambling behaviour worse.

The following are some tips to keep in mind when speaking to someone about their gambling.

-       Ask the gambler how they are going with their efforts to reduce or stop their gambling. Ask this in a non-judgmental way, so they don’t feel like they will be harshly judged if they answer they are not going so well.

-       Remember that people can and do recover from problem gambling, however behaviour change can be hard for some people.

-       People do not develop gambling problems over night. Many people are unaware of the signs of problem gambling and it can take some time for the gambler to realise the serious nature of the problem.

-       Don’t be afraid to tell them how their gambling affects you or other people in their lives, but do this in a calm manner (remember, yelling probably hasn’t worked in the past and likely leads to big arguments, the gambler storming off and nothing being resolved).

-       Let them know that you support them in any efforts to change.

-       Encourage them to seek professional help if they are not going so well.

-       Helping someone with gambling difficulties can be hard work. Therefore, it is also important to get support for yourself if you notice it is weighing you down.

-       Do not take blame for someone else’s gambling behaviour. In the end, the choice to gamble or not to gamble is made by the gambler themselves.

For more tips about helping someone with their gambling, check out the following link.

You can also call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or go to the website for more information and support.

Posted in Counsellor Sam's Advice, Friends and Family, Tips On Controlling Your Gambling | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment