Change

Support

Starting to think about change is a big process.

Often when people begin the process of counselling, we will ask them ‘what is it that motivated you to make this appointment?’ Here is what some of our clients have had to say about the process:

  • I reached a point where I realised I was about to lose everything.’
  • ‘It was talking to my friends and realising that they were all starting to buy houses and go on holidays. I didn’t have anything to show for 10 years of really hard work’
  • ‘I had a really big loss and felt like it couldn’t go on’

To have a look at what other people have said about change, have a look at the ‘real stories’ section of our website.

Often it can take a big event to push us towards ‘taking action’. Sometimes, however, it can be a series of losses, or a gradual realisation that something has to change.

Whatever it is that has brought you to read this today, it is important to remember that change is a process – one that can take some time. Think about a client, Jim*, who has arrived for an appointment with me. I ask him to tell me about what brought him here. He breaks it down into stages:

No problem

I was gambling my pay-check each week but not too worried – I was living at home and getting meals and board for free. Gambling was a rush and I was always chasing the next big win. Mum and Dad would criticize my gambling but I honestly couldn’t see the point of stopping. Plus, most of my friends are in relationships so it was my way of getting out and about and having fun. Looking back, I think I had an overly optimistic view of how likely I was to win the next time I gambled.

If you’re in this stage, have a look at some stats about gambling, including the odds of winning when you gamble

Thinking

My parents asked me to start paying rent or else I’d have to move out. Plus, I got my tax return and it turns out I have to pay tax this year. I had no money whatsoever and was feeling stressed about coming up with $$ on the spot. I started wondering if mum and dad were right when they said my gambling was stopping me from doing the things I wanted to. I had a look at the website and found a quiz you could take to see if gambling really is a problem:

To  check if you have  a problem, take our online quiz:

On the Fence

A friend was telling me about his trip to South America and it got me thinking that I haven’t been on a holiday in 10 yrs. More pressure from my parents to pay rent and I started looking at rental properties – I’ll need a $1000 bond at least! I started thinking about how much I was spending on gambling and it really surprised me.

To check how much you’ve spent on gambling, have a look at our online gambling calculator

Preparation

A final straw was getting a statement from my online betting account for how much I’ve spent over the past 2 years – close to $50k! I could have put that as a deposit on a house or a world trip. Called up the helpline to book an appointment with a face to face counsellor. They recommended that I start working on the other areas of my life, like my friendships and health, to help move my thinking away from gambling. I wasn’t quite ready to stop altogether yet, but they recommended that I download an app from the website that tracks your betting:

To monitor your gambling and see how much you are spending on betting, have a look at our stay-on-track app

Action

I put the strategies into place – got my wages paid into a savings account that I can’t access immediately, cancelled my online betting account and put blockers on my laptop so I can’t access the sites. Have started face to face counselling to work on understanding and managing my gambling urges. Have joined a fitness group at my gym that meets weekly and am making an effort to catch up with old friends for coffee or lunch.

If you’re interested in talking to a trained counsellor about how you can manage your gambling, go to our website for telephone or online counselling

If you would like to see a face to face counsellor near you, click on this link

 All the services are free and confidential and can be a great support in helping to change gambling behaviour.

Maintenance

If Jim is able to stick to his commitment to change his gambling, this stage would be around continuing the behaviour – keeping up the social support and exercise, being conscious of his triggers to gamble and when he is at risk of relapse.

One way to help to stay in this stage is to have daily reminders of how far you have come – this can stop us from slipping back into old habits and old ways of thinking. A great service is the SMS reminder service – a free daily SMS to reinforce good behaviour change

As you can see, change doesn’t happen immediately. It took a few things for Jim to move towards the decision that his gambling wasn’t working for him. In this case, it was a combination of financial stress, seeing other people benefitting from saving, and reflecting on what he wanted from his life. For some people it can take years to get to the ‘action’ phase, for some people it can be a matter of months.

The other thing to remember is that we all have bad days – there will likely be some days where Jim would struggle to remember why he wanted to stop gambling in the first place. On those days it would be important for him to have someone to talk to in order to remind him of his motivations.

If you’re interested in down loading a free workbook to help monitor your change and keep you motivated, have a look at our resources section on the website

The take home message – change does not happen overnight! But it is a process and it can be helpful to reflect on what has gotten you to this stage.

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It’s difficult to stop gambling when you’re feeling desperate

After listening to many stories by those experiencing gambling problems it is clear gambling can cause significant harm across many areas of life including financial problems, depression and relationship problems. These negative consequences are often overwhelming and lead to feelings of distress. Many gamblers admitted to me that its at these times gambling becomes difficult to resist as the excitement of gambling makes them feel better. Gambling then becomes a temporary escape from the pain and desperation, which must be endured after all available money, has been spent yet again.  Despite these harms it is hard for many to stop gambling and are continued to be tempted to gamble as short term relief from negative emotions.

It is normal to dislike unpleasant emotions and want to avoid them as they make us feel uncomfortable. What is important is to understand these emotions will pass if you don’t avoid them. You need help to be able to develop strategies to do this. So if you are experiencing these negative emotions and distress about your gambling we advise you to ask a gambling counselor to help you find support to deal with these emotions.

Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling or you’re significant others gambling that may be concerning you. We also have some strategies to help you get started that are freely available here.

You may like to look at the Gambling help Brochure available on this website that outlines help services and information available through Gambling Help.

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It’s tough to get started

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Many people who have shared  their stories on the Gambling Help website feel like they’re at “Rock Bottom” struggling with everything from financial problems and relationship breakdowns, to  homelessness  and loss of work.  Their words express enormous guilt, sadness, anger, and shame at the end of a gambling episode – sometimes there are even thoughts of suicide. And yet the urge to gamble is still there.

For many people, reaching out for help when you feel overwhelmed and even ashamed of the decisions you have made is very hard.  However those people who have had the courage to seek support often say how relieved they are to have made that first courageous step. They deserve nothing but our admiration!

That step can be anything: looking at stories from others, ordering some of our free materials  such as our gambling help workbook or our wallet reminder card. Keep in mind not only what you have lost through gambling but also what there is to gain. It may take time but it is possible to win back the trust and respect from those who love you.

Take a look at our free material and resources.

Remember that right now, experienced counsellors are  available by phone on 1800 858 858 to talk to you confidentially about your gambling.

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How do you react to a noise in the night?

Are the way you think about gambling and the way you respond to a noise in the night connected?  You might be surprised.

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Scrambling at a noise in the night

Our reactions tell us a lot about the thought patterns that have become ingrained over time in our brains. Examining these thought patterns may be one of the fastest ways to discovering why we are motivated to keep gambling. Consider how you might react if you heard a loud noise in the middle of the night. You might sit bolt upright in bed, listening for an intruder, heart pounding –   or you might think that the cat has knocked over a plant and feel mildly annoyed. Or you might not even notice it at all.

Our interpretations influence our response

The common factor between all scenarios is the loud noise, what differs is peoples’ reaction to it. If you were scared because you thought someone had broken in, you may wake up your partner or dial the police. If you thought it was the cat you might grumble and mutter under your dooner and cover your head with another pillow.  You see, the way we interpret situations has a lot to do with how we feel and subsequently our behaviour.

Thoughts and responses in problem gamblers

If you’re a problem gambler, it is often is the way you think about gambling that explains your behaviour and why you feel compelled to continue gambling. Examples include:

  • Gamblers Fallacy: Gamblers often use past performance to predict future outcomes. For example, if we tossed a coin 4 times and the outcome was heads, one might predict that if we tossed the coin a 5th time, the likely outcome will be tails. You see, we are using past performance to predict future outcomes. The probability of the coin landing on heads versus tails on the 5th coin toss is equally likely.
  • Availability Heuristic or Illusion: The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that spring to mind. For example, it is easier to recall the few times that you have won compared to the many times that you lost. As a result, you might judge that those events are more frequent and possible than others. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar wins in the future.

Good news – thought patterns can be challenged and adjusted

The good news is that we have the capacity to identify patterns of thinking that  reinforce the idea that we can win which motivates us to continue to gamble. Once we have identified them, we can challenge them and adopt new and healthier ways of thinking that promotes the truth, which is the inevitability of losing.

There is help 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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Musings of a Gambling Counsellor

One of the heart breaking things I’ve seen working as an intake officer and counsellor at a gambling clinic is coming across the people who called the help line, but just couldn’t bring themselves to come in for that first session. Or those who showed up for the first session, and for whatever reason, dropped out. It made me think of all the people out there, who haven’t quite taken that first step in reaching out.

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For people who’ve been gambling excessively for decades, for people who’ve tried everything to stop, for people at the end of their tether, it can be awfully hard to believe that anything can help. Feeling hopeless, it might be hard to believe in something like counselling. Feeling like this, it can be hard to reach out for help, or to commit to weekly sessions for a couple of months.

And it must be hard. Not knowing what treatment is like. Or even, sadly, feeling ashamed for having developed gambling problems, and not wanting to walk into a Gambling clinic. There’s a lot of shame out there. I’ve even heard clients refer to themselves as “degenerates”.

But once they come in, people quickly find out, that there is absolutely nothing “degenerate” about having developed a gambling problem. Gambling problems affect people from all walks of life. Rich people, poor people, educated people, uneducated people, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, grandparents, grandmothers, doctors, bankers, builders, nurses, the unemployed. I could go on. The one thing they all have in common is pain. A lot of people with gambling problems have suffered enormously, and continue to do so.

But I know, in the therapy room, that there is no fundamental difference between myself and the client sitting opposite me.

Now for the good news.

I’ve seen first hand, the profound impact a couple of months of specialized gambling treatment can have on people. Time and time again, for the vast majority of people with gambling problems, treatment works.  Even for people who have been gambling for decades.

In most cases the turn around is extraordinary. Seeing people coming in distraught in those early sessions, and standing proud, smiling confidently, just a couple of months later, often surprised themselves that treatment worked.

It’s a privilege to witness, and be a part of their journey to recovery. To see these courageous people, going through such trying times, share their stories, and to have a small part to play in their turn around.

We don’t just sit around talking about problems, though hearing people’s stories can be an important part of the process. Many of the latest treatments, are very focused on the specific thought process which perpetuate gambling problems. In fact, clients find it fascinating to learn about how it all works. I was too, when I first learned about gambling treatment!

So, if you’re suffering from gambling problems, it’s very important for you to know, there is effective help out there. There is hope. And there is no reason to put it off. I urge you to give Gambling Help a call.

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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A minute of your time please

Sit down and take a moment. This is important. Don’t just read through this, rather, take the time to make a mental image of your answers to some of these questions, because you CAN get better and you DESERVE to.

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Ask yourself.

How might life look different if you stopped gambling?

What would you do with all of that extra time? All of that extra money?

Who would you would spend more time with? What would you do with them?

What would you buy them? What would you buy yourself?

Where would you go on holiday?

Which restaurants would you visit?

Who are some of the people you could buy that overdue gift for?

How would you feel?

Don’t gloss over it. It’s an important exercise. Try to really imagine your answers. You might have been gambling for so long that doing some of these things feels like a pipe dream, but it’s not.  You CAN get better and you DESERVE to.

What about if you keep gambling at the rate you are now for another ten years? Take a moment to imagine what it would be like. What’s the worst case scenario?

What would your relationships be like? What would your housing situation be like? Your work situation? How would you be feeling?

There’s NO reason for that to happen.

You’re suffering from a psychological problem which is among the MOST treatable. You have very good reason to be optimistic. But there’s a catch. You need to do something.

You need to reach out for help. It’s not easy to reach out, but in the long run, it’s far, far harder no to. REACH OUT, it will be the one of the BEST decisions of your life.

SO many people have been where you are today, just months ago, and today they’re breathing a sigh of relief, because they reached out and got treatment. And this goes for all types of gamblers, from pokies gamblers, to sports gamblers, to pokies gamblers. It goes for people who have just started to have problems, and for people who’ve been experiencing gambling problems for decades. It even goes for people who’ve come in for treatment years ago, and maybe it didn’t work then.

The fact is treatment has come along an AWFULLY long way in recent years, and the VAST majority of people get an awful lot better, most in a matter of weeks.

If you’re still sceptical, because you don’t see how talking about it could help, you’re not alone. Most people who come in to treatment are sceptical gambling therapy. Those same people are incredibly surprised to find that it works. But it does work, in the vast majority of cases.

So pick up the phone and call 1800 858 858. You owe it to yourself. 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.

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Gambling and Depression

Gambling can take a toll not only on your finances but also on your physical and emotional health. How have you been feeling over the last few weeks?

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Have you been feeling flat?

Lacking in energy?

Have you been feeling hopeless or helpless?

Have you been feeling distant from other people?

Do you find that nothing has seemed to be able to cheer you up?

Are you having difficulty falling asleep or do you keep waking up in the night?

Has your appetite declined and have you lost weight? Or are you eating more than usual and gained weight?

Has your sexual interest declined?

Have you been dwelling on thoughts that your gambling will never get better?

If you answered yes to any these questions, there is a chance you may be experiencing symptoms of clinical depression. I know this may sound serious – but it’s okay because you are not alone and help is available.

Many people experience symptoms of depression so you are definitely not alone! In fact, it is estimated that 1 in every 4 people experience significantly depressed mood at some time in their life. Research studies have shown that being a gambler actually increases the chance of having depression. A study by Cunningham-Williams and his colleagues in 1998 found that, simply gambling, not including any gambling-related problems (such as financial-stress, marital stress) was related to feeling depressed and having depression. Simply put…if you gamble, you are more likely to feel depressed!

This isn’t surprising as many gamblers report feeling down, guilty, helpless and/or hopeless, especially after losing money. It is normal for people’s moods to fluctuate – that is, sometimes you will feel better and sometimes you feel worse. Your mood may lift when you experience something positive and may drop when you experience a disappointment (such as losing money). Gambling can create a lot of stressful situations, such as losing money, financial stress, secrets from family members and friends, feelings of guilt, problems at work… the list goes on. It would be completely normal for someone’s mood to drop as a result of these things. While you are still gambling, your mood is likely to keep on fluctuating as these stressors are likely to still be there. The best thing you can do to improve your mood is to seek help from a qualified professional who can help you with both your gambling and symptoms of depression.

As you can see, it’s common for gamblers to feel low or depressed. But the good news is, help is available for assistance with both gambling and depression. If you think you are having trouble with gambling and/or depression, 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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Alcohol and Gambling- what’s the damage?

Australians gamble more per head than any other nation. This in itself isn’t necessarily a problem as, for some, gambling can be an enjoyable pastime. Often, people find that when they gamble recreationally, it is often in social situations where alcohol is abundantly available. It is common practice and, dare I say, emblematic of our Australian culture that the two occur hand in hand.

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So what? Well, Research has shown that consumption of merely 2 standard drinks impacts the rational-decision making centres of our brain and as a result, our judgment is impaired. This means that individuals who drink alcohol while gambling, are more likely to make poorer decisions which can result in larger bets, higher cash-in’s, longer sessions, etc. Across time, if individuals repeat this behaviour, a reinforcement pathway in our brain becomes finely tuned so that this behaviour becomes habitual. Alcoholism and problem gambling on their own are tricky habits to kick, so could you imagine the damage caused by the double threat? The good news is that treatments for both alcoholism and gambling are very similar in nature, and often people find that when they cut down in one area, they seem to notice a gradual decrease in the other.

The most common treatment available for both is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT for short. This involves a process where the individual works together with their therapist to first look at practical strategies to implement to make it easier for you to avoid anything that is going to trigger your gambling behaviour or substance use. In the case of gambling, this might include driving home from work via a different route so that you are not tempted to stop in to the club to gamble, or organize your finances so that you have less money available to you, or exploring different fun activities to substitute for your gambling. Then the therapist and individual will work together to look at the thoughts or beliefs that are driving this behaviour and motivating the individual to continue gambling. In the end, they will explore relapse prevention strategies to try and minimize the chances of this becoming a problem in the future.

So if you think this sounds like something you have been experiencing, there is help available. You can call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor who will be able to provide more information to you. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

image source: Flickr (creative commons license)

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The Importance of Pleasant Activities

Every day we do things because we have to. Think about it… a lot of our day is often filled up with tasks such as our job, grocery shopping, filling the car with petrol, mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house…the list goes on! While these things do need to be done, they are not rewarding in and of themselves. The danger is, that often we get so bogged down with what we have to do that we forget to do things simply because we want to do them!

Every day, we need to do at least one thing simply because we want to.

It’s very easy to get into a ‘slump’ or get bored in a daily routine that is filled with work and chores. Many people say that they use gambling to deal with this boredom. But actually – there are so many other things to do, and sometimes all you need is a little reminder.

What are some of the things you used to do but don’t anymore? Did you play sport? Play a musical instrument? Cook? Play board games? Do jigsaw puzzles? Go for walks? Kick the ball around in a park? Read books? Go to the gym? Do Sudoku?

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Incorporating pleasant activities into each day works on two levels. Firstly, it really helps to improve our mood and secondly it can lower our likelihood of gambling. Both of these are great things! Let’s take a bit of a closer look:

  1. Improving our mood

Participating in pleasant activities increases a person’s positive feelings. The more someone engages in pleasant activities, the lower their chance of loneliness or depression. This means, that doing pleasant activities makes you feel good!

  1. Distraction from gambling

Many people feel that they gamble because they are bored, lonely or want some excitement. If you have something fun to look forward to in your day, you are less likely to be bored and therefore less likely to go and gamble. Try and organise fun activities for your high-risk gambling times, e.g. pay day, times when you know you normally get bored etc which can serve as great distractions from gambling!

An example of this would be someone who gets paid on Thursdays and usually goes straight to the pub to the Pokies after work rather than going home. Instead, they could organise to go to the gym or movies with their friend on Thursday after work so that they don’t play the pokies.

It might take some getting used to if gambling has been your main activity for some time. But incorporating one thing you WANT to do, rather than HAVE to do each day is a good start!

If you think you may have a problem 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.

Image source: Flickr (creative commons license)

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Have you learnt the art of urge surfing?

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Are you trying to stop gambling but finding it hard because you keeping having cravings to gamble? Don’t worry, this is very common! Experiencing cravings or urges to gamble is completely normal among people trying to give up gambling. Sometimes it may feel like your urge is so powerful that you have to give in. The urge can feel like it’s getting bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger, making people feel very uncomfortable and wanting to give in to their cravings. BUT if we learn a little about cravings, we can understand why it’s important to not give in!

In actual fact, cravings are time-limited. This means that they won’t actually keep getting bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger…. they WILL go away! Even if it doesn’t feel like it straight away. The urge will build up and, if you don’t give in, it will actually come back down. If we always give in to our cravings, we don’t give our bodies the chance to learn this information, that is, that the craving will come back down.

Have a think for a moment…has there ever been a time when you had a craving to gamble but you weren’t in a position to? Perhaps you were visiting your family, or at work. You may have really felt like gambling, but did it keep getting stronger and stronger for hours or did the urge go away? Perhaps your mind eventually moved on to something else.

Our bodies simply won’t allow urges to keep getting bigger forever. So try and ride out the urge naturally. We call this ‘urge surfing’.  Relax, take some deep breaths and notice the sensations you feel. Where in your body are you feeling the cravings? Try to focus your attention on that area and become familiar with the sensations. It may be uncomfortable at first and this is completely normal! But ride the wave of these sensations and it will bring you back down.

Doing this instead of giving in to your urge will help you to get to know your cravings and learn how to ride them out naturally. Remember, it may be difficult and feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get better and better with practice.

If you think you are having trouble with urges to gamble, 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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The importance of relapse prevention

Once you have made a lifestyle change, how do you maintain it? If you’ve recently stopped gambling, you might be worried about relapsing. But it can be helpful to remember that a lapse can be part of the journey as you learn new skills and transition out of old habits.

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Some people relapse several times before a new behaviour is part of their routine so it’s important to learn about relapse prevention. Here are some important tips to help prevent relapsing back into old behaviours:

  1. A ‘lapse’ is not a relapse!

Whenever we try to put a new plan into action it is common (even normal) to have setbacks! A lapse is a brief return to old unhelpful thoughts or behaviours. A relapse, however, is a more prolonged return to old ways of thinking and behaving. Just because you have a ‘lapse’ doesn’t mean you have relapsed. If you have feel that you have been going really well and then think you have ‘blown it’ because you gambled again…don’t throw in the towel! Lapses are normal. Think of a lapse as a way of providing you with a learning opportunity. It may help you to avoid another lapse in the future and focus more clearly on your goal of reducing your gambling.

  1. Look out for red flags

Think about times when a lapse is more likely. When are your high-risk gambling times? Some people identify high-risk situations as the day they get paid, times when they are in financial stress or when they will have family related stress. Think about your life and what could trigger your urge to gamble and identify when a lapse is most likely for you.

  1. Have a plan

Make a plan for these high-risk situations! What could you do when you feel the urge to gamble and think you will have a lapse? Maybe you can plan to distract yourself with another activity such as going for a walk, phone a friend, or try to cope with the situation in a constructive way. Make a list of other things you can do and carry it around with you for a quick reference guide if you feel the urge to gamble.

Remember, lapses are normal and to be expected but keeping these strategies in mind can help prevent a lapse from turning into a relapse.

If you think you may have a problem 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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How common is gambling?

Counsellor Sam blog

Did you know that you know that approximately 70% of Australians participate in some form of gambling each year?  Gambling can, in fact, take many forms. Playing the pokies, playing table games at the casino and betting on horses are all considered gambling. Even buying a lottery ticket or ‘scratchie’ is a form of gambling.

You may think that if 70% of Australians are doing it, what’s the problem?

Well, for most people, gambling is a form of entertainment. Some people, however, can experience significant harm from gambling. They may suffer considerable financial loss, debt, relationship and family conflict and problems at work. 115 000 Australians are classified as problem gamblers and up to 500, 000 Australians classified as at risk of problem gambling. That’s huge!

If someone is only playing lotteries and scratchies, their risk of becoming a problem gambler is low. However, their risk of becoming a problem gambler increases the more often they gamble on table games, engage in wagering (e.g. betting on sports, horses, greyhounds), and especially the more they play the pokies!

The good news is, problem gambling is treatable. If you think you are experiencing problems gambling, help is available. All Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned that their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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What randomness really means in poker machines

You have all probably heard about poker machines operating randomly, though what exactly does that mean? In gambling, random means that we are unable to accurately control or predict the outcomes that will occur next. Randomness also means that each outcome is independent of one another. That is, the outcome of each spin on a poker machine is not related to the outcomes from its previous spins.

While we may have all had the feeling of knowing what will happen next, we do not actually know for certain. We may have even come up with strategies that we use for making future predictions, but the truth is, no strategy is 100% accurate or fool proof. Why? Because outcomes are produced randomly in poker machines. In fact, a specialised computer chip within each poker machine, referred to as a random number generator (RNG), ensures that the outcomes are random. To demonstrate how the RNG works, go to http://www.random.org/sequences. Sequences from this website are generated randomly, or according to no rules.

The job of the RNG in a machine is to continuously cycle through approximately 3000 unique sequences per second. What you may not have known is that the RNG will continue to fire as long as the machine is plugged into a wall socket, even when no one is playing on the machine, or when you are having a chat with your friend next to the machine. The RNG therefore does not allow for you to advance towards a predetermined sequence, and makes it impossible for anyone to know what the next outcome will be.

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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Why is gambling so hard to kick?

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It’s been months since a win, your partner fights daily with you over it, you struggle to have enough money to fill the car with petrol and the red letters are now coming weekly threatening to take away your beloved car.  As you leave another session empty handed, broke and filthy with yourself you might stop and ask yourself, “Why? Why do I keep doing this to myself?”

Can you recall in detail how you drove home today? How about to work? What about tying your shoelaces or brushing your teeth? Chances are you’ve done all of those things today with minimal conscious attention.

The reason for this being that our brains contains neurons and when an action is performed, say, driving a car, a number of neurons fire to communicate this action. A pathway is formed. Initially it takes effort and concentration (remember the bunny hops while learning in a manual car?) but as with many things the more this action is practiced and the stronger these neural pathways become. And so chances are if you have engaged in regular gambling over a long period of time, you probably find yourself in front of that pokie machine or online clicking for a bet without even realising it.

The good news is that it is possible for you to change. This needs to be repeated. It is possible for you to change. In fact it’s quite important to reread that sentence and to hold on to it as it’s likely you’ve told yourself it’s just not possible for you to change, you’ve tried a couple of times, it didn’t work, it’s impossible.  This is where challenging those thoughts is key. Yes it feels impossible and so hard at times but it is possible. Just as an old well worn pathway through a field can eventually recede and be replaced by an alternative route so can your neural pathways.

No-one said forging this new pathway will be easy. It will be painful. It will be hard. But when you do achieve this getting your life and finances back will make every drop of sweat and tears worth it. Just as a builder will enlist the help of tradies or an architect when constructing it’s good to remember that you don’t have to sweat this out on your own. Seek help – call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Remember that there are many different gambling treatments out there, and many different services that can help. Don’t give up. You’re Stronger Than You Think.

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The role of positive early experiences

People that struggle with problem gambling often ask themselves “Why me? Why can’t I stop?”.

Many view it as an addiction, while others view it as something they’ve inherited in their genes especially when parents or other family members have been heavy gamblers. Others again berate themselves as being ‘so stupid’ and just unable to stop.

Yet, there is another aspect that is often over looked – the power of early positive experiences.  All of us can recall with ease our favourite restaurant and what is was about that restaurant that made such an impression on us.  Same with countries we have travelled to, great cars we’ve driven, or special food we’ve eaten.

This first impression, be it positive or negative, lays down the foundation of how we view that experience.  What is interesting to note is that when asked, most people struggling with heavy levels of problem gambling can recall a very positive experience early on. Be that fond memories of playing penny poker as a family activity or stumbling across a relatively big win early on, both experiences are positive and lay down a foundation that enables the person to view gambling as a positive benevolent past-time.

If you are someone who is experiencing problems with gambling and are struggling financially and emotionally, stop and really consider “What were my very first experiences of gambling? Were they positive?” This piece of the puzzle might be able to contribute to a better understanding allowing you to progress forward in your treatment.

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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To tell or not to tell

To tell or not to tell

Problem gambling can be a very isolating experience. Initially you might have started gambling with friends or family. It was a fun experience, social and quite enjoyable. Now you find yourself gambling alone for several hours chasing those losses. Hoping and praying you can make back what you’ve lost.

A lot of people experiencing difficulties with heavy gambling find it difficult to share what is happening for them to their loved ones. This can often be from a sense of shame, embarrassment and worry that they will be harshly judged. And so the secrecy continues leading to further isolation and in turn affecting your mood and feeding the sense of shame.

What it is important to be aware of is that often sharing something that you feel vulnerable about can strengthen a bond between two people. While it can be terrifying to reach out and let someone know what is happening for you it may help you start to take that first step to recovery.

Many people that report initial reluctance in letting their family or friends know about their problem gambling go on to state that sharing it with someone they trust and respect brought a huge sense of relief and that the person responded with care and support. One person struggling with gambling on electronic gaming machines for many years shared that for her telling her father what was happening finally allowed her to be less than ‘perfect’ to him. Her father responded with warmth and concern. She also said that as she began to slowly tell her friends she found she was building a ‘safety net’ around her.

So if you find yourself isolated and struggling with gambling you might want to re-consider in letting someone know. The following points can be useful to consider:

  • Write a list down of friends and family members that have been supportive in the past and that you feel close to.
  • Be mindful that the thoughts you might be experiencing are just that – thoughts. Those thoughts are not facts and often we tend to exaggerate or catastrophise with our thoughts.
  • Choose a suitable time to be able to sit down and talk about what is happening for you. Ensure that it is private and that you won’t be interrupted by other friends or family members or children.
  • Check with your friend or family member if they have time to chat and are in the right headspace. There is nothing worse than working yourself up to share only to have that friend distracted by something else or needing to leave much sooner than you had hoped for.
  • Talk in person! Text, email or instant message might be tempting but ultimately you cannot convey your feelings and thoughts as well. Also the reply back might be vague leading to further worry.
  • Try and keep the tone serious. Often when we are trying to share concerns with a friend there is a temptation to throw in a joke or sarcasm to make the tone lighter. This is doing a disservice to you and the seriousness of what you are experiencing.
  • It can be helpful to start the conversation by saying to the person something like “I’ve got something to tell you that I’ve been really struggling with. I haven’t told you earlier because I feel so ashamed and I’ve also been worried that you will be really angry/disappointed in me. But I’ve decided it’s really important to let you know because I’m struggling and need some help.” Any friend or family member that really cares about you will want to hear and support you
  • Starting to attend counselling specifically designed to address problem gambling might be a useful first step to take for you before letting your loved ones know. This might be particularly helpful if you are in financial debt and your partner is unaware of this debt.
  • If you feel that you don’t have anyone in your life at the moment that could be a support to you, it’s important to seek professional support-no person is an island.
  • Regardless of whether you have the support of friends and family, it’s important to call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor if you feel your gambling has gotten to problem levels.

Good luck sharing, take a deep breath and go for it!

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Supporting others

Support

If you have experienced problem gambling, or maybe still are, it is likely you have experienced a wide range of distressing consequences. This may include, to name a few: financial hardship, feelings of depression and anxiety, and relationship problems. Perhaps one (and likely the only) advantage of having suffered through this is that you are in the best position to understand what other problem gamblers are experiencing. You can relate to, and emphasise with, the devastating effect that gambling would be having on then, as well as their family and friends.

If you do see others in a pokies room looking upset, down on their luck or agitated, perhaps talking to them and sharing your experiences may help. Simply asking “Are you okay?” may be what that person needs more than anything else. While you may then need to encourage them to seek professional help, you can be the one that helps them make that extremely important first step in their long journey to recovery that you too once had to take.

If you know of somebody who is having problems with gambling, let them know that 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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Gambling under the influence

Recent research funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation has found that 14% of people receiving treatment for substance abuse also experience problems with gambling.

There are many similarities between substance abuse and gambling problems – both may be used to escape uncomfortable feelings such as depression and anxiety, both can result in preoccupation (either with using the substance or gambling), both may be associated with a ‘thrill’, and more is needed over time to achieve the ‘thrill’.

Gambling under the influence can lead to feeling out of control and those who gamble while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are at an increased risk of negative consequences. It can lower your resolve if you’ve decided not to gamble and lower your inhibitions leading to betting more and taking bigger risks while gambling. Gambling under the influence also increases the risk of other consequences such as depression, anxiety and relationship problems. An additional side effect can be depending on these activities to reduce problems such as depression, not realising that it is actually contributing to the very problem you are trying to escape.

If you’ve found yourself gambling whilst under the influence and are concerned about the impact this is having on your wellbeing, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for free and confidential support and treatment.

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House Edge

Did you know that it takes on average $330,000 to win the $10,000 prize on the pokies? This translates to odds of over 9 million to one. In case you’re wondering, the chances of getting hit by a bolt of lightning are 1.6 million to one. So, next time you’re playing the pokies hoping you might win big, remember that you have a better chance of getting hit by a bolt of lightning.

You mightn’t be surprised to hear that gambling games are designed to favour the house. Some games like the pokies, have a massive house edge. Other games like roulette, have a relatively modest house edge. But the fact is that even a slight house edge translates to massive losses for regular gamblers over time.

Unfortunately, for many people with gambling problems, simply knowing about house edge does not stop them from gambling. If you think you 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.

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Reach Out

Reach Out

How many times have you tried to stop gambling, only to go back to it when the cravings get too much? If you’ve ever experienced this, then you’ll know that will power alone is rarely enough to stop gambling.

The good news however, is that is it possible to reduce your motivation to gamble in the first place. “How?” you might ask.

That’s a tricky question to answer. But basically, that’s what many gambling counsellors are trained to do – reduce your motivation to gamble. It’s an interesting process to go through, and works in the vast majority of cases.

So if you’ve been gambling for years, and tried to stop numerous times, or have just recently found yourself gambling to harmful levels, it might be a good idea to reach out for help. It is probably the most important to step you can take, to fast track your path to recovery.

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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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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