Federal Government urged to continue funding specialist problem gambling counsellors

Until the day they sat in front of a counsellor, Sue* had no idea about the extent of her husband’s gambling addiction. On top of a $73,000 credit card debt, he had used $70,000 from his self-managed super fund.

What’s worse, they now faced the possibility of being prosecuted because Joshua* had breached superannuation law to fund his pokie and horse racing addiction.

Hitting the jackpot: Aristocrat Leisure expects its net profit to surge.Hitting the jackpot: Aristocrat Leisure expects its net profit to surge. Photo: John Woudstra

The counsellor helped them plan to repay the money into the super fund, report the breach, and request compassionate consideration. They avoided legal action.

When Joshua circumvented a casino self-ban and made his way into various TABs more than 200 times, the counsellor helped the couple cancel credit cards and Sue take control of the money.

“For the first time I feel he has the confidence to change, but I’m under no false illusion he may have a relapse if he doesn’t receive regular counselling,” Sue said.

Most clients of problem gambling counsellors were unable to pay their bills or debts.Most clients of problem gambling counsellors were unable to pay their bills or debts. Photo: Financial Counselling Australia

Joshua is one of an estimated 80,000 to 160,000 Australians with a serious gambling addiction that often leads to financial, relationship and psychological problems, and sometimes crime and suicide.

He is among the lucky ones who have had access to problem gambling financial counselling – a specialisation which requires extra training.

But Financial Counselling Australia says agencies will start preparing to close their doors in the coming weeks because the Federal Government has not made clear whether funding will continue.

Since 2012, the government has been providing $6.6 million a year to fund the work of 50 specialist problem gambling counsellors. The funding ceases on June 30.

“The uncertainty about funding is difficult for the counsellors,” said FCA’s chief executive Fiona Guthrie. “Without knowing what’s happening, they can’t forward plan. They get incredibly upset by the fact they are unable help their clients.

“At least one agency will start closing its service in early May, while others have put in place contingency plans for closure a few weeks later.”

A spokesperson for Minister for Social Services Christian Porter said the government was aware of the issues and valued the role of community organisations and financial counsellors that helped problem gamblers.

“Details of the Budget will be released on Budget Day,” the spokesperson said.

To underscore the importance of the specialist field, the FCA on Monday published a report about problem gambling that showed the most common impact was that clients were unable to pay bills or debts.

The report, based on a survey of 27 agencies, showed the next most common impact was relationship breakdown. Family violence, suicide ideation or suicide attempts, involvement in fraud or other crime were also reported.

Poker machines dominated both genders and all age groups. About 70 per cent of women in 68 case studies used poker machines.

It found online sports betting was a fast growing problem. It also found more men than women were involved in racing/TAB gambling and online sports betting.

“After financial counselling, the majority of clients (87 per cent) had an improved financial position,” the report said.

“The mental or physical health of clients had also improved in around 70 per cent of the case studies. Over half of clients stopped gambling while undertaking financial counselling and another 30 per cent reduced their gambling activity.”

The research also showed total losses from problem gambling fell into two distinctive categories: 45 per cent suffered losses of $20,000 or less while 30 per cent suffered losses in excess of $60,000.

There was a wide gap in the amount of client debt, ranging from $500 utility debts to secured loan default in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Where to Find Help

Financial counselling helpline (national): 1800 007 007

Australian Government problem gambling services:www.problemgambling.gov.au

Gambling Help Online: http://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/

Gambling Impact Society (NSW): http://gisnsw.org.au/

Gamblers Anonymous (NSW/ACT): http://www.gansw.org.au/, helpline tel 02 9726 6625

Responsible Gambling Victoria: http://www.responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/

Gambler’s Help (Vic): 1800 858 858

Gambler’s Help Youthline (Vic): 1800 262 376

Gambling Help (NSW): https://gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/ Helpline 1800 858 858


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Source of article: SMH

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