The Problem with 18 to 25 year olds:
For many years Gambling Help Services were unaware that 40% of their target group were going without assistance. It wasn't until 2007 that young men aged between18-24 were identified as the highest representation of problem gamblers in NSW*
This information came as a shock as our average clientele was aged from around 40 and the 18-24 age group were the lowest representation in problem gambling treatment. Accepting these statistics meant the realisation that our services were not providing assistance to those who needed it most. Adding to concern was the fact that the large majority of our clients admit they commence gambling at around 14, and that there were no education programs in NSW on the dangers of gambling for young people.
All of the sudden a huge "blind-spot" in our service provision had become glaringly obvious. We began to question ourselves, "How could we have not seen this? We begun to wonder what other information about youth and gambling we had let fly under the radar. It became clear that if we were to address this issue effectively we needed more input from those who knew it best – young people.
In 2008 we began a research project by surveying 200 young people aged from 13-24 on the Central Coast and came up with some surprising findings. Some of which are list blow:
- 62% of those under 14 years old had gambled – many of these in the company of their parents
- 96% of young people from 18-24 had gambled
- 6% of people under18 had played a poker machine
- 55% of young males had lost more than they had intended at least once
Problem gambling in Australia is more prolific than illicit intravenous drug use, but what is more worrying is how much it goes unnoticed. Unlike drugs or alcohol, you can't see gambling's effects. Young people experimenting with drugs will often flaunt their intoxication among peers to receive social recognition. But you won't see or hear anyone boasting about how much money they've just lost, and you won't see them getting a pat on the back for it. Shame keeps problem gambling well hidden. (It also keeps the person stuck in it).
Shortly after doing the survey we began running Early Intervention Workshops on youth gambling in numerous local high schools. In time students and teachers began to report noticing warning signs of problem gambling among young people. Our workshops were well received by participants with an increase of 78% in awareness of problem gambling. Unfortunately funding for the workshops was exhausted after two years and the project ended.
In recent years online gambling has increased immensely, with young people leading the way. And while ads for gambling sites aimed specifically towards young men flood our TV viewing each night, there is virtually no community awareness programs in NSW to counteract the messages that glorify gambling.
On a local level it continues. Currently Gosford City Council is reviewing an application for an online gambling site to win naming rights to Central Coast Stadium, and just as I am writing this article a letter has landed on my desk announcing the application for a local hotel to increase its number of poker machines.
It would be alarmist to state that all those who gamble beyond their means are addicted. However young men on the Central Coast are among the biggest gamblers in the state*, and most of them started gambling well before they left school. They had no education on the odds against them or how gambling can be addictive.
This year local Gambling Help services will be focusing on educating young people, parents, teachers and youth workers on the warning signs of problem gambling and how to stay safe if you do choose to gamble.
If you would like more information please contact us.
* (Prevalence of Gambling and Problem Gambling in NSW. A.C. Nielson, 2007).