Forum at The Shed during Gambling Awareness Week


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Catholic Outlook, July 2011

CatholicCare Social Services (Diocese of Parramatta) organised a forum on 25 May to raise awareness about the issues of problem gambling. The forum coincided with the Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, which was held across Australia from 23-29 May.

This year was the sixth annual Responsible Gambling Awareness Week which aims to:

  • raise community awareness of problem gambling;
  • highlight the free services and resources that are available to those who may need held with their gambling (Gambling Help services – face to face counselling, phone and internet counselling);
  • promote the importance of responsible gambling practices at a personal and community level; and
  • encourage those with a gambling problem (or those who care about someone with a gambling problem) to access free information and expert services. 

As a response to this national initiative, CatholicCare Social Services hosted a forum with the clear intention to raise awareness about problem gambling, in particular, in the Aboriginal community at The Shed in the Emerton area.

The Shed is a partnership between Holy Family Parish, Emerton, Jesuit Social Services and the University of Western Sydney, and supports men from low socio-economic and minority groups, including Indigenous people, with a range of social inclusion, health and outreach services. 

Responsible Gambling Awareness Week
The Gambling Awareness Forum was hosted by the team of the Responsible Gambling Counselling and Support Group Program from CatholicCare Social Services: Linda Davis, Peter Beamish, Michelle Kelly and Oscar Modesto Ramirez.  

Approximately 35 other people attended the forum, including some regular Shed attendees and problem gambling counsellors from Sydney West Area Health Services, Mt Druitt. People came from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal backgrounds, including some elders and people from different cultural backgrounds.

Linda Davis is a Responsible Gambling Counsellor who practises from The Shed two days a week. At the forum, Linda provided an overview of problem gambling, particularly in the Indigenous communities of Western Sydney.  

“Problem gambling particularly in the Aboriginal community is not talked about as it has a stigma of shame and is also not seen as a major problem,” Linda said.

‘Raymond’ reported that he was a heavy gambler for 25 years, learned a hard lesson, never had any money, was smoking and drinking as well. He has not gambled for five years and is teaching his children not to gamble or take drugs.He stays away from pokies machines, has more money in his pocket.

“In the past, gambling in Aboriginal communities was seen as a form of socialising, a way to play games between friends and family, usually playing card games; and the money won/lost as a result of the gambling was shared and kept by all in the community, so that if someone had a debt to pay, everyone was helped out.

“In the current Mt Druitt community the money does not go back into the Aboriginal community because most people now gamble on poker machines, not in a community card-playing setting.”

Today gambling has an additional difficulty because many people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who are gamblers, are also living below the poverty line. So when they gamble they can end up in greater debt and even more financial hardship.

Linda reported that a few problem gamblers who lived in the area had told her that they were unable to see any future out of debt or a way to get ahead – they may have no work or skills to get work, so they gamble instead, in the hope of a big win.  

Responsible Gambling Awareness Week
The problem is that even if they do win, they generally end up putting those wins straight back into the pokies, horses and dog races or in sports betting, and end up worse off than when they started.

Others have told Linda that gambling was a means of escape. “I need to  escape from things like boredom, the missus, the way I live my life with problems all the time, or thinking about problems in the past, or just to pass the time.”

Others also said it was nice to go to the clubs, to get drinks, cool down in summer in the air-conditioning, and see some people they know. But gambling is a real problem if people need to survive on hand outs and pay debts because of their gambling behaviour.

 Finally, participants agreed that problem gambling not only affected their lives, but the lives of the loved ones (partners) and children in particular:

Susan shared that she started gambling when she lost the kids to drugs, was like a comfort zone, to get away from everything, also nothing to do, no kids to look after. Susan found support in The Shed by speaking to the elders and other professionals like Linda. She has not gambled or taken drugs for several few months. “I am grateful to The Shed, elders and counsellors they have given me strength and meaning in life.” Susan said she felt the Department of Community Services runs her down. “I look forward to Wednesdays at The Shed and take one day at a time.” Susan added that she had found a solicitor who was helping her to have more access to her children.

A start to tackle this gambling problem behaviour is to talk to someone about it; to see a gambling counsellor, financial counsellor, or to speak to an elder or family member for support.

CatholicCare offers counselling to manage problem gambling behaviour and financial counselling. Peter Beamish and Michelle Kelly can offer appointments at Blacktown branch; Linda Davis can be reached for appointments at Blacktown branch and The Shed.

For further inquiries about gambling counselling or financial counselling tel (02) 8822 2222 or visit:

By Linda Davis & Michelle Kelly.

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