ACT government needs to step up its response to gambling harm

20 December 2023

The non-profit community sector plays an essential role in helping people and families affected by gambling harms to rebuild their lives.

Harms from gambling add to the workload of a wide range of services provided by the community sector.

The community sector is stretched to the breaking point by these gambling harms. 

To the ACT government’s lasting credit, it enacted substantial interventions to protect human life during the pandemic.

It recognised that the health system in Australia, like health systems globally, would be at risk of collapse if it did not intervene to stop the spread of the disease through restricting the way people worked and played together. 

It is time for the ACT government to enact similarly sensible regulation of the gambling industry to protect Canberrans and to ensure that the community sector is positioned to continue serving the most vulnerable. 

Financial counselling services are under intense pressure due to a once-in-a-generation cost-of-living crisis.

Some clients at financial counselling services require assistance solely because of gambling losses.

Other clients have been struggling financially for some time, but the false promise of a quick fix through gambling has exacerbated their difficulties. 

The community mental health sector has been chronically underfunded and is poorly equipped to meet the major challenge of population-wide mental health recovery following the pandemic.

The mental health of young people is under further pressure from social media and climate anxiety.

The evidence is clear that gambling decreases population mental health and makes suicide more likely – this is avoidable pressure on the mental health system that the community sector cannot reasonably be expected to bear. 

Harms from the gambling industry substantially increase pressure on an already thinly stretched alcohol and other drug sector.

People who experience gambling harms are significantly more likely to experience harms from alcohol and other drugs and vice versa.

Additionally, when a client at an alcohol and other drug service also experiences harm from gambling, it can complicate and extend alcohol and other drug treatment and harm reduction. 

Through hail, smoke and pandemic, the last several years tested the non-profit community sector’s ability to deliver services in Canberra.

It has risen to the challenge but is simply unable to continue to try to undo the damage wrought by the gambling industry. 

The ACT government can take evidence-based steps to protect the community sector and reduce the personal harms created by the gambling industry, focusing on poker machines which are the root of the problem.

Sensible measures include $2 poker machine betting limits; electronically enforced breaks from poker machines; daily loss limits; and a Centralised Monitoring System, to track and limit how much each person losses and prevent money laundering.

Additional restrictions on the hours that gaming machines are available and where they can be located also have a strong evidence base. 

Education and support can help, but like virtually every public health challenge that has been successfully. 


Opinion piece originally published in The Canberra Times on October 23rd, 2023.
Read the article here.
For more information or comment, please contact
Devin Bowles, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0413 435 080 or 02 6202 7200

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