While Australia's leaders continue to dither about how to tackle the issue of problem gambling, former Newcastle Knights star and gambling counsellor Ashley Gordon has taken up the issue and is running with it. These days, instead of tackling people on the football field, Ashley now works as a gambling consultant with Southern Cross University (SCU) and is travelling the country, discussing the issue of problem gambling in NSW Aboriginal communities.
"In Aboriginal communities, gambling can be linked to alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, financial hardship, crime and mental health issues," Ashley said. "I've seen these problems first hand during visits to more than 100 Aboriginal communities throughout Australia."
Ashley was in Casino this week, running a workshop with Aboriginal community members and service providers to look at new ways of assisting people to address problem gambling in local communities. Ashley is running the awareness-raising workshops as part of the NSW Aboriginal Safe Gambling Service's Let's Talk Gambling program, designed to reach out to those most at risk of developing a gambling problem.
In Australia, about $18 billion is spent every year on gambling, with problem gambling and its associated distress and hardship affecting around 2% of Australians. The NSW Population Health Survey found that 4% of Aboriginal people felt they had a gambling problem and 10% knew someone with a gambling problem. There are also indications that problem gambling affects around 10% of Aboriginal people in many communities and more than 30% in some communities.
"One of the issues is that gambling is not being talked about in communities," Ashley said. "I want to get the message across to people that the issue is not too sensitive to talk about - we need to talk about more."
Through his workshops, Ashley hopes to help people in local communities generate their own solutions to the problem and assist them in getting the necessary funding to see their action plans put into place.
"I want to talk to as many people as I can and get advice on what they think is needed," Ashley said. "I saw Aboriginal people were not seeking help so I decided to get involved with research at SCU where I was given the tools and information to do something about it. People often don't link gambling to health and legal problems; alcohol and drugs often get the blame. We need the Aboriginal community to acknowledge the issues so we can move forward. By coming together and planning ways to address and deal with it, we are moving forward."
Ashley has also been part of the federal government's Ministerial Expert Advisory Group on Gambling to discuss the implementation of the gambling pre-commitment scheme and believes we need more promotion around safe gambling. In the Lismore area last year, over $17 million profit was made by local clubs from gambling revenue.
Financial counsellor Cliff Banks attended Ashley's workshop and said that often pokie machines are found in abundance in areas where people from low socio-economic backgrounds live.
"Accessing pokie machines is easier than accessing a doctor," Cliff said. "These people are often so used to struggling financially, but running blind as to the reasons. They gamble to win money to change their financial situation or to escape. The addiction is so strong and so many people are doing it, it has become socially acceptable. For each person with a gambling problem, around 10 people including partners, children, family, friends, and co-workers are negatively affected by that person's gambling problem."
Ashley also wants to promote a new dedicated Aboriginal Helpline providing support, education and information on gambling for Aboriginal people. If gambling is a problem for you or for someone close to you, phone 1800 PLAY IT SAFE (1800 752 948) or visit www.gambling help.nsw.gov.au for advice and information from counsellors.
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