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Problem Gambling Taking Greater Toll As Recession Bites

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Problem Gambling Taking Greater Toll As Recession Bites

2 APRIL 2009 - Problem gambling is devastating a growing proportion of South Auckland families seeking help from The Salvation Army.

Recent analysis from the screening of all new clients at The Salvation Army's Manukau community centre is in line with anecdotal evidence from the Army's Oasis Centres for problem gambling around the country, that suggests gambling is now contributing to poverty to a greater degree nationwide.

Screening interviews of all new Salvation Army clients seeking food aid, counselling or budget advice in Manukau over the past eight months showed 45 per cent of its 695 new clients were negatively affected by gambling. Almost 13 per cent (39 people) of those who screened positive were identified as problem gamblers, the rest were family members.

This compares with 33 per cent of people identified as having difficulty making ends meet because of gambling during a two-month pilot screening programme at Manukau in 2005.

A similar six-month screening programme in Christchurch in 2005 also revealed a third of first-time clients were suffering financially because of gambling by a family member.

The Manukau analysis has prompted The Salvation Army to recommence screening in Christchurch.

Salvation Army Addiction Services National Manager Major Lynette Hutson says the South Auckland results are disturbing but of little surprise. The situation is likely to have been exacerbated by the economic downturn.

The recession hits lower socio-economic communities first and hardest, and gambling can be a form of escape for people under considerable pressure, she says.

"Two reasons these people gamble is to escape the increasingly harsh reality of daily life and because they believe the fantasy that if they have that one big win, all their problems will be solved," Major Hutson says.

Of the 39 people identified as problem gamblers, only nine were referred on for treatment.

Major Hutson says this low number reflects gamblers denying that there is a problem until their lives are in a state of collapse, and the strong belief they need to keep their problem secret.

Salvation Army analysis indicates that at this stage, problem gamblers' priority is obtaining food parcels and budget advice, she says.

"The good news is that treatment is available and it works," she says.

The Salvation Army's eight Oasis Centres for problem gambling treat around 2700 problem gamblers each year.

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