Gambling and Aboriginal people
Most people in Australia gamble, playing lotto, scratchies and other games. Gambling is very common in many Aboriginal communities but little is known about why they gamble and how it destroys their communities.
- Estimated percentage of people in Aboriginal communities who are problem gamblers . Same figure for all gamblers in Australia: 2%.
- Money spent annually on gambling by people living in the NSW Northern Rivers area on poker machines .
- Percentage of the Australian population participating in various forms of gambling .
- Taxation revenue state governments in Australia derive from gambling .
- 1 – 1.5%
- Percentage of gamblers who contribute 70% of poker machine gambling revenue .
- Money spent on gambling each year by all Australians .
- Percentage of the world's electronic gaming machines that are in Australia .
Aboriginal gambling plays with personal and community values. Artwork by Gamilaroi man Sid Williams, published in a booklet about Aboriginal gambling issues .
Most people in Australia love to gamble, playing lotto, scratchies, in casinos, on sporting events or betting on horse or dog races.
The Melbourne Cup is by far the most known and popular betting event with many Australian employers interrupting work to watch the race.
Gambling is very common in many Aboriginal communities but little data exists. Aboriginal people usually have about 50% less money than non-Indigenous people and have a higher unemployment rate, suggesting that “significant numbers of Aboriginal people experience gambling-related problems” .
Fact Australia has more high-loss poker machines per capita than any other country in the world .
Fact Woolworths owns and operates more poker machines than any other entity in Australia .
A (very) short history of Aboriginal gambling
It is likely that Aboriginal people gambled prior to invasion, including wagering for food and clothing. In the late 19th and early 20th century large card circles for adults and children were common on missions and reserves. Depending on age children played for lollies or cigarettes. Today community card playing is part of everyday life in many Aboriginal families [1,2].
Aboriginal people describe gambling as a way of socialising, particularly in rural and remote areas, to relieve boredom and loneliness.
While women are more likely to gamble on poker machines, bingo and cards, men are more likely to gamble on horse racing.
Consultations suggest that problems associated with gambling in NSW Aboriginal communities are getting worse.
Gambling in Aboriginal communities has a big impact because some people have low incomes and big habits.—Survey participant 
Gambling is good?
Many Aboriginal people consider gambling to be a recreational activity and closely link it to drinking. This is due to the frequent co-location of gambling and alcohol-licensed premises.
In most communities gambling is still not recognised as a problem and is therefore not discussed or addressed .
Gambling problems might go along with drug and alcohol problems. Stress, anxiety, trauma, grief, depression and feelings of not belonging to the community make gambling problems more common for Aboriginal people than the non-Indigenous community.
Many gambling venues offer easy access, long opening hours, air condition and serve food and drinks. This makes them an attractive alternative to hot outdoor camps or overcrowded living conditions which are common in Aboriginal communities.
Gaming machines are good pain killers.—Aboriginal health service provider 
Gamblers don’t seek help
Common gambling problems are well known and similar throughout the world. Gambling has been linked to problems with mental health (depression and suicide), physical health, spiritual health, family breakdown, domestic violence, crime, financial difficulties and many more issues [3, 6].
Within Aboriginal communities gambling problems are often a source of shame and stigma which can stop them from seeking help with gambling. Aboriginal people who work in professional roles or who are respected elders in the community are particularly vulnerable.
Feelings of shame and concerns about confidentiality are significant barriers to Aboriginal people seeking help for problem gambling, especially with gamblers who have difficulties in limiting their money and time spent gambling. Hence not many Aboriginal people seek help from gambling treatment services.
We as Aboriginal people don't like talking about gambling.—Ashley Gordon, Ministerial Expert Group on Gambling 
Governments usually tackle problem gamblers with counselling services, but there is a shortage of Aboriginal gambling and financial counsellors. In 2008 only 6 Aboriginal gambling counsellors existed in all of Australia . Many Aboriginal gamblers shy away from using the few services that exist .
Worse, the level of gambling by adults in many Aboriginal communities is also contributing to the increasing numbers of children gambling, say researchers . “This is a damaging societal trand that requires change before the gambling problem escalates to the level of damage felt by Aboriginal communities as a result of alcohol and substance abuse.”
Aboriginal health services routinely deal with mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence but overlook addressing gambling.
Gambling is causing a lot of harm, but what scares me most is that it is not being discussed by Aboriginal people.—Ashley Gordon, Ministerial Expert Group on Gambling 
If you see a gambling counsellor its saying you're a loser. [People] don't understand the psychological escape gambling is for some people and how difficult it is to walk away.—Survey participant 
Gambling affects children’s health
A study revealed a direct correlation between levels of gambling in Aboriginal communities and carer report of illness experienced by Aboriginal children in those same communities .
If a household had gambling problems, there was a 50% increase in carer report of ear infection, and for scabies, rates of reporting were nearly doubled in these houses.
The study suggested that other gamblers may be carriers, contaminating household facilities such as the toilet, linen and towels.
Gambling parents neglecting their children, and kids failing to attend school due to a lack of sleep resulting from players’ noise also impact a child’s heath.
If the community had a permanent doctor and community facilities such as an aged care and women’s centre, gambling problems halved .
Where to get help
There are only few mainstream service providers who are experienced in working with Aboriginal clients. Many need more knowledge, skills and confidence to engage with Aboriginal communities.
If you are a gambler and you need help contact the following services and resources:
Aboriginal Safe Gambling Program
1800 752 948 (freecall)
This helpline provides information about the NSW Aboriginal Safe Gambling Program.
Problem Gambling Help Line (G-line) NSW
1800 633 635
This is a confidential 24-hour, 7 days a week, statewide helpline offering crisis counselling, available to anyone in NSW.
Gambling Help Online
A website with information on gambling offering information to regain control, find support and help others. The site offers a 24/7 phone number for counselling, information and referral.
Gambling money used to help Aboriginal groups
In New South Wales, the Responsible Gambling Fund uses some of the money gambled (or lost) to support gambling treatment services and research. Places that earn more than A$1 million from their poker machines (called ‘pokies’ in Australia) each year get a tax break if they contribute to local community projects. Aboriginal community groups are eligible to apply for such funds.
Last updated: 14 June 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 'On a loser', Koori Mail 489 p.1
 'New program is a good bet', Koori Mail 497 p.39
 'Gambler's challenge', Koori Mail 409 p.21
 'An extraordinary meeting of Woolworths shareholders', Get Up newsletter, 26/6/2012
 'Gambling research prompts warning', Koori Mail 460 p.35
 'NACCHO health alert – Gambling causing harm to Aboriginal children’s health-Menzies research', nacchocommunique.com/2013/06/12/naccho-health-alert-gambling-causing-harm-to-aboriginal-childrens-health-menzies-research, retrieved 13/6/2013