Not everyone associates legal issues, crime and recidivism with problem gambling, but according to research undertaken by the Productivity Commission (1999), legal outcomes from problem gambling include bankruptcy, divorce, theft and embezzlement. In fact, about one in ten problem gamblers have committed a crime because of their gambling â and two thirds of those in counselling had done so. Conversely, many people already implicated in the criminal justice system could have a problem with gambling that isnât being detected.
According to a media report from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, 15 per cent of court defendants have gambling problems â together with high rates of unemployment, financial stress, literacy and learning difficulties, housing instability, substance abuse and mental and physical health problems among court defendants. Of the 15 per cent of sampled court reported gambling problems, 29 per cent indicated they would be interested in seeking help and 28 per cent indicated they are currently getting help.
The truth is that problem gambling can go undetected for a long time. Yet once it becomes serious, it can have a harmful impact on the lives of many â both directly for individuals, as well as family, friends and employers.
Some research also indicates that Australian courts are generally reluctant to take gambling into account in their decision-making because of difficulties in being able to demonstrate that criminal behaviour was driven by impulse or mental impairment. However, magistrates and judges aware of support services could refer convicted problem gamblers to Gambling Help services as part of sentencing. This includes personal, financial and legal counselling for people at risk of becoming problem gamblers, as well as people who self-identify as having an issue with gambling.
Fortunately, there are many ways people in the legal profession can help break this cycle. Solicitors and barristers can ask clients about possible problem gambling - âHave you ever had an issue with your gambling?âï¿½
For those who have already come into contact with the criminal justice system, for whom gambling is more likely to be a problem, additional information about appropriate self-help tools, support services and materials available form Gambling Help could be provided. In fact, problem gambling prevalence rates tend to be 10 to 20 times higher amongst those in correctional institutions than in the general community.ï¿½ Gambling amongst prisoners tends to reflect broader difficulties in impulse control and psychological functioning, whereas crimes committed by problem gamblers seeking assistance at agencies tend to be more directly linked to gambling and usually only occur once gambling problems are well established.
Also, by being aware of signs related to other personal issues (mental health, drug or alcohol abuse, inter-personal issue or financial stress), counsellors can help direct potential problem gamblers to more appropriate resources.
Gambling Help is a free service that assists problem gamblers and their families in NSW. It includes a range of counselling and self-help options that can be accessed by phone, online and face-to-face. All Gambling Help services have a common goal: to help people understand and overcome problem gambling, and to provide support, advice and encouragement as they do so. Gambling Help services are funded by the Responsible Gambling Fund on behalf of the NSW Government.
To find out more about Gambling Help, or to seek support, visit the website or call 1800 858 858.
15 May 2009