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A tough time for problem gamblers

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For immediate release

— Wellington, Friday 12 December 2014

A tough time for problem gamblers.

The Christmas holiday period can be an excruciating time for problem gamblers and a time of grief for their families.

The additional costs of Christmas, travel and hosting relatives and friends, as well as the myriad of pressures and expectations, can place those whose gambling has moved on from being simply a recreation at considerable risk.

The danger of them looking to gambling as an escape or the slimmest chance of a big win to pay the bills is heightened at this time, says National Director of The Salvation Army’s Addiction Services Commissioner Alistair Herring.

The human cost of harmful gambling seen by our staff includes chronic and acute debt, avoidable and prolonged poverty, increased alcohol abuse, neglected children, theft from family members, family breakups, deteriorating mental health and suicide, he says.

“Some families lose everything, including each other,” he says. “The effects on children in families affected by harmful gambling can be long-term and devastating.”

Problem gambling is a compulsive behaviour affecting between 24,000 and 80,000 New Zealand adults, with an additional estimated 167,800 low-risk gamblers who experience some harm from gambling. The ripple effect means a severe problem gambler is likely to affect between five and 10 other people, which means half a million people or more could be caught up in the chaos.

Symptoms of problem gambling include secrecy and lying about gambling, feelings of guilt or anxiety over gambling, selling things or borrowing money to gamble, going without the necessities in order to gamble, trying to win back losses, and a need to gamble larger amounts to get the same feelings of excitement.

While some stress at Christmas is unavoidable, there are a number of things families can do to reduce financial pressures and have a higher-quality holiday.
•The most memorable thing you can give children or your partner is good quality time and attention. Picnics at the beach or park or spending time together on a hobby, sport or other activity is something they will cherish long after presents wear out
•Don’t give scratch cards or other gambling products as gifts, particularly to children or young people. Not only is it illegal for people under 18 to gamble but some studies suggest it can contribute to young people becoming problem gamblers
•Have a plan when shopping for gifts and groceries. Write a list and set a budget for each person you buy for and for Christmas food
•Make Christmas gifts. People appreciate the effort and thought that goes into simple things such as home baking, crafts or homemade photo frames.
•Or agree on a $5 or $10 limit on Christmas presents, or do a Secret Santa. You will be surprised with what you can come up with some imagination and careful shopping
•Use cost-effective substitutions for Christmas dinner. A smoked chicken instead of ham is a great alternative, as is providing soft drinks rather than alcohol.

For those concerned with their gambling or others’ gambling, contact The Salvation Army on 0800 530 000 to find the nearest centre for free and confidential advice and support.

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