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Personal Debt: The Hidden Cost Of Gambling

Personal Debt: The Hidden Cost Of Gambling

New Zealanders spent over $2 billion on gambling in the year to 30 June 2004, continuing a year-on-year increase in gambling spend. Yet the figures only tell part of the story. They don’t convey the human damage done by those who use debt to finance their gambling.

Gambling Helpline Chief Executive Gary Clifford says problem gambling and debt go hand in hand. “Money spent on gambling is often ‘borrowed’ money. People tend to call us for help when they’ve gambled away their money and have entered the cycle of debt. Unopened bills pile up, credit cards are ‘maxed out’, there’s no money left for household expenses like groceries and they may have taken out high-interest loans to fund their gambling.”

Last year gamblers entering treatment services had lost an average of over $1,800 in the four weeks immediately prior to being assessed.

To cope with the problem of gambling-related debt, the Gambling Helpline provides a specialist service – the Gambling Debt Helpline.

Mr Clifford says the Gambling Debt Helpline is unique in the way it works with people who are struggling with gambling-related financial difficulties and debt.

“Through experience we’ve learned that budget advice and gambling counselling are not always effective in isolation. If the gambling problem is not addressed the financial crisis is unlikely to improve. Likewise those seeking budget advice often also want counselling and legal advice. As a result we offer integrated counselling and budgeting services to callers,” says Mr Clifford.

The Gambling Debt Helpline provides practical debt management advice and tools not only for gamblers, but also for their affected partners and family, who can end up with shared responsibility for the debt. The Helpline has a dual focus, addressing the gambling issue, and promoting the development of longer term financial skills. One of the key features of the service is that Debt Helpline counsellors support clients as they take back control over their lives; many other agencies tend to take over control and that disempowers the person with the problem.

A number of the people using this service have given up gambling but are still coming to grips with the debt legacy they face. The counsellors help them develop long term coping strategies that minimise the pressure to gamble again in the vain hope of winning enough to pay off creditors.

Another key aspect of this specialist service is to provide training and tools for budgeting agencies and face-to-face gambling counselling agencies, helping them to identify and deal with their clients’ gambling-related debt or financial problems.

A survey carried out in March 2003 of New Zealand Federation of Budget Services members found that 64% find gamblers and those affected by gambling more difficult to work with than other clients. They also reported a lack of knowledge amongst members regarding effective treatment of these clients.

The Gambling Debt Helpline is one of several specialist services provided by the Gambling Helpline – a non-profit organisation that recently changed its name from the ‘Gambling Problem Helpline’ to reflect its growing range of services.

Mr Clifford says the new identity for Gambling Helpline reflects the extended services it offers. “We wanted to move away from the concept that we only worked with ‘problems,’ and position ourselves in line with the preventative healthy living strategy that the Ministry of Health has adopted,” says Mr Clifford.

“The removal of the word ‘problem’ is intended to move away from negative labelling and the perception that the Helpline is only for people with direct problems, when in reality a large part of the service we provide is for family and friends of gamblers, as well as community groups who want general information.”

The Gambling Helpline’s services are recognised as world-leading, but it intends to continue its development. “We have plans to extend the range of choices for our clients, provide more seamless care, and develop our professional delivery of services through technology and service developments,” says Mr Clifford.

Gambling Debt Helpline

0800 654 658

Saturdays 12 – 4 pm


Or phone the Gambling Helpline 0800 654 655

Any day of the week

You can ask for a counsellor from the Gambling Debt Helpline to call you back.

© Scoop Media

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