Have you ever stopped to think about how our teenagers and young adults are exposed to gambling more than any generation before them?

And not just exposed to it… with the convenience of smart phones and betting apps, gambling is now accessible at the tap of a screen. The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation says they are ‘the first generation to be exposed to the saturation of online betting products.’

It can affect social, financial and mental wellbeing in young lives without anyone really knowing it’s going on until it’s a significant problem. It’s gatecrashing credit ratings and the formative years so important to life development.

Fresh out of school, David* first got involved in an online syndicate-betting scheme through an app on his iPhone. “It was this scheme of turning $50 into $50,000. I was all excited, just 18, I was thinking I could make $50k and that would be fantastic. I got lost in that,” said David.

“Every time a syndicate started I’d spend $50, then reinvest winnings. You end up starting and restarting several times a day, with the promise you’ll reach the $50k and it’ll be alright.”

At one point David was active on four different betting apps, when a moment of clarity saw him delete them. However, he got deeper into gambling when his job at a popular Northern Beaches hotel moved from behind the bar to the TAB. “Through work, I had to know the basics. I took it to an extra level and really got into the horse racing. It escalated the problem,” said David.

Sondra Kalnins, manager of BaptistCare Counselling & Family Services - Gambling Help, said the age group from 18-35 have increased risk. “When young men become adults they see gambling as a perfectly safe and fun activity that they are legally allowed to participate in.”

“They may still be living at home or without major financial responsibilities, and if working have a new sense of freedom. A lucky initial win can often be the trigger to continue gambling,” said Sondra.

Sondra explains people can mistake gambling as a way to make money instead of an entertainment product they purchase.

David’s friends would bet randomly, whereas he was very systematic about it. “Whenever I made a win, I thought I worked it out, and therefore I had control over it. I felt I had achieved something. It was really reinforcing.”

While gambling becomes a problem when people spend more money than they can afford on it, there’s so much more to it, according to Sondra.

“As well as loss of money, people spend too much time focusing on it, avoiding facing problems and emotions, isolating themselves from significant people in their lives, not taking part in previously enjoyed activities, social events and life in general.”

“When people have little motivation to do much apart from gambling, it can lead to devastating effects including depression, relationship breakdowns, financial crisis, isolation and unfortunately thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts,” said Sondra.

In talking to David, he’s a smart and articulate young man, now studying at university. And while he really tried his best to keep his problem gambling away from other people, he says it definitely affected those close to him.

“I think because it was taking up so much of my mental space, it indirectly affected my relationships and friendships. I wasn’t going out as much. When I was, I didn’t stay out cause I had no money to. Eventually, it did get bad and it did directly affect relationships in my family,” said David.

This is something David has worked hard to repair since seeking professional help at BaptistCare - Gambling Help.

“Although it was hard for David to be honest about what he had done he did so, and has worked very hard to take responsibility for the negative consequences he caused for his family and others,” said Sondra.

“He attended structured cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and learnt to challenge irrational beliefs about his gambling and see it for what it was for him… a self destructive cycle.”

David has since put effective strategies in place around money management, self-excluded from gambling sites, and has found other interests and activities to his occupy time.

“He made a decision to help himself, regain the trust and respect of his family and loved ones, and work towards turning his life towards a positive and meaningful pathway… and in that way be a happy person who is living life to the fullest.”

David says Sondra played a key part in his progress, “Sondra really knew exactly what I was going through and she could make sense of it properly, and talk to me where it mattered and reassure me.”

“At Gambling Help, you’re accountable to yourself rather than to a group. It’s powerful.”

The whole aspect of BaptistCare - Gambling Help being free was also really crucial. “Obviously, being in financial trouble as a result of the problem, that was a big determinate of me seeking help in the first place. It was a relief being able to go for free,” said David.

David would caution anyone, especially teens, looking for a ‘quick’ win that making your own money is more rewarding, ‘You tend to think a big win is the best thing ever, it’s actually better to see your money increase from your own work.’

“Gambling is a waste of youth. You’re going to damage yourself and those around you. It’s a silly thing to do where there are so many other things to do with your time when you’re young. You should use up your energy for things that are fun,” said David. 

BaptistCare Counselling & Family Services - Gambling Help is a free and confidential counselling service, funded by the NSW Government Responsible Gambling Fund. Professional and qualified counsellors come alongside people and work with them to change their gambling behaviours and make positive lifestyle choices, through evidence-based and best practice counselling and treatment. Family and friends are also offered support. The program provides free financial counselling for people experiencing financial problems due to gambling.

During Responsible Gambling Awareness Week (16 September), BaptistCare is encouraging everyone to ‘check in’ on their own, their family, friends and colleagues' gambling and provide appropriate support or direction.

If you or someone you love is experiencing the social, financial and emotional difficulties caused by problem gambling, more details are available here. Appointments are now available at our Bondi Junction and East Sydney locations. You can also reach out to NSW Gambling Help 24/7 on 1800 858 858 or refer to gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for assistance.

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*name changed for privacy and photo for illustration purposes only