This research was part of several larger studies where the strongest negative gambling outcome reported was financial hardship (Breen et al., 2010; Breen et al., 2011; Breen 2011; Breen, 2012; Hing et al., 2010). In this paper only those results including crime associated with gambling and recommended gambling interventions are presented. In the general synthesis, crime was a less strong theme, reported by about 10-15% of participants. However in several locations, crime was a repetitive theme. Participant responses about crime arose from general questions on risk factors and negative gambling consequences so card and commercial gambling are combined here. Please note that all quoted responses are from Indigenous participants unless otherwise specified.
Consequent to frequent intensive gambling, some people resort to crime as one way to manage their increasingly difficult financial circumstances. Using four crime categories developed by Bellringer et al. (2009), crimes here appeared to fall into two categories, those committed to support a gambling habit (fraud and theft) and family abuse and dysfunction. Fraud and theft were mostly reported from participants in four of the six LGA’s in northern NSW. Family dysfunction was reported in most research sites across NSW and QLD. Family dysfunction was described as dependants committing crimes and youth gambling being ignored. A less obvious crime was said to be family violence. With one or two exceptions, little gambling-related crime was reported by 41 gaming managers at their venues.
For crimes committed to support problematic gambling, work and welfare-related fraud were two strong themes. Work-related fraud, described as “stealing at work” and “people ripping off their workplace” was often connected to poker machine gambling. For example, one city organisation manager explained his experience as: “an employee took $100,000 and put it into poker machines … (the) individual did jail time. Other individuals were involved but only one convicted”. Another woman reportedly with a “really bad gambling problem” was caught stealing from her government employer “… to feed her gambling problem” recalled one of her departmental colleagues. A Legal Aid officer often assisted Indigenous women in court for “gambling-related fraud”.
Welfare-related fraud, linked to either card gambling or commercial gambling, was typically called “Centrelink fraud” explained a community support worker. In the city: “one person … had a gambling problem. She was ripping off Centrelink, got caught”. “Nine out of ten times in the court, Centrelink fraud … (was) based on gambling problems” said a regional legal advisor. Summarising these responses, one state-wide counsellor observed “attitudes change when gambling; responsibility is thrown out the door”.
Some participants explained gambling crime as desperate theft: “if you have no money, if family has no money … desperation leads to some crime”. In one LGA some participants noted that the increasing crime rate was linked to gambling theft. A local community member described activities by gamblers as lying, cheating and stealing. He went on to say “[after] hocking your own stuff, but then don’t get it back” some gamblers start “selling their items and other people’s for money”. Support for this response came from another community man in an adjoining LGA who remarked: “jewellery and bikes will be gambled or stolen to gamble”.
Crimes committed in or near gaming venues were usually ascribed to high alcohol consumption, not gambling. The effects of high alcohol use are immediately visible while the effects of gambling problems may be longer term and out-of-sight. Only one manager (non-Indigenous) from a north QLD regional town remarked “Gambling related violence is high in (name of place)”. There was some conjecture that gambling-related violence occurred but the over-consumption of alcohol was of far greater concern to managers.
Within the context of family dysfunction, one very serious outcome was seen as dependants committing crime. This was described by several participants as petty crime committed by children of gamblers who had to adjust to a decreasing pool of family resources. In one LGA a child support officer described gambling as “an underlying issue” seen as “leading to stealing and crime by kids if they are hungry and not supervised”. This response was reinforced by local community members. For example, two responses included: “shoplifting and petty crime by hungry kids” and “kids commit crime, often for food”. A non-Indigenous man from a remote location reported “some crime associated with kids stealing food from the store when they are hungry”. In terms of parental role models, a participant from a different LGA was concerned that “stealing food and money, gambling and drinking gets transferred to kids as they watch that behaviour”, while an Elder here saw links between crime and deprived children as causing “kids to suffer, there’s no discipline, causes crime”.
In one LGA, youth gambling on cards was plainly obvious. Card gambling was a regular occurrence here where: “kids play in street nearly every day, 16 year olds” and “kids play a lot of cards”. Several concerned community members saw potential lifetime patterns of risky behavior being established by these young gamblers. One long-term resident said “80% young kids play cards for money; sets them up for later patterns of gambling”. This was reinforced by a family support worker who saw an easy transition from cards to commercial gambling “kids start playing cards in the street in the open, very young. Underage gambling on cards in main street. At 18 they go to venues”.
Perhaps more seriously, it was noted that while card gambling attracted some youth, access to commercial gambling in some locations was seen as easy, even though it was illegal for those under 18 years. One male Elder was worried about the vulnerability of youth with access to commercial gambling in his LGA:
“… access to it, some of these kids are 16 and 17 but they look … 25 and they’ll be up there playing the machine, drinking or whatever the case may be and it comes back to that access. You can’t see any publicans pulling them up if they’re putting in $50 to $100 at a time into the machine. Publicans don’t want to pull them up”.
Some youth were seen to imitate their peers in risky behaviour. The motivation to gamble and to commit crimes to get extra money was reported by several participants in one LGA. For instance, one woman in this community explained: “they gamble because they want to throw in (buy) for alcohol and marijuana. Parents know and don’t care; 16 year olds are doing this”. The eventual cost of such risky behaviour could be contact with the legal system as one female Elder observed:
“You’ve got young people around the 13, 14, 15 year old mark starting to grow up and they tend to get a feel for what other kids around them are doing and wear in terms of clothes. If they even got that off their parents they seem to look to thieve and they look to break into people’s homes just to get some money … the more alcohol that is involved I think the more risk they take”.
Although limited to just one or two LGAs, youth gambling appeared to be associated with other risky behaviour.
Violence within families as a consequence of gambling was a real concern to several participants, but rarely mentioned in the context of crime. However, violence against anyone, either physical or threatened, is a crime (Snowball & Weatherburn, 2008). One participant, a health professional who worked in several LGAs, reported gambling losses as creating “a strain on relationships” which “can be a precursor to domestic violence”. A child safety worker stated:
“Violence is huge because of gambling … if one person’s got a problem, then obviously that person’s trying to hide that problem from the other partner, then that leads from one thing to another … verbal and physical abuse”.
Further in a regional outback town, a male Elder described exploitation and threatening behaviour as: “Yes, a lot of domestic violence problems. You get your men that stand over for their key cards and that would have ramifications”.
Gambling losses reported by an experienced family support officer in one LGA were seen as producing “a lot of conflict, domestic violence. People don’t have a win, they just blow their money and they’re going to start taking it out on the missus”. This extended to children, where a community member recognised that some gamblers “cannot meet basic needs, affecting ability to be good parents, child neglect abuse of kids as a result of stress over losses”. Similarly, another community member in a different LGA commented that gambling contributes to “break-ups and domestic violence”.
Regarding locations, gambling crimes involving fraud and theft appeared more obvious to participants in northern NSW and less obvious in north QLD. Crime associated with dependant youth stealing for food was reported in both northern NSW and north QLD. Youth gambling on cards for money was reported and observed in two LGAs in northern NSW. Violence within families as a consequence of gambling losses was reported in both northern NSW and north QLD.
Thus, direct financial, legal and social well-being consequences were associated with gambling problems and crime for the gambler, but there were also some reports of indirect and serious consequences for gambler’s families, children and communities. To reduce negative gambling consequences, participants were asked for their ideas on appropriate interventions.
Interventions for gambling-related problems usually include professional help (formal treatment, gambling telephone helplines, online counselling), non-professional help (support from family, friends, groups) and self-help (self-exclusion and personal strategies). There is low usage of mainstream professional help and very few culturally specific services available for Indigenous Australian gamblers (Breen et al., 2010; Cultural Perspectives Pty. Ltd 2005). The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AHMRC) (2007) maintains that shame and stigma prevents Indigenous Australians from seeking gambling help while Cultural Perspectives Pty. Ltd (2005) state that a lack of comfort with counselling, little confidence in gambling help services and confidentiality concerns were barriers. Challenges for gambling help providers were described by Cultural Perspectives Pty. Ltd (2005) as - diversity within and across Aboriginal communities; gambling not being identified as a significant problem; co-morbidity with alcohol and other drugs and depression; and structural disadvantage associated with poverty and unemployment.
With this in mind, all participant suggestions for interventions to potentially reduce any negative consequences of gambling were valued and treated as important. Their responses were analysed thematically and are reported here as interventions that could be implemented by Indigenous people themselves, by gambling counsellors, by the gaming industry and venue managers, and by the government.
For Indigenous Australians, these Indigenous participants raised the need for them to: open up discussions about gambling leading to a better awareness of its ripple effects; realise the urgency for balanced, appropriate community education about gambling to assist Indigenous gamblers to make informed decisions (such as the development, broadcast and distribution of media messages specifically aimed at Indigenous audiences with Indigenous-appropriate community education booklets); train and appoint Indigenous gambling liaison workers and gambling counsellors to assist those seeking help in a culturally sympathetic manner; encourage education in budgeting and money management (for example providing community workshops or including budgeting sessions in health and employment programs); and to return to Indigenous cultural values including collective social norms, respect for leadership by Elders and strong role models. Several remarks underpinning these themes included: “educate on the consequences of gambling and what happens when you lose your money”; “recognise the issues and problems gambling can cause” and “more Aboriginal counsellors, more educators”.
For gambling counsellors, most participants, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, agreed that cultural awareness training would help in providing appropriate gambling services to Indigenous gamblers. This means exploring the need for, and development of culturally sensitive problem gambling help services and not expecting that mainstream services to be appropriate for all Indigenous gamblers. If staff in mainstream services expect Indigenous people to be open, direct, articulate and expressive about their problems in a clinical, non-Indigenous setting (Cultural Perspectives Pty. Ltd 2005), then cultural sensitivity will be low as typical communication styles used by Indigenous Australians are more circular and non-dyadic (Steane et al. 1998). Thus some people said there was: “a lack of appropriate and cultural services for Indigenous people”; “focus services on Aboriginal people”; “fear of being stigmatised”. Indigenous participants advocated for gambling counsellors to cooperate with and train other community service workers on Indigenous gambling issues. This should help them recognise signs of gambling-related problems in their clients and overcome a general concern. One person said that “gambling is not seen as a big issue, not linked to other influences such as crime, drugs and alcohol”. Providing culturally appropriate professional gambling help and encouraging its use may assist some Indigenous people who gamble to seek help before reaching a crisis.
For the gaming industry and venue managers, many Indigenous participants saw them as responsible for providing a safe environment with proper regard for responsible gambling practices. One suggestion was to raise gambler protection by withdrawing media announcements about gambling odds, gambling draws and winnings. A further proposal was for gaming venues to support gambling education and awareness programs in community centres and schools. Comments supporting these proposals were: “overdue area that needs attention”; “Aboriginal pamphlets (explaining gambling)”; “educate our people on the impacts of gambling” and “talk to the principal at the school”.
In relation to what governments can do, Indigenous participants perceived governments as being mandated to remove historical structural inequities affecting Indigenous Australians generally in education, employment and more. Concerning employment, some wanted “more Aboriginal people in the hospitality industry”. However, in regard to gambling, they wanted risk reduction through the proper implementation of responsible gambling activities in local venues. Suggestions for reducing gambling risks included: “government could be less ambivalent to the problem by establishing a whole of government approach through health, police”; “tough regulations about money limits in a 24 h period for spending on gambling”; “smart cards linking spending per session”. In particular, it was identified that “stronger ties need to be seen between gambling and crime and gambling and other problems”. A few participants considered that strengthened government efforts in venues could be achieved by strict monitoring of licensing laws. Governments were expected to provide funding for culturally relevant public health gambling services for the social wellbeing of all Indigenous people, based on regional needs.
These responses, although summarised into groups, potentially show those in the public health field multiple ways to address the concerns of Indigenous people about gambling and its consequences. As gambling issues are closely connected with cultural, social and economic issues, providing gambling assistance to Indigenous communities needs to be relevant to people in that location (Stevens & Young 2009a). One practical implication of this research is the need to identify who, how and in what format public health interventions could be targeted and implemented in these locations.
From these responses, significant elements that may form the basis of a model of Indigenous intervention can be drawn out including: the need for community education and awareness campaigns, better knowledge of services, human resource development for Indigenous and non-Indigenous counsellors, culturally appropriate intervention strategies, greater integration of services and improved government funding.