What is Problem Gambling?

Most Australians find gambling to be a harmless pastime. However, a few gamblers are unable to keep their gambling under control and cause problems for themselves and others. These problems may become very serious for some.

Because everyone is different, it is not possible to have a simple test such as the amount of money or time spent gambling. Some people have lots of money and time and may not have a gambling problem even if they gamble a lot. Other people may not have much money or time and may have a problem even if they are only gambling a little.


The situation when a person's gambling activity gives rise to harm to the individual player and/or to his or her family, and may extend to the community.

Market Solutions and Dickerson 1997

How many problem gamblers are there?

Gambling is a popular recreation in Australia. About 82 percent of adult Australians gamble, and about 40% of adults gamble at least once a week.

However, about 1% of the adult population have severe problems with their gambling and another 1.1% have moderate problems. It is the combined figure of 2.1% of Australian adults that we describe as 'problem gamblers'. This figure varies from 0.7% of adults in Western Australia to 2.55% of adults in NSW. So there are more than 300,000 problem gamblers in Australia.

Some characteristics of problem gambling

Problem gamblers come from all groups in society. A typical problem gambler:

  • frequently thinks about gambling, reliving past gambling experiences or planning the next gambling session;
  • cannot be trusted with money and is selfish;
  • is secretive;
  • is frequently absent from home or work without explanation;
  • is restless, irritable or depressed;
  • denies having a gambling problem.

Features of problem gambling

The Productivity Commission said that problem gamblers may experience:

  • Personal and psychological characteristics, such as difficulties in controlling expenditure; thinking about gambling for much of the time; anxiety, depression or guilt over gambling and thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide;
  • Gambling behaviours, such as spending more time or money on gambling than intended, chasing losses and making repeated but failed attempts to stop gambling;
  • Interpersonal problems, such as gambling-related arguments with family members, friends and work colleagues; relationship breakdown and other family stresses;
  • Job and study problems, such as poor work performance, lost time at work or studying, and resignation or sacking due to gambling;
  • Financial effects, such as large debts, unpaid borrowings, and financial hardship for the individual or family members; and
  • Legal problems, such as misappropriation of money, passing bad cheques, and criminal behaviour due to gambling, which in severe cases may result in court appearances and prison sentences.

More information?

For a clear explanation of problem gambling and what you can do about it, we recommend How to Stop Gambling by Paul Symond, published by Bantam Books.

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