Gambling Harm Reduction Expert Outlines How the Australian Government Can Address Gambling-Related Suicides

Angela Rintoul In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia’s InSight+ website, Angela Rintoul, Associate Professor at Federation University whose expertise lies in gambling harm reduction, health inequities, and the commercial determinants of health, outlined a series of strategies and measures that can be undertaken to prevent suicides tied to gambling in Australia.

Her publication was released amidst the Australian government’s continued discussions on whether a nationwide ban on gambling ads should be implemented, and such a prohibition is among the many measures that could prevent gambling-related suicide, according to Ms Rintoul.

The Problem With “Responsible Gambling” and the Other Issues that Must be Tackled

Responsible Gambling Ms Rintoul highlighted the importance of assessing gambling-related harm as a health issue, and in a way that focuses on the commercial determinants behind the issue. She also pointed to the normalisation of gambling as a problem, seeing as it has contributed toward the dismissal of gambling harm.

On a similar note, a focus was also placed on how the “responsible gambling” approach to wagering harm has long characterised how regulators tackle the issue. Specifically, it was determined that this framing of the problem has served to, to a degree, exempt operators and predatory practices from responsibility and shift it to the clients, instead.

According to Ms Rintoul, the above factors result in gamblers experiencing stigma and shame, which in turn leads to victims being hesitant or unwilling to seek help before the issue escalates to a suicidal crisis.

Apart from moving away from “responsible gambling,” another factor that can help with combating stigma and thus suicide is for general practitioners to regularly ask their patients questions regarding gambling and, therefore, give them a chance to speak out.

Ms Rintoul emphasised that health professionals should also call for the creation of a national regulator that can oversee gambling across all Australian states. Establishing a gambling data vault that companies would be mandated to contribute toward was also determined to be of importance. Another course of action proposed by Ms Rintoul was the establishment of a “universal account registration system” that would enable consumers to set up loss limits.

The Extent of Gambling-Related Suicide Cases in Australia is Likely Worse than Currently Assessed

Gambling-Related Suicide Cases The above-described measures could save many lives if implemented. In her publication, Ms Rintoul pointed to a 2023 study she co-authored with other experts. The said study was focused on suicide cases determined to be related to gambling in the state of Victoria, and it utilised 2009-2016 data from the Victorian Suicide Register. As Australian authorities do not mandate that gambling harm be included as a contributing factor when it comes to such cases, Ms Rintoul and the rest of the team had to rely on witness reports, medical records, and suicide notes, among other data.

By using this methodology, the experts were able to distinguish 184 direct gambling-related suicides, while 17 suicide cases were those of victims who were an “affected other,” i.e. a family member of someone who had partaken in gambling.

In total, 4.2% of all suicide cases in Victoria between 2009 and 2016 were found to have been related to gambling. Of the deceased, a mere eight had been diagnosed as having had a gambling disorder. In most cases (135), the only ones who had known of the victims’ gambling-related problems were family and friends, while the condition of 38 victims had been known about by a health professional. Given the nature of this data, Ms Rintoul stressed that the actual number of gambling-related suicide cases in the seven-year timeframe was without a doubt greater than the aforementioned figures.

She further clarified that while cases tied to financial issues were numerous, information on the cause of debt was not given, nor were specific gambling products identified. It has also been determined that gambling debts were not always the only factor for someone experiencing gambling harm to contemplate suicide. During conversations with survivors, Ms Rintoul has been told that “loss of control, irrational thinking, and sense of defeat” has also played a major role.

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Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams has started his writing career as a freelance author at a local paper media. After working there for a couple of years and writing on various topics, he found his interest for the gambling industry.
Daniel Williams
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