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Pushing back against normalisation of gambling


By Patrick Gallus

Young people aged under 18 are increasingly exposed to saturation marketing of gambling products, and more than one in 10 Victorian students aged 12–17 years has bet on sports despite being under the age at which Australians are legally allowed to gamble.

Sean Kearney is a community engagement officer with the Box Hill office of EACH, a national organisation that provides health, disability, counselling and community mental health services. His focus is on educating young people about gambling-related harm. Through presentations and classroom activities, he shows them how gambling advertising works, the harms gambling can cause, and the ways people can seek help.

‘I talk with young people about the normalisation of gambling – they see it as a totally normal part of life,’ Sean says.

…he shows them how gambling advertising works … and the ways people can seek help.

While pokies can’t be advertised in mass media in Victoria, sports betting promotions are prolific. A 2020 Foundation-funded survey of more than 17,000 Victorian sports fans found that almost nine in 10 agree people aged 12–17 years see too much sports betting advertising. Another found 61 per cent of Victorians believe young people think betting on sport is normal.

Concerns about the normalisation of gambling resonated with Ting Zhang, Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) personal development skills teacher at Swinburne University of Technology Secondary Programs (SSP).

‘We decided to study gambling as it’s an issue our cohort faces, including students, their friends and family members,’ according to Ting.

Concerns about the normalisation of gambling resonated…

Sean presented the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s ‘Be ahead of the game’ school education program to Ting’s students and colleagues at SSP’s Croydon and Wantirna campuses. The program includes activities that tie-in well with VCAL’s personal development curriculum.

‘It was interactive, visually engaging … an eye-opener for many of us,’ Ting says.

The presentation and resources, written and piloted by teachers and curriculum specialists, align with VCAL’s ‘hands-on’ approach to learning. Sessions are flexible and can be held in-person, online or a combination of both – it’s up to the school.

Sean has presented at more than 20 schools in the past year and says the content empowers young people to go home and speak to family members about their own gambling behaviours. The main lesson for most students is that it’s best not to gamble.

The lessons at Swinburne’s SSP led students to do their own research on gambling. One group’s particularly strong project involved the development of a series of resources to help teach young people (16–18 years) about the risks associated with gambling and its potential harms. It included a slideshow presentation on why young people are drawn to gambling, signs to look for in people who may be harmed by gambling, and tips on how to quit, as well as an engaging quiz.

The main lesson for most students is that it’s best not to gamble.

Student group member Alan Chan was struck by the fact that the average amount a Victorian adult loses on gambling each year is more than $1,100. In reality, individual gambling losses are much higher, as this figure is an average across the population and therefore includes people who don’t gamble.

‘Because many people gamble a lot of money and lose it all, I understood that gambling addiction is a huge problem among young adults,’ Alan says.

Fellow group member Mitchell Rizza learned about the significant harms gambling can cause, including affecting your job, home or family relationships. His peer, Esther Andrew-Smith, was struck by how gambling can affect anyone, no matter their age.

‘I understood that gambling addiction is a huge problem among young adults.’
Alan Chan

The students incorporated the latest data on pokies expenditure for their local area into their project, as well as details of local support services.

‘To find local losses and spending is really impressive,’ Sean says. ‘I could take these resources and deliver them to schools and community groups and feel really confident in them – the content was all there, and it was really well done.’

With today’s young adults the first generation to have been exposed to the mass marketing of gambling products throughout their lifetime, the last word is best left to Alan.

‘Don't get into gambling because it's not worth losing your money,’ he advises.

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation offers a range of education resources for use in the classroom, including curriculum-based units for a variety of subject areas for Years 10 to 12, student, teacher and parent presentations. To learn more visit

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