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Veterans’ suicide probe must focus on gambling harms

19 July 2022

The Royal Commission into suicides among veterans and defence members must include a focus on the impact of gambling in light of evidence that past and present personnel face higher than average rates of gambling problems which are strongly correlated to suicide.

In its submission to the Royal Commission, the Alliance for Gambling Reform said gambling harm was an undeniable and a key factor leading to veterans and defence members suicides and other mental health issues.

The submission also highlighted the increased harm being created by the placing of poker machines in Returned and Services Leagues (RSLs) - a place that was intended to provide comradeship and community support for veterans.

“Our organisation has been made aware of instances of poker machines situated in RSLs resulting in mental health impact, family breakdown and gambling harm to veterans,” the CEO of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Carol Bennett said.
“There are risks around having a harmful product like poker machines in the same space and venue as support services for veterans and their families. Veterans can be particularly vulnerable to the pre-programmed addictive features of poker machines, resulting in a significant risk of harm.”

The submission said US research, which included one study involving more than 200,000 veterans, showed they suffered higher than average gambling harms and that of those with ‘pathological gambling problems’ 40% had attempted suicide.

“While these are US studies where there is a different gambling landscape, the problem is likely to be far worse in Australia given we have a much higher concentration of poker machines as well as the highest rates of gambling and losses in the world. ” Ms. Bennett said.

She also warned that any re-examination of coroners’ reports into suicides as part of the Royal Commission should bear in mind that gambling related factors are not normally reported to inquests, often due to the stigma around gambling harm. As a result, the link between gambling harm and suicide was likely to be greatly under reported.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform’s submission recommends:

  • That gambling harm be considered a key issue that must be addressed in order to reduce the risk of defence and veteran deaths by suicide.

  • That greater awareness and support services are offered to defence members and veterans to minimise gambling harm.

  • That gambling behaviour be recorded and where it is shown to be a factor, should be noted as a contributor to veteran suicides.

  • That research specific to the Australian context be commissioned to better understand the relationship between gambling risk and suicidality among veterans and their families.

Carol Bennett, CEO, The Alliance for Gambling Reform is available for further comment.

Media contact: Martin Thomas – 0477 340 704

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