Abstract: This study examines gambling behaviour, gambling motivations, gambling-related problems, impacts of gambling and help-seeking among a sample of Indigenous Australians. The study is exploratory and cross sectional and represents the first quantitative analysis of Indigenous gambling in New South Wales since 1996. With the help of several Indigenous Australian research assistants, a survey was conducted at a 2011 Indigenous arts and cultural event, capturing responses from 277 Indigenous Australian adults. While about one-quarter of respondents gambled on card games in the previous 12 months, nearly three-quarters had gambled on commercial forms of gambling, especially poker machines. Participation rates and weekly gambling on poker machines, keno and wagering, and the proportions of problem and at-risk gamblers, were higher in the Indigenous sample than in the general New South Wales population. While the main reasons for gambling were reported as pleasure and fun, socialising, to relax and the chance to win money, several negative impacts were reported, including financial problems and subsequent reliance on relatives or friends. More than one in ten gamblers also reported gambling had led to household arguments, depression and violence. Distinctive barriers to seeking help for gambling problems included lack of knowledge and confidence about help services and lack of culturally appropriate help services. Although limited by a non-representative sample, this paper highlights some distinctive aspects of Indigenous gambling that warrant further research to inform appropriate public health and treatment measures to address problems associated with contemporary Indigenous gambling.
There is a growing body of research into gambling in Australia, but little has focused on gambling by Indigenous Australians. Yet Indigenous Australians have been participating in gambling since before white settlement. The first forms of card gambling were introduced in the north by Macassan traders, while British colonists brought poker, dice games, and pitch and toss to the south (Breen 2008; O'Hara 1988). Today, Indigenous people in more regional and remote areas still gamble in card rings, while those in less remote areas are also likely to participate in commercial forms of gambling, such as gaming machines, casino games, sports betting and wagering (McMillen and Donnelly 2008). The availability of commercial gambling has broadened Indigenous participation in gambling generally (Breen et al. 2010; McMillen and Donnelly 2008).
However, little knowledge exists about contemporary Indigenous Australian gambling, in stark contrast to the now substantial research efforts directed towards non-Indigenous gambling. For example, most Australian state governments regularly commission gambling prevalence studies, which typically examine participation, frequency, duration and expenditure on the various forms of gambling, measure the prevalence of gambling-related problems, from low to severe, and analyse these data in relation to problem gambling severity and various socio-demographic variables. However, these surveys have captured minimal and unreliable data from Indigenous Australians, largely because of their relatively small proportions in most state populations and because of the telephone survey methodologies employed. For example, a state-wide telephone survey of gambling in the Northern Territory excluded the two-thirds of Indigenous residents without a home telephone, with the 126 responses representing only more affluent urban residents (Young et al. 2006). In the jurisdiction with the next highest proportion of Indigenous residents, Queensland, four prevalence surveys with samples ranging from approximately 13 000 to 30 000 adults have reported no Indigenous-specific data except that Indigenous people tend to be over-represented among at-risk and problem gamblers (Queensland Government 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010). …