Gambling is rife in Australia and now it is infiltrating our schools. One Melbourne school was recently reported in a negative light when some of its underage pupils were believed to be frequently visiting a betting establishment clad in their school unforms. The media, irresponsibly, portrayed this as a cultural issue within the school due to the school community's privileged and wealthy profile, but young people from all walks of life are vulnerable to all forms of addiction.
It’s no surprise that gambling is the latest addiction to take centre stage, as its place in Australian society has become increasingly normalised: betting odds and expert advice are now integrated into televised sports, nightly sports news and print media coverage. Very young children intently follow all of these media, so is it fair to blame them for placing a few bets when gambling is in their face every day?
It appears the school in question has been taking measures to deal with the issue; just last year the school invited the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) to speak to its senior students and parents about addictive behaviours. But wouldn’t it be more effective to replace the VRGF visits with a speaker who can talk first-hand about how gambling has ruined their personal and financial life?
Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world. State governments are so dependent on gambling revenue that they would never think to balance the gambling income against the costs associated with the breakdown of families and relationships, and financial hardship, particularity for the young, poor and vulnerable who succumb to the gambling bug at a far greater rate.
State governments are now including gambling and chance components in their maths curriculum in an attempt to show students how the odds are stacked against them, but it’s questionable how effective these measures will be to minimise the potential harm they face. It's more likely that these programmes simply allow governments to portray themselves as seriously tackling the issue, while at the same time increasing the number of poker machines and increasing cash payouts to gamblers.
Studies on school-based education for gambling have shown these programmes do increase understanding of gambling but they do not change gambling behaviour. When large numbers of adults are powerless to resist the lure of gambling, is it really fair to portray young people in a negative light for engaging in the same behaviours? These tokenistic measures to educate children on the dangers of gambling are only holding back the tide while gambling continues to freely dominate Australian sport and media.
Kai Pukarinen is an assistant principal in a special school in Victoria, Australia
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