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The real stories behind gambling harm

The real stories behind gambling harm

The real stories behind gambling harm

17 November 2021

The Salvation Army Gambler's Help service in Melbourne offers free and confidential counselling to people affected by Gambling Harm. According to Community Engagement Manager Isolde Scherrer, a quarter of their clients aren't people who experience gambling harm – they are family and friends of people who gamble.

By Jessica Morris

Isolde Scherrer and the team at The Salvation Army Gambler's Help service know that gambling robs people of their livelihood. Every week, they help people impacted by gambling put their lives back together. The vast majority of those seeking help are gamblers themselves – but a quarter are people impacted by someone else’s gambling, and they are at the end of their rope.

Isolde Scherrer (illustrated) and the team at The Salvation Army's Melbourne Counselling Service prefer to keep the spotlight on their clients' stories, and they are passionate about erasing the stigma that keeps people from speaking up about gambling harm.

“When clients do reach out for support, they are breaking the mould. More often than not we see clients when they are at rock bottom when they are about to lose their house, relationship, job. We also see repeat clients who have relapsed. It takes courage to for people to persevere, sometimes for decades, on their recovery journey. It takes a lot of strength to open up your life and share your struggles, and to trust when feeling vulnerable and that is the start of the recovery journey,” shares Isolde, Community Engagement Coordinator for Gamblers Help City and Inner North.

“The trend is that the people who experience harm from their own gambling often don’t recognise the harm they are experiencing or how their gambling is impacting others. It often takes a partner, family member or friend to point this out. We want people to seek support early when they notice signs of gambling harm in someone else or themselves.” 

Situated on floor 2 of The Salvation Army’s Project 614 in Bourke Street, Gambler's Help is part of The Salvation Army’s Melbourne Counselling Service. It offers free, confidential financial and therapeutic counselling to people experiencing, or impacted by, gambling harm. Most are referred through the Gamblers Help Hotline and partnered Alcohol and Other Drugs services or are self referrals. In a city dependent on gambling revenue, it is a vital resource for locals. Many grapple with their own stigma against gambling harm – and that’s where the Melbourne Counselling service’s preventative work plays a crucial role, reaching about 1000 people every year.

“I offer community education sessions to corporate and not-for-profit organisations, with the intention of starting a conversation about gambling harm [so we can] offer small ways that people and organisations can make a difference,” says Isolde.

"The other way we’re making a difference is through our schools program. I talk to young people about the facts around gambling, how much gets spent on advertising gambling and how to spot the signs of harm. With all the gambling advertising around it provides the facts."

This passion keep Isolde and the team motivated as they help people overcome Gambling Harm everyday. 

"I know that the people we work with can experience positive changes in their lives. For many, it’s about finding ways to minimise harm from their gambling. People gamble for many different reasons, sometimes it’s to find a community and belonging sometimes it’s to escape difficult feelings or a difficult life sometimes. We explore ways that people can meet their needs without being worse off financially, emotionally or socially.

"Every client's journey looks different and some persevere, sometimes for decades, on their recovery journey. It takes a lot of strength to open up your life and share your struggles, and to trust when feeling vulnerable. As our client stories show, for them it was worth it. "

Real stories

Gambling harm isn’t isolated – 50 per cent of Australian adults gamble, and for every person who experiences gambling harm, up to six are impacted (read more here). It’s one of the reasons The Salvation Army has chosen to partner with the #RethinkAddiction campaign, which exists to change the conversation about addiction in Australia. And that, says Isolde, is also a vital message for the wider community.

“If you experience gambling harm, or are aware of someone else experiencing harm, please reach out for support. It’s available and confidential. And if someone doesn’t feel comfortable accessing counselling, there’s also peer supports, online chat and online resources,” says Isolde.

Jenna* and Gavin* are two clients The Salvation Army Gambler's Help service have supported in 2021. Here are their stories.

Jenna*, 28 years old 

With the support of Gambler's Help, Jenna was able to gain control of debt left by her ex-partner (Stock image).

For seven years, Jenna was in a long-term relationship with a partner who gambled regularly on sports betting apps. He took out personal loans in Jenna’s name, and didn’t repay them. When the couple broke up, Jenna was stalked and experienced violence. As a result, she moved to a new house and changed her contact number. Her ex-partner later passed away due to substance abuse, leaving Jenna responsible for loan repayments while she grappled with depression and anxiety. She quickly fell behind on the repayments, despite working full- time.

 “The impact of the relationship left me feeling manipulated, with broken promises and broken trust.”

Jenna approached Gambler's Help, who arranged a three-month moratorium on her personal loan with no extra charges, giving her time to make a plan. With the help of a financial counsellor, she then requested debt waivers under the Family Violence Scheme. Jenna still works to pay off some of this debt and is under some financial distress. However, she now has a budget, and periodically works closely with a financial counsellor. Today Jenna’s mental health is greatly improved, and she is starting a new chapter in her life.


Gavin*, 60 years old

Gavin used gambling as a way to hide from his shame around his sexual identity as a gay man. With the support of a theraputic counsellor, he has found a community who accepts him for who he is. (Stock image)

Gavin has had a successful professional career and is now in retirement. He has hidden his sexual identity as a gay man from his family and friends all his life and has relied on gambling to escape his shame. Unfortunately, Gavin has accrued many debts with his loved ones as a result of his gambling. During lockdown, Gavin was unable to gamble at the pokies, and decided he wanted to overcome his unhealthy gambling habits, repay his debt, and find community where he feels accepted.

“[I want] to feel part of the community without feeling the shame.”

Gambler's Help enabled Gavin to create a budget and a sustainable payment plan so he could pay off his loans to family and friends. Due to this, Gavin has no savings left, and coupled with his social isolation struggled with his mental health. Gambler's Help connected Gavin with a therapeutic counsellor, who worked with him to find networking solutions so he could identify and accept his sexuality. This led him to a support group that will help him engage and build on social connections within the local LGBTQI+ community. Gavin already has a more positive outlook on life and is feeling more comfortable with his sexuality.

Call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. For more information on the Melbourne Counselling Service, visit

*Pseudonyms given for privacy


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