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Bright minds, bright ideas: young Aboriginal people get the facts on gambling harm


(L to R): Somenah Nasir, Emily Ryan, Vanessa Williams and Lisa Joyce from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, photo: Paul Jeffers

by Elijah Louttit

Emily Ryan is a health promotion officer at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS). She works in the Healthy Lifestyles team, which raises community awareness about various health and wellbeing issues, including gambling harm. The team engages with community members at different life stages and in various environments – from early childhood activities to adults’ groups, sports carnivals and other community events.

While the team encourages conversations about gambling harm, and provides information on where community members can go for support, they have not had specific tools to help discuss gambling with Aboriginal youth. Until now.

When the Foundation launched Love the Game – Young Aboriginal People’s Awareness Program (YAPAP) during National Reconciliation Week in May 2018, Emily and her colleagues leapt at the chance to put it through its paces.

‘I think this program will be invaluable in sharing information across community and raising awareness about the risks associated with gambling, specifically among the Koori youth,’ says Emily.

Putting it to the test

YAPAP aims to help young Aboriginal people gain a balanced, realistic understanding of the risks associated with gambling. The program’s interactive workshops encourage participants to:

  • identify all the sports they can bet on, to see how commonplace sports betting has become, and how advertising is used to sell it
  • observe how some digital games resemble real gambling apps, and how this can contribute to gambling being seen by many as a ‘normal’ activity
  • recognise that gambling is an activity that has very few winners, through learning how much money is gambled each year
  • consider whether gambling might be a problem for them or someone they know, and learn about the services available to support Aboriginal communities, especially young people.

Emily and her team piloted YAPAP as part of a six-week Koori Krew program for Aboriginal youth. The Koori Krew program includes discussions on different healthcare topics, such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco and gambling.

‘I find it interesting that so many people are wasting their money and spending so much.' - 14-year-old YAPAP participant

Emily says the sports activity was a really good icebreaker. ‘The kids listed their favourite sports and identified the ones with marketing or advertisements attached to them.’

Most of the participants were very aware of the types of gambling available, having heard about them from family members, YouTube and other social media – particularly Sportsbet and TAB promotions – and having seen advertisements at the football.

The amount of money lost on gambling in Victoria annually was of particular interest. Victorian adults lose an average of $1235 a year on gambling. ‘The kids were really surprised by that,’ says Emily.

One participant wrote in the program feedback form, ‘I find it interesting that so many people are wasting their money and spending so much. And there is so much more you can do with your money instead’.

Working together to make it right for community

The Foundation designed YAPAP in close collaboration with the four organisations that deliver Aboriginal Gambler’s Help services across Victoria: Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-operative (GEGAC), Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS) and VAHS.

GEGAC initiated development of the program by expressing interest in offering a version of the Foundation’s Love the Game School Education Program to community groups, particularly to young Aboriginal people. GEGAC and Rumbalara then worked with the Foundation to adapt the program to make it culturally appropriate. For example, some language, images and videos were changed, and an Aboriginal actor was engaged to make the video voiceover feel genuine for young Aboriginal people. All four Aboriginal Gambler’s Help services provided feedback and ideas throughout the process.

YAPAP can be delivered to young Aboriginal people in settings such as youth groups, sporting clubs and schools. It can be presented by either a community engagement coordinator from an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service or a counsellor or community educator from a local Gambler’s Help service.

To learn more about the program, visit: Young Aboriginal People’s Awareness Program.

You can also find out more or book a session by contacting your local Aboriginal Gambler’s Help service: