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Making changes: snapshots from a regional Gambler’s Help service


Jacinta Morris, Gambler's Help financial counsellor at Bethany Community Support in Geelong, photo: Meredith O'Shea

by Maryrose Cuskelly

For more than 22 years, Bethany Community Support has offered information and advice to people in Geelong and the surrounding regions who are experiencing harm from gambling. Over the past 10 years, this assistance has been provided through Gambler’s Help.

With 10 staff, including counsellors, community educators, a venue support worker and a team leader, Bethany’s Gambler’s Help team works with individuals, other support organisations and the community to reduce gambling harm. It can get busy, as these snapshots reveal.

9.00 am

Brittany Hughes is heading out the door. A community educator with Gambler’s Help, she is on her way to give a presentation on gambling harm to a group of Year 12s at a nearby school. ‘Your growing independence is probably really important to you,’ she will tell them. ‘Why put that at risk?’

10:00 am

Intake officer Sue Dicker is ready to listen. What does the woman on the other end of the phone need? After a few gentle questions, the woman reveals her partner recently discovered that she’d lost a significant amount of money on the pokies. He wasn’t happy. She’s worried that her gambling is putting her relationship at risk. Sue makes sure the caller is going to be okay in the short term, establishing that she’s not in danger or about to be kicked out of her house. Then Sue asks if she’d like to talk to a Gambler’s Help counsellor.


Brittany Hughes, Gambler's Help community educator, photo: Meredith O'Shea

11.00 am

Annette Devereaux, Gambler’s Help team leader, is with her colleagues in the meeting room, a small pile of referrals in front of her: the first is for a client who has already learnt strategies to limit the amount he gambles, but wants to hook back into the service for more support; another lives in Colac and doesn’t have access to a car; a third is a lawyer who blows his salary every month on the horses. Annette and the team discuss who will contact each client and who will travel to Colac to see the client there.

12.00 pm

Financial counsellor Jacinta Morris picks up the phone. She has a number of calls to make to a client’s creditors. He’s a young bloke whose level of sports betting has got to the point where he can’t make this month’s repayment on his car. He’s a tradie, and if he loses his car, he could lose his job. Jacinta will talk to his bank and try to negotiate an extension on his loan.


Sue Dicker, Gambler's Help intake officer, photo: Meredith O'Shea

1.30 pm

Annette puts her head around the door of Bethany’s community kitchen. People are tossing salad, debating the best marinade for chicken and organising cutlery for a shared feast. It’s the fortnightly meeting of A Bright Future Peer Support Group, a program for people affected by gambling harm. Today they’re having a barbeque and sharing experiences of recovery and techniques for resilience. Annette smiles at Barb Gear, Lyn Clancy and Monique Van Der Zee, counsellors who guide the group’s activities. The room is abuzz.

2.00 pm

Counsellor Colin Newell looks over the notes relating to his new client. She’s a nurse, so he already knows she has skills for coping with pressure and dealing with difficult situations – skills she may be able to draw on in managing her life and finances the way she would like. When he calls her to make an appointment, one of the first things he asks is: ‘What do you want to get out of counselling?’


Damian Horan, Gambler's Help financial counsellor, photo: Meredith O'Shea

3.00 pm

Mark Thompson, venue support officer, pulls into the carpark of a pub that has pokies. A couple of weeks ago he delivered training to the staff on recognising if someone is being harmed because of gambling and supporting them to seek help. He wants to hear if the staff found the training useful. Mark’s fostering of this relationship with the venue staff has already proved worthwhile. Some months earlier, a distressed man was sitting in front of a machine, threatening self-harm. Because of Mark’s work, the manager knew to call Gambler’s Help for advice.

5.00 pm

Financial counsellor Damian Horan shuts down his computer. It’s been a varied and busy few days – his fortnightly visit to the local prison where he runs a financial literacy program; reconnecting with clients to check on their progress; and arranging a debt waiver for a client experiencing extreme financial hardship.
It’s also been a good week. Damian has had the satisfaction of seeing people make changes that will improve their financial situations, their relationships and their lives.

Find out more about the organisations delivering Gambler’s Help services across Victoria.