This article contains references to suicide/self-harm.
Paul Fung was introduced to gambling at the age of seven, watching his parents play mahjong in the underground casinos of Melbourne’s Chinatown.
Later in life, as an adult, he would lose $1,000,000 of his brother’s money, whether in casinos or online.
Fascinated by the fast-paced nature of betting, Paul began to learn the tricks of the trade and by legal age, gambling had become an essential daily exercise.
“It was the highest priority, even before the general things of eating, sleeping, showering,” he told SBS News.
Paul Fung says gambling almost cost him his life. Credit: Supplied/Paul Fung
After losing seven figures – money lent to him by his brother – and putting about $20,000 in workers’ compensation, the only option he saw was to kill himself.
“Thoughts were constant – what am I for? I’ve lost my family and I have no friends. What do I live for? Those are the extremes you go to when your game gets to that level,” said Paul.
Paul Fung was introduced to the game as a child, when he saw his parents playing mahjong. Source: Getty / Allister Chiong
Paul is not alone in suffering big gambling losses. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said that in Australia around $25 billion was lost on legal forms of gambling in 2018 -19.
A parliamentary inquiry will investigate online gambling, it was announced last week, and will also examine the effectiveness of advertising restrictions in preventing children from being exposed to gambling.
Lauren Levin of Financial Counseling Australia is pushing for reforms to prevent gambling-related suicides.
She said it’s not just the financial loss of gambling that can lead to ideation.
“It’s often about secrecy, shame, loss of trust, relationships exploding, and a very deep sense of personal failure,” she told SBS News.
For Paul, this shame is rooted in the Chinese culture he grew up in, which kept him from calling for help when he needed it most.
“You’re always supposed to put on a brave face and pretend it’s okay. Because it’s not just my own shame, it’s the family name. Darkness and shame are shared – your whole family is in isolation of the community,” he said. .
Where is the help?
Grace He is a gaming counselor who specializes in dealing with people of Asian descent.
She said one of the hardest parts of her job is getting people from Asian cultures to actively seek the help they need.
“Asians often don’t understand this Western style of advice because in our culture gambling is illegal and so talking about it could land you in jail,” she told SBS News.
The problem of “compulsive gambling”
Ms Levin said the rhetoric around gambling advertising plays a key role in driving the stigma and shame of addiction.
“We hear the terrible slogan, gamble responsibly, and that implies that if your life falls apart and you become addicted, or you’ve lost money, then you’re just not responsible. You have failed. And that’s what we need to change,” she said.
Proponents say there needs to be greater recognition of gambling as a stressor in suicides. Source: Getty / Minko Chernev
Calls for political reform
Tasmania has announced that it will introduce Australia’s first mandatory pre-commitment card for slots players, which only allows consumers to lose $100 a day or $500 a month.
This follows a series of inquiries this year which found that several casinos – including Perth’s Crown and Sydney’s Star – are unable to hold gambling licenses, in part due to their failure to minimize damage from gambling. Game.
Recognize gambling stressor
Matthew McLean of Suicide Prevention Australia says there needs to be greater recognition of gambling as a stressor in suicides.
“We need to know the full scale and extent of this problem. This is important because when we have a more accurate and complete picture, we know the government will seek to invest more funds, we know that the reform program will be more targeted,” he said. SBS News.
Industry experts say working to de-stigmatize gambling debt and seeking help can not only help understand the link between gambling and suicidal ideation, but also help prevent it in the first place.
Advocates like Ms Levin, who work tirelessly to reduce the risk of harm from gambling, believe there is always support for those struggling.
“Financial counselors will go at the pace the person wants to go, to work step by step to change the trajectory of the person’s life and get to a better place,” she said.
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Readers looking for crisis help can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged up to 25). More mental health information and support is available at and at 1300 22 4636.
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