Campaign to curb Illawarra gambling

A new campaign is targeting young men in a bid to curb the Illawarra's addiction to gambling.The region, and particularly Wollongong, is a gambling hot spot due to a high number of problem and risky gamblers and plenty of poker machines to serve them. On the most recent figures, there are 17 poker machines for every 1000 people in Wollongong, which is three more than the state average.In 2006, Wollongong residents lost nearly $750 per person on gambling, while Shoalhaven residents lost $694 per capita and Shellharbour about $620.Gaming and Racing Minister Graham West chose Wollongong to launch a statewide campaign yesterday because he said the city was deemed a "red zone" - an at-risk zone - for problem gamblers."A red zone is where there is a high number of poker machines and a high number of problem gamblers in a low socio-economic area," he said."Newcastle, Fairfield and lots of country NSW (fall into this category)."State Government legislative changes to take effect later this year meant it would be almost impossible to bring more poker machines into red zone areas, Mr West said.The Gambling Hangover campaign launched at Mission Australia is designed to help men such as Geoffrey Longstaff think about counselling to resolve their gambling problem.Mr Longstaff, 19, has not touched a poker machine in six months, but before that, had poured $1000 into the machines every week since he turned 18. "I thought 'I can always win', when I wasn't," he said.After putting his entire wage into the machines, Mr Longstaff said he was propelled into crime, stealing money or cars which he then used for further thefts.His probation and parole officer guided him into counselling."She taught me that you give it money and it will give you a little bit back (to let you think you were winning)." Before that, Mr Longstaff said he did not know much about counselling."There's those stickers and stuff on the machines, but I didn't really take any notice of it," he said.Mr Longstaff said television ads would help reach more problem gamblers.Studies have found men in the 18-24 age group represented 40 per cent of problem gamblers despite making up only 12 per cent of the population.The group was also drastically under-represented in counselling services.The campaign targets men during the "gambling hangover" the day after they have lost money and are feeling guilty and remorseful. The message is: "It's time to take action."The two-year $1.8 million campaign, to run on television, billboards, in newspapers and on public transport, is funded by the Responsible Gambling Fund, financed by Star City Casino.