Illawarra residents are urged to consider how gambling can cost more than money as technology - especially the smart phone - gives both adults and children greater access to gambling.
Joseph Lyons, Mission Australia's GambleAware community coordinator for the Illawarra and southern NSW, said gambling cost people in different ways, with impacts beyond the financial.
One per cent of all NSW adults are problem gamblers and a further 2.8 per cent are considered moderate risk gamblers. Less than half the adult population abstains from gambling.
For someone with a gambling addiction, Mr Lyons said, it could affect relationships and employment as it became "the focus of their life".
"It really takes over their life, and it can have a real impact on someone's mental and ultimately physical health as well," Mr Lyons said.
He said gambling had become a part of Australian culture, with pokies "very popular" among young people aged 18 to 24, as was sports betting.
Lotteries were the most common form of gambling, Mr Lyons said, but especially among older demographics.
He said technology such as smart phones gave people many ways to gamble.
"Our counsellors see people of all different ages, all different backgrounds, and they even gamble differently," he said.
Among young people especially, Mr Lyons said simulated gambling in games was a major concern.
Common features such as 'loot boxes' - which are bought to obtain in-game items and 'skins', in-game currency, and advantages and progress - are similar to gambling, a NSW Office of Responsible Gambling study says.
The same 2020 study surveyed 2200 12 to 17-year-olds and found the average age a child first gambled was 11.6 years.
"Sports betting, gambling advertising or even gambling-like kids' games are all becoming more prevalent, so it's important we use this week to increase awareness of gambling behaviours in ourselves and others, including our kids," Mr Lyons said.
"We have some really good support services in the Illawarra and southern NSW community."
October 16 to 22 marks GambleAware Week, and Mr Lyons says even talking about the issue can stimulate change.
Mission Australia will also run two information stalls in the Illawarra for people to learn more about gambling harm and where they can get support.
The stalls will be run at the Shellharbour Club on Wednesday, October 18 from 4pm to 6pm, and at Wests Illawarra in Unanderra on Friday, October 20 from 11am to 1pm.
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