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Australia: gambling problems higher in international students

International university students are almost twice as likely to exhibit problematic gambling behaviours than domestic students, despite gambling at substantially lower rates, according to a report from the University of Tasmania.

International students are more likely to use casino table gambling. Photo: UnsplashInternational students are more likely to use casino table gambling. Photo: Unsplash

Male international students had substantially higher instances of problem gambling; 15% for those who gambled

“You can never beat the machine”

The report, which surveyed 1,395 UTAS students, found that while 38% of international and 56.3% of domestic students engaged in gambling, 2.6% of all international students exhibited behaviours within the problematic range of the Problem Gambling Severity Index compared to 1.4% for locals.

“[The findings] suggest that a small but significant minority of these students struggle with problem gambling,” the report reads.

“International students who develop problem gambling behaviour experience a range of adverse health and mental health impacts, including higher levels of smoking, alcohol and substance use and higher levels of general psychological distress.”

The researchers, who were commisioned to undertake the survey by Tasmania’s Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged the findings more or less fell in line with other national surveys.

Concerningly, the survey, which took into account activities including casinos, sports betting, electronic gaming machines and day trading, found male international students had substantially higher instances of problem gambling – with 15% for those who gambled, compared to none for female.

Overall, problem gambling among international students was 2-3 times the rates of the entire domestic adult population in Australia.

“Students are treated well in Casinos and are made to feel important and special”

Bronwyn Gilson, president of student services and advocacy group ISANA, said the results highlighted a problem not just for international students but also the wider community.

“Students arrive in Australia to find gambling advertisements everywhere; at sporting events and as pop-ups in social media feeds,” she said.

“The accessibility of money for some students in their bank account of up to 3 years’ worth of their living and academic fees, given to them in a lump sum by their parents, can prove irresistible for students who have never had to budget or plan.”

Of the types of gambling, casino tables were the most used among international students at 15.7%, and Gilson said that casinos often had an added allure for young students away from home.

“Students are treated well in Casinos and are made to feel important and special, something many may not have experienced before,” she said.

“They are greeted by name, their choice of drink is known, free accommodation.”

While the survey did not specify the number of students using gambling to fund their education and living costs, CISA national president Bijay Sapkota said his organisation had received evidence of students doing so.

“Students arrive in Australia to find gambling advertisements everywhere”

“A lot of students rely on paying their fees based on the earnings that they have in Australia,” he said.

“The tuition fee increases every single year [as well as] the accommodation and transportation costs, and because of this stress, students tend to gamble with the expectation of making more money.”

Among the reasons for gambling, “fun” and “excitement” were cited first and third highest for international students, respectively, with the chance of winning large sums of money second. Peer recommendation was the fourth most cited reason.

Speaking with The PIE News, Sapkota said the allure of gambling as a “fun” activity had a significant impact on international students from countries where the practice is banned, such as China or Nepal, as many were attracted to the novelty of being able to gamble in Australia.

At its worst, he said, students had died after entering financial hardship, calling on providers to ensure students had information to avoid gambling problems.

“It’s definitely risky, and I think universities or institutions should have information about gambling as part of the orientation package just informing the students,” he said.

“You can never beat the machine.”

ISANA currently offers workshops for educators to help them support students with gambling problems, while CISA will feature the topic in their 2019 conference and is opening up conversations with its member organisations.

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