By Evelyn Leckie
WHITTLESEA Community Connections has won over the State Government with their proposal to reduce gambling harm by providing alternative recreational activities for residents experiencing gambling issues.
The group received $70,155 as part of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s 2019-21 Prevention Partnerships Program to organise soccer programs in the Thomastown electorate for the next two years starting January 2020.
The not-for-profit group said their programs aimed to assist young people and migrant and refugee groups.
The grant was announced as part of Gambling Harm Awareness Week in October, where communities were encouraged to talk about the issue of gambling harm and share personal experiences with financial loss through gambling.
Member for Thomastown Bronwyn Halfpenny congratulated Whittlesea Community Connections for its commitment to preventing gambling harm.
Whittlesea Community Connections chief executive Alex Haynes said the group was delighted to receive funding.
“We will work with young people to develop the soccer program project to reduce gambling harm through alternative recreation activities,” Ms Haynes said.
“We will co-ordinate a weekly soccer program with and for young people with migrant and refugee backgrounds and all genders, which will also provide opportunities to raise awareness of the risks associated with gambling, and avenues to seek help.”
Ms Haynes said Whittlesea Community Connections had been working on gambling harm awareness for the past eight years after many community members visited the centre either personally affected by gambling issues or having family members affected.
“One of our priorities are young people – there aren’t many services in the area or things to do, and there’s alot of young people without significant relationships or money to fulfil their interests,” she said.
“That’s why we chose soccer – men and women can get involved and it’s an international sport that interests people from overseas.”
Minister for Gaming and Liquor Regulation Marlene Kairouz said the state’s investment in gambling harm prevention projects would ensure the electorate had support from people within their community.
“Gambling harm is often hidden because people feel uncomfortable talking about it. I commend Whittlesea Community Connections for tackling this through their innovative project,” Ms Kairouz said.
Almost 550,000 Victorians experience harm from their own gambling each year.
According to Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation figures, the 10 venues in the City of Whittlesea recorded a total of $110.9 million of gaming income in the 2018-19 financial year, more than $1.4 million from the the previous year.
The amount of money lost to gaming machines in Whittlesea is the sixth highest of all local government areas in the state.