Gambling addiction is a problem that affects between two and five per cent of people in Western societies.

The risk factors of compulsive gambling include mood problems, antisocial personality disorders and alcohol and drug addiction. It is a serious enough problem to justify a national policy.

When announcing the setting up of the Responsible Gaming Foundation, the Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Economic Growth, Edward Zammit Lewis, said the “foundation would be closely linked to the Lotteries Gaming Authority but would still keep a certain distance from it”. It will be financed by the LGA, the European Union and gaming operators.

Some argue that gambling addiction is a social malady that often leads to mental health and financial problems among those who are closely connected with persons afflicted with this condition. They insist that using innuendos like ‘promoting responsible gaming’ will only hide the seriousness of the matter.

Other social observers take a more pragmatic view. Gambling, like smoking and alcohol consumption, can never be banned completely, even if the physical and social damage that they cause are indisputable. So, one might as well find other ways of mitigating the problem.

Prohibiting gambling completely was a tactic used in the past but failed. When Maltese nationals were banned from gambling in the casino in the early 1980s, an illegal casino industry sprung up. Gambling just went underground but the social and medical consequences persisted and were in no way addressed.

A more sensible way of dealing with gambling addiction is to use the best practices employed by charities that deal with the problem. The treatment of compulsive gambling usually involves more than one approach, including psychotherapy, medication, financial counselling, support groups and self-help techniques.

Such services can be expensive. Fortunately, in Malta, there are many individuals committed to help others without expecting to be rewarded. They often act as catalysts to bring together victims of social maladies with professional helpers.

The prognosis of recovery from compulsive gambling is encouraging with treatment. So it is good to have a foundation bringing together professionals that can help gambling victims through different tactics and programmes.

The challenge facing the Responsible Gaming Foundation is to convince compulsive gamblers that they need help. Although compulsive gambling may resolve on its own by time, the devastating effects it usually has on the person’s financial, family, legal and mental health status indicates that treatment should be attempted by anyone who is motivated to get help for the disorder.

As in most other disorders, prevention of compulsive gambling will have to be the first line of defence. The cause of compulsive gambling could be a combination of biological vulnerabilities, ways of thinking and social stressors.

The most effective long-term strategy is likely to be one based on education.

Educators as well as parents need to be more involved in order to help young people to understand the risks of gambling abuse so that they can avoid getting caught up in a vicious circle of abuse and social degradation.

The Responsible Gaming Foundation also needs to work closely with other NGOs to optimise its effectiveness.

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