Gaming venues were allowed to switch electronic gaming machines back on this week, which could be a trigger for people affected by gambling harm, advocates say.
According to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, electronic gaming machines, or pokies, could be played for up to 90 minutes at at time in venues, which will be subject to caps of 40 people.
Ballarat Community Health and Child and Family Services (Cafs) teamed up while venues were closed to promote alternative activities to help people break the habit.
The All-In project shared positive messages from community members and encouraged people who might be thinking about going to the pokies to try a new hobby, or catch up with friends outside.
In a media statement, Cafs chief executive Wendy Sturgess said COVID-19 restrictions that closed clubs and gaming venues since late March had helped people reflect on their use of poker machines and given them a chance to find different and more productive ways of spending their time.
"This enforced respite from poker machines has given some people with gambling issues a chance to have a break and reassess why they spend so much time and money at the pokies," she said.
"Some people have found new hobbies or done more physical exercise but for others, the lure of going back to gambling on poker machines will still be very strong. We urge those people to seek help before they get drawn back in."
Kate Diamond-Keith from the Ballarat Community Health All-In Project said in the 2018-19 financial year, more than $150,000 was lost each day in Ballarat poker machine venues. Now as venues are re-opening, this money could instead be spent supporting struggling businesses in Ballarat to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
''Organisations and community groups can also support their staff, members and clients by getting involved in the All-In Project and learning how to provide support and help seeking information during this time," she said.
Buninyong MP Michaela Settle encouraged people to reach out for help now if they needed it - a simple conversation can make a huge difference.
"I'd say to anyone out there, if this was a time they recognise there was an issue with their gambling, now is the time to reach out for help - there are great organisations out there to help, the easiest way is to call Gamblers Helpline," she said.
"Sometimes you're not quite ready to reach out to a formal organisation, but anyone out there considering their gambling, reach out to a friend or someone close to you, because having those conversations will identity whether it's time to seek more help."
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The City of Ballarat's Libraries After Dark program, at the Sebastopol Library, provided a gambling-free social outlet, but was closed due the pandemic.
A spokesperson said program planning has begun, and council hopes to restart the program on January 7, or earlier if restrictions continue to ease.
If you or someone you know is experiencing harm from gambling, or the gambling of someone close to you is affecting your wellbeing, phone Cafs on 1300 692 237 or 5337 3333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500.
- Gamblers Help: 1800 858 858
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
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