Gambling Treatment Clinic University Of Sydney

By Ursula Malone

Alex BLASZCZYNSKI, Professor (Full) & Director, Gambling Treatment Clinic & Research of The University of Sydney, Sydney Read 300 publications Contact Alex BLASZCZYNSKI. Our research is fully integrated with our Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic, where we provide real help to more than 550 people with gambling problems each year. This community cohort allows us to trial new, state-of-the-art treatments and prevention strategies to the people who need them most. Gambling Treatment Clinic Campbelltown Sky Gardens Plaza Suite 12/ 186 Queen Street, Campbelltown NSW 2560. Phone: 1800 482 482. University of Sydney.

Updated November 30, 2014 20:49:32

Gambling Treatment Clinic - University Of Sydney

A radical new approach to treating problem gambling is using mathematics to prove to punters that they can never beat the system.

Researchers at Sydney University's Gambling Treatment Clinic have been able to reduce their clients' gambling by 80 to 90 per cent by lifting the lid on how the gambling industry works.

The program has been developed by Dr Fadi Anjoul, who found that previous approaches that treated gambling as an addiction had limited success.

Known as Cognitive Deconstructional Therapy, it works by teaching gamblers about mathematical concepts such as probability and randomness.

Facts about gambling

  • 65 per cent of people in NSW gambled at least once in the past 12 months
  • Australians lose $19 billion on gambling each year
  • Problem gamblers incur 22 to 60 per cent of the overall losses in Australia

Dr Anjoul shaped his ideas after observing that his clients who played poker machines shared the same misconceptions about how the machines worked.

They believed that pokies were pre-programmed to pay out a certain percentage and that they did so in cycles.

Both notions are wrong, according to Dr Anjoul.

'Every single person that we've treated who plays poker machines has come in with that belief,' he said.

'A belief that the more losing that occurs, the closer you are to winning. So when you're down you continue to gamble because you think a machine is due to pay.

University of queensland

'And when you're up you continue to gamble because you think it will pay more.'

He teaches his clients that poker machines are completely random and that chasing your losses is ultimately futile.

'In other words they come with no predictability whatsoever,' he said.

'In other words, you're playing the machine under false pretences.'

He believes it is this misunderstanding of how pokies work that leads people to continue gambling even after they have incurred significant losses.

Rather than seeking a thrill, he said the motivation to keep going is a dogged but misguided belief that they can recoup the money they have lost.

'Yes it is the case that if you play a machine long enough you will eventually find yourself with a fairly big win,' he said.

'What's missing from that whole proposition is, how long did it take you to get there? What was the cost?

'What you'll realise is that across your lifetime, your losses far exceed anything you could possibly make in a discrete period.'

All punters may benefit from tailored treatment

Fellow psychologist Rowan Burckhardt has adapted the treatment for other forms of gambling, including horse betting.

'What we have to address is you believe that you're a better punter and you believe you're able to turn a profit when in fact you haven't been able to do that and can't do that,' he said.

'The only way you can turn a profit from horse betting is finding what they call value bets.

What you'll realise is that across your lifetime, your losses far exceed anything you could possibly make in a discrete period.

'Value bets are where the odds offered are better than what the probability of that horse winning is.'

Such bets are few and far between.

Over a 12 month period, only 5 per cent of TAB betting accounts are turning a profit.

Over a number of years, that figure drops down to less than 1 per cent.

Mr Burckhardt said once his clients understood the odds were stacked against them, gambling lost much of its allure.

'If we believe we are going to win, we get excited,' he said.

'If we don't believe we are going to win, we don't get excited and it becomes almost boring.'

The team at the Gambling Treatment Clinic use marbles and dice to demonstrate how probability and randomness work.

Over time, they systematically challenge the client's belief that he or she can beat the system.

'The success rate is really high,' Mr Burckhardt said.

University Of Queensland

'About 90 to 95 per cent of my clients either stops or gets their gambling right down to a level they want to be doing.'

Problem gambler says treatment works

Anthony O'Sullivan's love of gambling started early.

'Dad used to hold the bag for a bookie and he used to give me $2 to put a bet on as a kid so growing up it was always part of me,' he said.

It became a problem when he started earning money.

'I'd be going to the ATM at lunchtime, getting all my money out, putting it all through the poker machines or on the horses,' he said.

'It'd be gone by the end of lunch and I'd be back at work.'

Over the next 16 years he estimates he lost around $500,000.

'You're forever going back to the bank to get more money out, saying in your head this is wrong but you can't control yourself,' he said.

'You keep going, trying to win it back. You lose, you lose, then it spirals.

'Anywhere from suicidal thoughts to what am I going to do? I'm useless.

It makes you realise what you're up against and you go, it's not worth it.

'What am I doing to my family? Real bad.'

Six years ago he decided to seek help. An internet search led him to the Gambling Treatment Clinic.

Mr O'Sullivan said the approach worked for him because it focussed on controlling his gambling rather than abstinence.

'Not just like you can't do it, stop, no more,' he said.

'It makes you realise what you're up against and you go, it's not worth it.'

He still enjoys the occasional flutter and apart from one or two relapses, he now has his gambling under control.

'I'm feeling pretty good about myself and doing this (interview) I reckon is a big help,' he said.

'Getting the story out there and not being afraid to tell it, helping other people.

'A lot of blokes would be embarrassed about it, which I was, and am when I lose control of it, but I'm sick of hiding behind it.

'I want to help myself, help my family and get over this problem I have.'

Topics:gambling, sydney-2000, nsw, australia

First posted November 30, 2014 11:10:26

A survey by the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic into the impact of the coronavirus in Australia found a majority reduced their gambling during the first shutdown but about one in 10 increased how often they gambled.

A University of Sydney study has found that during the first COVID-19 shutdown in Australia, a majority of people reduced the number of times they gambled but most planned to return to previous gambling habits after the shutdown.

“These initial results were a surprise as other studies have shown increases in gambling,” said study lead Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury.

The online survey by the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Technology Addiction Team in the Brain and Mind Centre was conducted in May; further research will be conducted in August and November 2020 to examine the ongoing impacts of gambling venues reopening across Australia.

Gambling Treatment Clinic University Of Sydney London

Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, who is co-director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic, said the preliminary results indicated that the closure of gambling venues and cancellation of sporting events resulted in a decrease in gambling frequency overall, including for online gambling. However, online gambling was less impacted and people who increased their online gambling were more likely to report experiencing gambling problems, psychological distress and COVID-related financial difficulties.

“There are major policy implications in the immediate and longer term, particularly given the benefits some people experienced from the reduced availability of gambling,” said Associate Professor Gainsbury, from the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science.

“The lockdown appears to have mostly a positive impact, however those who increased their gambling are arguably at the greatest risk of experiencing significant harms – we need to focus on the ongoing impacts, both in the general population and among vulnerable groups.”

Findings include

  • Almost 75 percent of respondents gambled less frequently.
  • Median monthly gambling expenditure more than halved.
  • Among those experiencing gambling problems, 60 percent decreased how frequently they were gambling, although 25 percent increased their gambling expenditure.

About the survey

The online research surveyed 764 Australian adults (85 percent male, aged 18-82 years) who had gambled in the past 12 months.

The preliminary results show most participants reporting past-year gambling problems indicated their gambling frequency had decreased during the shutdown. Higher psychological distress and COVID-related financial difficulties appear to be linked to increases in gambling expenditure but not increased gambling frequency. Younger people, who are also more prone to psychological issues from the pandemic according to previous research, were also more likely to report increasing their gambling spend, with greatest increases in gambling spend seen in those aged 18 to 29 years. In general, the median reported monthly gambling spend of survey participants decreased from $450 pre-shutdown to $200.

Several participants reported feeling anxious about gambling venues reopening. One said: “My fear is that I will return to gambling at the same rate as before the shutdown – thus wasting the opportunity of the forced hiatus to reign in my poker machine habit.”

Ellis island casino breakfast menu. Another said: “Been wonderful to get clean air away from pokies… working with my counsellor in readiness for when they reopen. I’m desperate not to return.”

Associate Professor Gainsbury concludes: “Careful thought should be paid to the lessons of the lockdown in terms of understanding the impact of gambling availability and the likelihood of people searching for alternate activities in the face of restrictions.”

The Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic offers free, confidential services for individuals and families impacted by gambling with no referral needed, funded by the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling. Clients are currently being seen remotely using telephone and video conferencing. To make an appointment phone 1800 482 482 or email us. For referral to services across Australia call 1800 858 858 or visit

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