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A Punter's Peril In The Not-So-Festive Season

The silly season is ideally a joyful time but often not for problem gamblers. It can trigger feelings of sadness, remorse and financial pressures due to their addiction.

Sydney mum Helen Kosmas told 10 daily she feels "especially guilty" about her often unmanageable gambling habit during the holiday period.

"You think of the money you've lost through the year and how you could have given your loved ones a better Christmas," she said.

"But you also think -- when you win that 'big one', you'll share it with them."

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Christmas can be a very challenging time for problem gamblers, according to Monash University's gambling expert Dr Charles Livingstone.

"Gamblers and recovering gamblers struggle at Christmas because of a lack of close family or friends. Often, gambling can be a way of ‘soothing’ such distress," he described.

"Unfortunately some gambling providers see this time of year as a great time to promote their ‘services’, with sadly predictable consequences."

Based on per capita spending, Australians are the world's most prolific gamblers.

Christmas can be a very challenging time for problem gamblers. Image: Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty.

Australia's total gambling expenditure this past year saw a slight decrease (0.5 percent) to almost $24 billion, but racing and sports betting notably increased.

Punting on the races upsurged to over $3 billion while sports betting hit over $1 billion for the first time, according to Australian Gambling Statistics

A self-described "modern punter", Alby Johnson told 10 daily having easy access to race and sports betting on his phone has come at a high cost.

The logistics coordinator -- whose savings account is connected to his TAB account -- said following game results and horse races is "a second job".

"I wake up, read the guides and then touch base with a sports group in America for tips. I try to make $360 a day if I can and stand to lose $100 a day.

"You can get lucky on a winning streak and then go through a long drought -- it's a world full of mixed emotions, which are heightened during the holidays."

Punting on the races upsurged to over $3 billion, while sports betting hit over $1 billion for the first time this past year. Image: Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty.

The Australian Government has invested $8.2 million over the next 18 months for financial counselling for problem gambling.

State governments recently committed to the country’s first National Consumer Protection Framework, to help reduce harm from online wagering.

New measures include a National Self-Exclusion Register that allows people to self-exclude from all online wagering sites and apps in one go.

Craig Fletcher, Minister for Families and Social Services, told 10 daily the Government is concerned the rate of online problem gambling is "three times higher than other types of gambling".

"To help reduce this harm we are implementing the National Framework, which includes restrictions on inducements, a national self‑exclusion register, easy to understand activity statements and other important measures."

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich contested successive NSW Governments have shown a "disastrous addiction to gambling revenue".

"The result is global record rates of gaming machine losses, serious harm and problem gambling. This is especially pronounced during Christmas," he added.

Internet gambling can be especially addictive during the festive season. Pictured: Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo, professional gambler. Image: Luis Davilla/Cover/Getty.

For Helen Kosmas, curbing her penchant for gambling during the festive season is particularly tough.

"It's the same as trying to stop smoking or drinking -- you have to really use all the willpower you have. It can truly be overwhelming," she told 10 daily.

Shame is a major barrier to problem gamblers getting treatment for their addiction, according to Livingstone.

"If gambling is being used to deal with stress, depression or anxiety at Christmas, that’s a clear sign of harm and will make everything worse. Help is available and can be very effective."

Suggestions for tackling problem gambling over the holiday period include reduced alcohol consumption, exercise and increased social interaction.

For help or support for anyone impacted by gambling, the National Gambling Helpline is available on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblinghelponline.org.au.

Featured image: Getty.

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au.