UP to one in five people in any Australian community are in trouble with gambling - theirs or someone else's - according to research quoted yesterday by Relationships Australia.
In Gympie, more than $1 million was wagered on poker machines in March alone.
Steve Novak, of Relationships Australia, says problem gambling is not just having a flutter.
And the damage is not just confined to the destitute loser, but spreads also to families, friends and employers.
Mr Novak says the odds are still in our favour, but the chances of being a victim are greater than the odds of winning big.
There is nothing wrong with gambling the way most of us do it - the occasional lottery ticket or day at the races.
But Relationships Australia says there is a point where a hobby becomes a life's work, and a lifetime's misery in far too many cases.
And for every problem gambler there are many other victims - friends, family and employers of those with gambling problems.
Speaking during Responsible Gambling Action Week, Mr Novak said there was room for enjoyable gambling. "Many Australians gamble regularly, and for most people gambling is an enjoyable activity," Gympie-based Relationships Australia counsellor Steve Novak said yesterday.
"Popular forms of gambling such as lotteries pose no major risk to the consumer, but some gamblers may experience harm as a result of their playing habits," he says.
And for those people the harm may be "intense and damaging."
At the current rate, the odds are that one child in every classroom will find they develop a gambling problem or come close to it.
"The Australian Productivity Commission reported in 2010 that up to 500,000 Australians are problem gamblers or at risk of it," he said.
"Up to five million Australians are affected by problem gambling each year, and this includes just about everyone in that person's life.
"In Gympie in March alone, 18 licensed poker machine venues had more than $1 million wagered, according to the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation."
Mr Novak says Relationships Australia provides free face-to-face counselling for problem gamblers, as well as relationship and family counselling.
- Number of problem gamblers in Australia - 500,000
- Number affected by excessive gambling - up to five million
- Help available on 1800 858 858