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‘Small but significant’ number of international students have a gambling problem

With most universities’ summer breaks here, many international students will be hitting the beach – and the casino. That is, if a University of Tasmania report is to go by. A survey of almost 1,400 UTAS students revealed that while domestic students gambled significantly more than international ones, (mostly male) international students were almost twice as likely than the average adult – including the average domestic student – to be problem gamblers.

“A small but significant minority of these students struggle with problem gambling,” Occurrence and Correlates of Gambling Behaviour among International UTAS Students provides.

“International students who develop problem gambling behaviour experience a range of adverse health and mental health impacts, including higher levels of smoking, alcohol and substance use and higher levels of general psychological distress.”

Also, international students were more likely to frequent casinos, while domestic students preferred buying scratchies and playing the pokies. Both cohorts, however, cited ‘fun’ as the main reason for trying their luck.

The researchers, who were commissioned by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, offered that the general findings aren’t unique to the apple isle; they are reflected nationally.

They additionally noted that Chinese students, who comprise roughly a third of international students in Australia, may be especially tempted by the roulette and poker tables, as gambling is banned in their home country. Other research has found that Chinese students are particularly predisposed to problem gambling.

The stresses of acculturation, cultural beliefs about luck, and access to funds may all contribute to international students’ problem gambling, the UTAS researchers added, as does Australia’s ‘gambling culture’. Casinos, such as James Packer’s Crown in Melbourne, pander to this, with dual English-Mandarin signage and native Mandarin-speaking employees. Exacerbating these students’ predicament is that only half of them sought help for the issue.

Yet the researchers remain optimistic. They believe the report “may be helpful in informing the development of targeted, culturally sensitive health promotion and early intervention programs”.

Indeed, it has been: in September the Tasmanian government, through its Know Your Odds campaign, published videos that detail the risks of gambling in several languages – Mandarin included, and even published a video that specifically targets UTAS international students in this respect.

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