Gambling is often presented in media, advertising and among friends as just a bit of harmless fun. But in reality, it can be harmful, not only for the adults who gamble, but also for their children. It can lead to financial stress, strained relationships and, in the worst cases, domestic violence.

The economic and psychological costs of harmful gambling are felt by the entire family and in relationships. New research is focusing on the effect of gambling harm on children of gamblers. A key finding shows that the heavier the gambling, the greater the likelihood of children and young people experiencing harm. The strain on psychological wellbeing can result in low self-esteem, a loss of trust and social withdrawal. Grave psychological impacts of parental problem gambling include suicidality, anxiety and depression.

Key statistics

  • 10% of all Australian parents have engaged in some level of risky gambling.
  • 6% of Australian parents with dependent children are classified as problem gamblers.
  • 4% of Australian families including almost 200,000 children are exposed to serious gambling harm.


The hidden voices of children

Living in a family where someone has a gambling problem can be distressing and overwhelming, and we know that children with gambling parents are at risk of harm, financial distress, behavioural issues and physical health problems. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and child welfare calls can become a part of life, resulting in strained family relationships and sometimes conflict and violence.

Adults whose childhoods were riddled with parental gambling tell us in our research how sudden gambling losses added to the constant stress and financial strain, and led to feelings of depression. As adults, they were more likely to experience mental health issues.

In some families, children are left alone at home with no adult supervision, or their supervision is relegated to unsafe adults or peers. Or children take on the role of the parent themselves, for example by taking responsibility of household chores, younger siblings, and finances. The burden can make it difficult for children to complete their formal education.

On the flip side of this complex issue, some positive findings are emerging from the research showing that children who have been exposed to severe parental problem gambling are not likely to adopt problematic gambling behaviours in later life. Parental problem gambling severity seems to have a negative impact on predicting offspring problem gambling severity. It is possible that being exposed to severe psychosocial consequences of parental gambling may act as a deterrent against problematic gambling behaviours in later life.


The hidden nature of gambling and intimate partner violence

Evidence shows that intimate partner violence and child abuse are significant components of problem gambling. For some, a bout of gambling can be followed by a bout of violence. In some cases, victims of violence at the hands their partner turn to gambling as a distraction that might become problematic.

Sadly, not many people admit to violence or problem gambling due to the stigma, shame and secrecy attached to both behaviours. These issues shouldn’t be in the shadows. When clients do disclose gambling problems and intimate partner violence to professional services, this can be particularly complex to address.

Although there are services to support families grappling with the consequences of gambling addiction, problem gamblers don’t always disclosure intimate partner violence. It needs to be on the radar. Further training could help service providers focusing on gambling addiction to broaden their support to help clients disclose any concerns with intimate partner violence.

Conflict within families

Problem gambling harms parents themselves – leading to depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and intimate partner violence. And some parents respond to stress-related to gambling losses with short tempers and aggression.

Even in those family units where domestic violence isn’t present, there are often arguments and emotional volatility. The chronic stress associated with problem gambling could be a catalyst for the perpetration of violence by the problem gambler against family members, or by a family member against the gambler.

Engagement and recovery with support from social services

Recent research shows that individuals seeking help for a range of mental health conditions (including AOD) are highly likely to have problem gambling. A high proportion of individuals seeking help from gambling-specific services have mental health problems. More research is needed to understand the lived experience of individuals who present to services with gambling-related harms and other coexisting mental health conditions and how they seek help. Better understanding can help services provide better support that meets the experiences of gamblers with coexisting mental health conditions.

We also need more information about what types of help children of problem gamblers need and through which service it should be accessed. Is it through family welfare services, or is it through gambling help services? Gambling services are primarily aimed at adults which may not offer a child focused strategy. Some services do offer support using whole-of-family approaches, but in general, we need a more systematic strategy and tools to helping children of gamblers.

It's everyone's business

We need to recognise problem gambling as a child protection concern with long-term consequences for children and young people growing up in problem gambling households.

Change needs to start at the top. One step that can be taken to avoid further harm includes minimising influence from the gambling industry on government policy on gambling. Another step would be to adopt a public health approach to child wellbeing that helps prevent problem gambling. At a service delivery level, interagency collaboration and better service coordination can offer families the support they need.

Lead researcher
The research on gambling is led by Dr Aino Suomi, Adjunct Senior Fellow at Australian Catholic University, and Director of the Centre for Gambling Research in the Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University.



Constantinou, M. (2020). Problem gambling and families: the hidden voices of childrenIMPACT, Australian Catholic University.



Suomi, A., Higgins, D., & Battaglia, M. (2024). You lose: Gambling is often described as a bit of ‘harmless fun’ but there are often serious consequences to this pastime. Australian Catholics.


Suomi, A., Bailey, M., Lucas, N., Dowling, N., & Delfabbro, P. (2023). "It's like you're not even there…": Gambling harm experienced by children of gambling parents. Children and Youth Services Review: 145, 106800.

Suomi, A., Lucas., N., Dowling., N. A., & Delfabbro, P. (2023). Gambling harm experienced by children exposed to parental gambling: An online survey of Australians. Journal of Gambling Studies. https://10.1007/s10899-023-10211-4 

Suomi, A., O’Dwyer, C., Sbisa, A., Metcalf, O., Couineau A-L., O’Donnell M., & Cowlishaw, S. (2023). Recognition and responses to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in gambler’s help services: A qualitative study.Australian Journal of Social Issues.


Suomi, A., Lucas., N., Dowling., N. A., & Delfabbro, P. (2022). Parental problem gambling and child wellbeing: Systematic review and synthesis of evidence. Addictive Behaviours, 126, 106205. 

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