Australians tend to be sympathetic towards people with alcohol and other drug addictions who seek help but often view problem gambling as a "moral failing'', according to new research.
ANU researchers say public health strategies, such as those used to tackle alcohol abuse and discourage smoking, should be adopted to help combat gambling addiction.
Staff from the ANU Centre for Gambling Research interviewed more than 100 health and welfare professionals, regular poker machine players and people who self-identified as having gambling problems.
As The Canberra Times reported this month, the researchers found that high levels of social stigma were deterring people from seeking help with gambling problems.
Lead researcher Annie Carroll said society treated people with gambling addiction more harshly than those with substance abuse problems
"While society has some sympathy for people with drug or alcohol problems because they have an addiction, people with gambling problems are more likely to be blamed by society for their problem,'' Dr Carroll said.
"It's not properly recognised as an addiction in the way that alcohol, tobacco, cigarettes are addictive.''
Some of the people interviewed had sought help for alcohol or other drug problems but had been too embarrassed to tell counsellors that they were also addicted to gambling.
Dr Carroll said people with gambling addictions should be encouraged to view seeking help as a "step of strength''.
"The general public should also be encouraged to view seeking problem gambling help as a brave and responsible action, rather than a sign of weakness,'' she said.
Dr Carroll said counsellors interviewed for the study wanted to see greater restrictions on gambling advertising, particularly advertisements which would be seen by children.
"When I was a kid, there was a lot of advertising of cigarettes at the football. People would be horrified today that that could happen.
''So in that sense, we're not really taking a proper public health approach to tackling problem gambling. But it's certainly something that counsellors would like to see.''
Dr Carroll said the "Gamble responsibly'' slogan often displayed in gaming venues was counterproductive.
While people were provided with guidelines on recommended safe levels of alcohol consumption, no such information was available on safe levels of gambling.
"We're basically offloading the problem onto them without actually doing the right thing to educate them about what it is they should be doing,'' she said.
The research was commissioned by the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission.
■ People who are experiencing problems with gambling and associated financial difficulties can contact Mission Australia on 1800 858 858.