Using safe and respectful language

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How we talk about gambling makes a difference

Gambling is part of many people’s lives and affects everyone differently. Your choice of language can influence how people think about gambling harm and those affected by it. 

Using the wrong language can contribute to the embarrassment, shame, low self-esteem, and guilt that can be felt by those who experience gambling harm. Language can perpetuate stigma and discrimination and create barriers to help seeking.

What is gambling harm?

The term “gambling harm” covers all possible consequences of gambling. It shifts “problem gambling” from an individual burden to a public health issue.

The most obvious type of gambling harm is financial, but there are many others. These include relationship difficulties, health problems, emotional or psychological distress, issues with work or study, cultural stresses, and criminal activity.

When you talk about the experience of gambling harm, you are not just talking about people who gamble. Gambling affects families, friends, carers, community organisations, educators, industry, healthcare professionals, and the community.

How to talk about people affected by gambling

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for talking about gambling harm. The key to avoiding stigmatising language is to take a respectful, humanising approach that does not define a person by, blame or judge them for, the challenges they face.

When you talk about the impact of gambling on a person, avoid referring to them as a “problem gambler”. This term defines the person as the problem and implies that change is not possible. It makes gambling harm seem like an individual issue, which doesn’t acknowledge its impacts on intimate partners, family, social networks, and the community.

You should also avoid terms like “addict”, “addiction” and “habit”, which label a person in a profoundly stigmatising way. Instead, describe the person first and then the characteristic. 

The following are some more inclusive, strength-based alternatives: 

a person who gambles

a person at risk of gambling harm 

a person experiencing gambling harm

a person who has issues with gambling 

a person struggling with their gambling
a person negatively affected by gambling 

a person with lived experience of gambling harm
someone worried about a loved one’s gambling
a person affected by someone’s gambling. 

How to talk about how we should gamble 

We often hear the phrase ‘gamble responsibly’. Gambling responsibly means that a person has control over their gambling and doesn’t let it negatively impact other areas of their life. However, telling someone to “be more responsible” or “gamble responsibly” isn’t always the best approach.

Some alternative phrases to help people to understand the risks of gambling include:

gambling more safely

lowering your risk of gambling harm

staying in control of your gambling

managing your spending on gambling

becoming more gamble aware.

How to use images to accompany content

The imagery chosen to accompany or illustrate gambling-related content is important. Avoid images that reinforce negative stereotypes, like people looking depressed and despondent. 

Pictures of gambling products or environments can influence how people think about gambling. Avoid using images that glamourise gambling or portray it as a harmless activity.

How to use case studies

Using case studies about gambling harm can bring the issue to life. They lend authenticity, give the writer credibility, provide a human interest element and make the issue meaningful.

People share their personal stories for various reasons, including to raise awareness of the risks and harms associated with gambling. This is a generous act that can be at the expense of the teller’s own privacy and that of their family and friends, and sometimes has a negative impact on other aspects of their life, such as future job prospects.

It is therefore incumbent on media professionals to be respectful of people’s preferences, make informed and sensitive choices about the language and images they use, and be mindful of the possible implications of the messages they communicate. 

Positive choices can generate thoughtful discussions, promote community understanding, alleviate stigma, encourage others to acknowledge that they need help and empower them to seek treatment and support.

Tips for media interviews

It is important to think carefully about the impact a media interview can have on people affected by gambling harm. You should:

where possible, speak with people who are supported by a counsellor, a peer group, or have personal support to help them share their stories safely

practise basic courtesies such as maintaining eye contact, listening carefully, and using a caring, non-judgemental tone of voice to acknowledge the bravery it takes to share their story

ask them if this is the first time they’ve shared their story and what kind of reaction they’ve had previously

ask them why they want to share – this allows them to validate their experience and recognise that they may want to help others

check in at the start that they are okay to talk about this and, if they (or you) seem uncomfortable, check that they are okay to continue and let them take a break or change their mind at any point

make sure they have supports in place before the interview, check in with them after the interview, tell them when the story will be published and check in again after it has been released

check they understand how the story and any images will be used, including the potential for ongoing, unmoderated and trolling commentary on social media

offer them the opportunity to tell their story anonymously, using their first name only or a pseudonym
if you have done similar stories before, share your experience, how it affected you and the response your story received – this can help put them more at ease, and make them aware of the sorts of reactions to expect

where possible, allow them to review and give consent for specific quotes or information that you want to include in the story

include details of Lifeline and the GambleAware Helpline in the story for readers who may be impacted by its content


This guidance is based on content developed by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. 

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GambleAware acknowledges Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of the land and we pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging. GambleAware is an inclusive support service.
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