Pull The Plug on Pokies

Jennifer Marsden | October 29, 2018

PULL THE PLUG ON POKIES

In July 2017 Queenslanders set a new record.

In that one month more than $215 million was lost by Queenslanders playing the pokies. That loss was an average of $289,748 every hour of every day.

Despite the huge increase in gambling advertising on television and during sports broadcasts, when it came to losing cash, other forms of gambling paled in comparison to the pokies.

In the 12 months to July 2017 the amount lost was $2.28 billion, a marginal increase on the previous year’s $2.27 billion.

In response to community anger in 2014, the Newman government overhauled the poker machine industry. Instead of working to mitigate the damage caused by the pokies the government instead allowed machines to accept $50 and $100 notes, when previously the largest note the machine accepted was $20.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said the government took the issue of gambling extremely seriously and contributed $5.8 million each year for free problem gambling treatment and support. That seems to indicate that the government is well aware of the cost of gambling to the community.

So why is the government reluctant to reduce the harm caused by poker machines?

Perhaps the answer lies in the amount the government received from gambling machine taxes.  In Queensland this was $687 million in 2016-17 and expected to increase to $718 million in 2017- 2018.

The gaming industry touts figures to prove that the return to the player is fair and equitable. The regulations require that on every spin an average of 85% of the bet be returned to the gambler. In reality, because the vast majority of gamblers reinvest their winnings, there is an ever-decreasing percentage of the original stake that is returned to the gambler.

So why are people willing to lose money on a regular basis? The objective of a poker machine designer is to make/encourage the gambler to keep spinning. This is why the machines have all the bells and whistles, flashing lights and sounds known to keep gamblers excited, interested and spinning.

Mr Thomson, a former federal Labor MP, said modern pokies were addictive and alluring.

‘They stimulate the production of dopamine and that is a comparable reaction to people who are taking drugs like cocaine,’ he said. ‘Way too many people end up gambling to extinction. Certainly, if you keep playing, you’ll lose all the money you have.’

These losses often continue until everything is gambled away – disposable income, then savings, and then, the family home. The harms associated with gambling include not only financial disaster, bankruptcy and loss of assets, but also divorce, separation and its harmful impacts on children, family violence, mental and physical ill health, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and self-harm. For these reasons, ‘gambling disorder’ is recognised as a serious addiction and a mental health condition with major health impacts on the person gambling and those around them.

There are at least 115,000 Australians at the moment who are directly and seriously harmed by gambling and another 280,000 experiencing significant risk.

Australia has 20% of the worlds’ poker machines, despite having less than 0.3% of global population.

Poker machine operators, whether clubs or large corporations like Woolworths, often locate machines in the suburbs with the lowest incomes and the least capacity to cope with the losses caused by poker machines.

Victoria’s least affluent suburbs lose six times more to poker machines than the most affluent postcodes. The gambling operators are clearly exploiting communities that are already highly stressed, and that can least afford the additional problems poker machines create.

Nick Xenophon called it a great irony that there are people in Australia today that aren’t able to afford to buy groceries from a Woolworths’ supermarket because they’ve lost their money on a Woolworths’ poker machine.

As a community, we understand the need for sensible laws that inform us and keep us safe from dangerous products. We’ve led the world reducing deaths from lung cancer by helping those already addicted to nicotine and simultaneously passing laws to reduce the harm cause by tobacco in Australia.

We provide support for some hurt by gambling but do almost nothing to prevent people being harmed.

Instead slackened regulations result from a series of cosy deals between gambling operators and state governments around Australia.

The strength of the gambling lobby in Australia is akin to the National Rifle Association in America.

With no well-resourced anti-gambling lobby to counteract the gambling lobby, the prospect for poker machine reform in Australia remains bleak.

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