By Debra Russell. Images courtesy of Pixebay
According to the gambling industry’s leading global market data intelligence agency, H2 Gambling Capital, Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world gambling more per capita than any other country. With Australia’s most prestigious horse race the Melbourne Cup being run tomorrow, I thought it would be an appropriate time to write about problem gambling. The Melbourne Cup has been tagged ‘The race that stops a nation’ but that certainly doesn’t stop Australians from spending around 140 million annually betting on this race alone.
As a nation Australians spent nearly 20 billion on gambling in 2011 according to the Parliament of Australia paper ‘Waiting for the wins’, by 2015 that figure had risen to 23 billion with half of this amount being spent in slot or poker machines. There are approximately 19 million adults over the age of 18 and 200,000 poker machines in Australia, averaging out at about 1 poker machine for every 86 adults. When you also consider that Australia’s population is only .5% of the world’s population and we have approximately 20% of the world’s poker machines, these are quite alarming statistics.
Australian government data suggests that approximately 1 in 6 Australians who play poker machines regularly, have a serious addiction. For years #anti-pokie lobbyists have been trying to expose the dirty tricks the gambling industry use to gain information and entice people to play. Loyalty cards for example were introduced not to benefit the player but to allow venues to track information such as what time of day patrons play, how often and how long they play, the amounts they bet and how often they win and lose.
Other devices used to keep patrons in venues longer include removing clocks so visitors lose sight of time and providing complimentary food and drinks. Everything from over friendly and accommodating staff to decor, lighting and music are designed to make playing addictive. Machines are programmed to give out small wins that hook the player into thinking their on a winner. If you would like to read more about this, there is a compelling article titled How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts at the following link https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/12/losing-it-all/505814/
Other areas such as sports betting and online gambling are the fastest growing areas of the Australian gambling industry. The Australian Government’s Department of Social Services paper Gambling, states that “Online gambling is the fastest growing gambling segment, growing at 15% per annum, with over $1.4 billion gambled online each year. Digital technology is also enabling illegal operators to reach our phones, our televisions, our home computers at any time of the day or night.”
Peak Australian mental health organisation Beyond Blue states in their factsheet ‘Problem gambling and depression’, that “about 300,000 Australians have a gambling problem that may affect many parts of their lives” and furthermore that “for every person with a gambling problem, between five and 10 others (eg partners and children) also experience serious consequences, including: emotional distress, the breakdown of family relationships, financial difficulties. This means that more than 2 million Australians are affected by problem gambling.”
A Sydney Morning Herald article titled Gambling is killing one Australian a day, but it rakes in billions in tax claims that the “ social cost of gambling to the community is estimated to be at least $4.7 billion a year”. These are truly frightening statistics for Australia as a nation. Any rational person would have to be asking the question, why has the Australian Government not taken this problem seriously?
There have been attempts by some Australian politicians in recent years to tackle this huge social problem, notably independent senator Nick Xenophon, Greens senator Larissa Waters and independent MP Andrew Wilkie. But according to the Sydney Morning Herald article Gambling is killing one Australian a day, but it rakes in billions in tax, the Australian Government “States and territories reaped $5.8 billion in taxes from gambling in the year through June 2015”. This begs the question, why would governments want to solve this problem and lose such a huge source of revenue? Another reason that would dissuade politicians from solving this problem is the issue of political donations.
In February 2017, an article in The Conversation titled Gambling lobby gives big to political parties, and names names, suggested that donations to political parties in Australia from the gambling industry reached just over 1 million dollars in 2015-16. Their analysis of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) donation disclosures “shows various branches of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) were by far the biggest donors among gambling industry groups….Overall, the Coalition parties were the “winners” from gambling donations reported in 2015-16, receiving a total of $770,861. The ALP received $523,640. This was a 60:40 split.”
Former World Vision CEO and now head of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello has said that the “The pokies lobby’s influence compares to the power wielded by the National Rifle Association in the US”. The Alliance for Gambling Reform has joined forces with GetUp to try and stop the rot in the poker machine industry in Australia and are calling for signatures from the public. If you are interested in supporting this campaign follow the link to https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/pokies-play-you/pokies-petition-costello/you-don-t-play-the-pokies-they-play-you?t=Q38A2IKkx
I believe the time has come for all Australians to get behind the move to clean up the gambling industry in this country, because it is clear that political parties have too much to lose to do what is morally right. For me this issue is personal as my own brother lost everything he owned including his life, as a consequence of his gambling addiction. I know the impact his addiction had on my family and it was something you would not want to see other families go through. According to Beyond Blue “Anyone can develop a gambling problem – it does not depend on age, gender, income, education or ethnic background – and the transition from being a non-gambler to someone with a gambling problem can be swift.” So come on Australians lets show our politicians that we care and walk with our votes if they are not prepared to put moral integrity over financial gain.
If you or someone you know needs help refer to the Beyond Blue Fact Sheet listed below.
Australian Government: Department of Social Services. (2017). Gambling, Retrieved from https://www.dss.gov.au/communities-and-vulnerable-people/programmes-services/gambling
Beyond Blue. (2017). Problem Gambling and Depression, Fact Sheet 45. Retrieved from http://resources.beyondblue.org.au/prism/file?token=BL/0773
Livingston, C. and Johnson M. (2017) Gambling lobby gives big to political parties, and names names, Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/gambling-lobby-gives-big-to-political-parties-and-names-names-73131
Scott, J. and Heath, M. (2016). Gambling is killing one Australian a day, but it rakes in billions in tax http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/gambling-is-killing-one-australian-a-day-but-it-rakes-in-billions-in-tax-20160927-grpypl.html