Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City and even Macao are the gambling meccas of the world, yet the US and China do not come close to Australia in terms of gambling spend per capita. In fact, no other country spends as much money as Australia does on gambling — no other country even comes close. What’s more, the vast majority of that money is spent on pokies, which means that as well as being unique in its obsession of gambling, Australia is also unique in its obsession for these gambling machines.
That’s good for the industry and for the government, at least partially, but it’s not all positive. Pokies create more gambling addictions and more gambling problems than any other form of gambling, which is why Australia has the highest percentage of problem gamblers in the world.
But just how much of a impact does it have on society? In this article we’ll look at some of the facts regarding problem gambling in Australia.
It has been said that there are around 250,000 people in Australia right now that have a gambling problem. What’s more, Problem Gambling, which is the official gambling addiction organization in the country, estimate that around half a million people are at risk. This stems from the fact that 70 percent of all Australians gamble in any given year, with 6 out of ten of them choosing pokies over any other form of gambling.
This is thanks to the availability of pokies, which can be found everywhere from big casinos, to clubs, pubs, restaurants and even hotels. It seems that it is impossible to plan a night out in Australia without bumping into a pokie or two, which causes big problems for gambling addicts. It is akin to asking a recovering alcoholic to spend time in a bar, or supplying a recovering drug addict with an endless supply of drugs and not expecting them to relapse.
It is easy to assume that gambling addictions only hurt the addicts, but Problem Gambling estimate that a single addict can effect the lives of as many as 10 people. This is because gambling addictions are never simple. They often occur alongside other addictions and problems, whether as a direct result of the addiction, or because those issues made them susceptible to that addiction. Because of this, a large number of gambling addicts in Australia are addicted to at least one substance and/or also have issues with their mental health.
Gambling addictions effect them socially and financially. Many addicts lose their jobs and their families as a direct result of their addictions.
For every 6 players playing a pokie, it is estimated that 1 of them will have a serious gambling addiction. When you know this, it is easy to understand just how a single pokie machine makes an average of $60,000 a year in Australia, and why it has been estimated that players in New South Wales, where pokies are at their biggest, lose just under $4,000 each per year, on average. That figure is the highest across Australia, with gamblers in Queensland only losing $1,800 per person, but it includes casual gamblers as well as problem gamblers. When you focus just on problem gamblers, the average loss per person across the country is as high as $21,000. Also, that figure was calculated a few years ago, and the gambling industry has grown considerably since then. Essentially, it means that, on average, a single problem gambler is losing a salary’s worth of money (albeit a minimum wage salary) on gambling alone.
This is not helped by the fact that some offline pokies allow the players to lose thousands in a single session, with reports suggesting that on some machines it is possible to lose as much as $2,000 in a single hour. Three quarters of all problem gamblers in Australia have an issue with pokies. Not all of these limit their gambling to these machines, but it seems that these machines attract the biggest losses and the biggest problems.
The youngest demographic, those aged between 18 and 24, are the ones effected the most by problem gambling. This is the video game generation, and studies have suggested that there might be a link between their obsession with pokies and their gaming habits, as both activate the reward center of the brain. What is worrying, is that if we know that and the people trying to help know that, you can guarantee that the pokie developers will know that and will try and exploit it.
Still, they are not an all-powerful evil entity. They are a business and one that brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. There just happens to be a few people who go overboard.
What is perhaps most worrying about the figures above, is the fact that only 15% of addicts ever seek help, and of those 15% very few will actually abstain long-term from gambling and go on to lead a happy and healthy life. There are ways to get over such addictions though.
The first thing you need to do is to get help. Don’t keep secrets, tell family and friends and let them support you. Get in touch with organizations such as Problem Gambling (there are many others as well, including those operating regionally) and follow their advice. You will not be able to avoid pokies forever, and it might be too difficult to go cold turkey from them, but there are ways around this. All casinos, offline and online, have deposit limits and self-exclusion policies, so be sure to sign-up to these. If the casino lets you play beyond a limit or lets you inside despite you signing up to an exclusion policy, then they are breaking the law and you can sue them.