Many families will know the feeling of being strapped for cash in January, and the lure of making a quick dollar through gambling is seductive, but it can be a slippery slide to disaster, as Julie Houghton reports.
Consider this scenario.
Christmas is over. You’ve maxed out the credit card and are now wondering how to repay it. The new school year is looming and there are uniforms and books to buy, and the money has to be found somewhere.
Perhaps you are feeling lucky, and a quick trip to the pokies or putting a bundle on a lucky nag might just solve all those financial woes?
However, if we follow this tempting illusion we are on a losing streak, and despite the glossy advertising telling us differently, we end up in a worse financial predicament than before.
Recent statistics from the Queensland Government’s Australian Gambling Statistics reveal that Australian gamblers lost nearly $24 billion in gambling in the 2015–16 year—a new record and not one we can be proud of.
Poker machine gambling losses grew by 4.2%, while sports betting grew by 13% from the previous year.
None of this surprises Captain Jason Davies-Kildea, The Salvation Army’s Victorian Social Programme and Polity Unit manager, who deals with the human costs behind the statistics. He notes that people are usually ashamed at having lost money, and don’t want to admit why they are suddenly broke.
“Very few people will come asking for financial assistance because they’ve lost all their money gambling,” Captain Davies-Kildea explains.
“This may come out further down the track after we’ve helped them with another issue, such as overdue bills or a food voucher. Our job is to help people who are facing a crisis, not to make judgements about how they got into that crisis—but you can understand why some people might still be hesitant.”
He is concerned about the growing problem of sports betting.
“Gambling patterns are changing with technology as the industry tries to innovate to keep people hooked,” he comments. “A new angle on betting might give someone the impression that they have a greater chance of winning, which feeds the illusion of their addiction, that they are in control.”
The dramatic increase in sports betting advertising during matches has exacerbated the problem.
“You can barely watch a game without being bombarded by sports betting advertising. It’s targeted at sports fans, but someone who becomes hooked on gambling can become tempted by the elusive win, regardless of whether or not they love the sport,” Captain Davies-Kildea says.
“All forms of gambling advertising prey upon people who see themselves as ‘down on their luck’, who hope that a change in their circumstances might be just around the corner.”
An additional concern with the rise of sports betting advertising is the exposure to young non-gamblers.
“Parents are telling us about conversations with kids who are growing up in a culture where betting on just about any aspect of the game is as prevalent as the rules of the game itself—their kids are asking about the odds instead of the gameplay.”
Australians are a nation of sports lovers, and when the betting starts to outstrip the importance of the game, we should all be worried.
While poker machines have been with us much longer, there are larger numbers of the machines in lower socio-economic areas across the country than there are in wealthy suburbs such as Toorak or Double Bay.
The Salvation Army is clear about changes it would like to see in terms of government regulations on gambling.
“Reducing the harm of poker machines means having lower bets, such as a $1 maximum, and limiting the number of bets placed in any time period, so the maximum losses are $120 per hour,” Captain Davies-Kildea suggests. “Also reducing venue opening hours so they actually close for 8-10 hours a night would be a great start.”
Stephen Mayne, spokesman for The Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGF), whose board includes The Salvation Army, shares Captain Davies-Kildea’s views on reform. As well as having $1 maximum bets and reduced trading hours, the AGF also wants lower numbers of poker machines and venues, daily limits on cash withdrawals, and higher taxes on poker machines.
Mr Mayne agrees that gambling advertising is very influential.
“It is very effective because sports betting and corporate bookmaker profits have been soaring in recent years as they have actively competed for new customers,” he says. “Sports betting losses grew by 15% to $920 million in 2015–16, and that excludes all the betting on racing across Australia which reached $2.95 billion in that year.”
Mr Mayne suggests that gambling is becoming more of a problem because state governments’ dependence on it for revenue, as income tax and company tax revenue goes to the federal government.
“The gambling industry also has entrenched economic and political power, as demonstrated by the battles over the Wilkie-Xenophon reforms and the political donations the industry makes, and the former politicians they hire to promote their industry,” My Mayne says.
“And pokies have seriously enriched Australia’s pubs and clubs so they have become rich and powerful as a result.”
He is also an advocate for increased regulation to limit gambling.
“We have hopeless regulation with very few fines or enforcement proceedings against licenced operators. Pokies are easily the largest generator of losses ($12 billion) and harm, but online gambling is the other major concern, given the growth in losses and accessibility to a whole new generation of younger gamblers,” Mr Mayne claims.
Captain Davies-Kildea agrees, and has a wish list.
“I’d like to see our governments actually set some ambitious goals to reduce gambling harm, acknowledging that this is about more than just personality responsibility—a society that normalises gambling to the degree that we have is bound to experience massive social harms that are just unnecessary.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling issues, visit www.responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/getting-help.