BY ALEX EUGENE
An eastern suburbs man has been arrested and charged for cheating three elderly people out of more than half a million dollars, which he allegedly used for gambling.
The man, who pretended to be a financial adviser in order to nab the victims’ life savings, is said to have stolen a total of approximately$750,000.
Detectives from Kings Cross Local Area Command uncovered the crime after investigating a Woollahra-based finance and investment company which had been de-registered.
Gamblers in NSW have handed over $19.5 billion to poker machines so far in 2017, according to the latest figures from the Liquor and Gaming Authority NSW. There are 92,775 pokies in clubs and hotels across NSW. Profits in the last financial year for the industry have also been reported this week as over $117million.
It was revealed this week that the top ranked hotel in NSW for poker machine profits was the El Cortez Hotel, Fairfield, which raked in $13.9million in profit last financial year.
Fairfield is also ranked as Sydney’s most disadvantaged area.
NSW Greens MLC Justin Field said poker machines caused “immeasurable harm to people, families and communities.”
The state regulator has admitted that gambling is a severe problem in low socio-economic areas, and even has a scheme for classifying them into risk groups.
“Local government areas are classified into three bands based on existing gaming machine density and (sic) expenditure and socio-economic factors,” said Independent Liquor & Gaming NSW Deputy Secretary Paul Newson.
But there are no plans to try and reduce the number of pokies in the affected areas. Rather, the regulator claims to screen applications for extra machines.
“To approve extra gaming machines in areas with higher risks of problem gambling, the ILGA Board must be satisfied that concerns arising from consultation have been appropriately considered and that any increase will positively impact the local community,” said Mr Newson.
NSW Greens MP Justin Field is calling for the government to cap the number of pokies in vulnerable communities.
“Poker machines are designed for addiction and to strip money from the community to make profits for shareholders. It’s the responsibility of [Minister for Racing] Paul Toole to protect people and communities,” he said.
But Mr Toole said in a recent statement, “The Greens are opposed to all forms of gambling for ideological reasons, and they should just come clean and admit that.”
He said the government was considering reforming “transparency of gaming machine information and responsible gaming initiatives.”
“The government will be considering all the evidence during this process, not just numbers cherry-picked by the Greens,” he said.
Mr Field criticised NSW Liquor and Gaming for charging a fee to access gambling data, saying other states made it available at no cost. The latest figures were obtained and paid for by the NW Greens.
“Let’s get this data out in the open for free so local communities and councils can evaluate the true cost of pokies to the community, so councils…can make decisions on when enough is enough for local individuals and families,” he said.
Tom S* is a recovering gambler who says his habit started out as a ten dollar bet here and there, but quickly turned into an addiction nightmare.
“I won two major jackpots within a fortnight, and something in my brain just went ‘oh so gambling is basically me getting lots of money’. And that started a cycle of trying to chase the good feeling…there wasn’t a lot of other good feelings happening in my life at that time,” he remembers. He described the winning feeling as total euphoria.
Over the next year Tom lost almost $10,000.
“The first day after payday one weekend, I was walking home from the pub that I did most of my gambling at, and I realized I had barely enough money to make it to next pay check. I’d literally had money in my account for 3 or 4 hours,” he told City Hub.
Dr Betty Weule, who has been analysing data on problem gambling for over 40 years, said there is no single reason for the addiction.
“It is impossible to say why people get into gambling. For some, it is a response to help them forget problems in their lives. For others, it is to fill in time, loneliness, for others peer pressure. It can be genetic or a chemical imbalance.
“Gamblers need to find the best treatment programme for them. It may be counselling, an in hospital programme, Gamblers Anonymous or in a few cases, controlled gambling,” she said.
But Dr Weule said the most crucial point was for the gambler to want to kick their own addiction.
“It is important that family and friends do not try to bail the gambler out. This only deepens the problem. If gambling remains the most important thing in the gambler’s life, no treatment will help,” she said.
Tom says that for him, the Gambler’s Anonymous phone line was the help he needed.
“The person I spoke to was really good. It was helpful to be able to unload all of that on someone,” he said.
Lisa B* says her mother, who is also a recovering gambler, has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings for 72 weeks.
“She started gambling for a few years, stopped for a few years and then started again. Attending the meetings has made her feel blessed to be able to communicate with other problem gamblers and to communicate better with her family,” she said.
Lisa said her mother’s problem caused sadness and anxiety in the family, but through the help she is receiving, she and her siblings have come to understand that gambling is “a debilitating problem and an illness.”
“It’s helped us cope with what’s happened, and how to be there for Mum emotionally as she recovers from her past gambling,” she said.
Karen D* says a gambling addiction took a toll on the relationship between herself and her late grandfather.
“He played lotto every day it was on, about 6 days a week. And it got so bad that we couldn’t even go to a club for lunch or dinner without him playing the poker machines for hours,” she said.
“I hated when he wouldn’t win anything because he would retreat to his bedroom with depression, and often sleep all day leaving me feeling alone. It would cause arguments between us,” remembers Karen.
But Professor Brijesh Verma from CQUniversity says the most lethal form of gambling today is online.
“Rates of harmful gambling are much higher amongst online gamblers than those using other platforms,” he said.
The Turnbull Government launched media reforms to gambling advertising during live sporting coverage this year.
The new restrictions banned gambling ads on live television broadcasts from five minutes before the commencement of play, until five minutes after the conclusion of play or 8.30pm, whichever comes sooner.
UnitingCare Australia has been campaigning against the proliferation of gambling in the community, including television advertising, for some time.
“Gambling advertising, and particularly sports betting, positions gambling as a normal part of enjoying sports, which we believe is unhealthy for young Australians and will pave the way for growing numbers of problem gamblers,” said Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia.
“Gambling advertisements can also act as a trigger for those already struggling with gambling problems,” she said.
“NSW has allowed de facto casinos in our local communities that are ripping billions of dollars from local people and taking a toll on families and individuals,” said Greens MP Justin Field.
“The NSW Government must now play its part and give pokies-impacted communities support for a freeze and then reduction in machine numbers,” he said.
Tom says he will be pulling himself out of the “financial hole” gambling caused him for the next few years.
“It’s a shit system, especially now that I’ve been hooked in to it. That’s money I could have put into anything else, but now I’m just paying a bank off,” he said.
“I don’t want to tell people what they can and can’t do for entertainment, but all of these exemptions to the Sydney lockout laws that enable gaming rooms to stay open but not have live music—it’s not acceptable,” he added.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.