by JOHN MOYLE
In 2000 Tim Freedman of Australian band The Whitlams urged us to “Blow Up The Pokies” and that sentiment is even more urgent today. That Australians love to gamble is an understatement when the national gambling records for 2017-2018 reveals they bet more than $208 billion across all legal forms of wagering, losing $24.8 billion in the process.
According to the international gambling consultancy H2 Gambling Capital, in 2016 Australians lost more money per person, an average of $US990, than any other developed country, including Singapore with losses of $US650 per person, and Ireland with $US500 per person.
Las Vegas was seventh on the rankings.
In Sydney, one working class suburb, Fairfield, fluttered away $8 billion, or just under $40,000 per person.
“If that $25 billion being lost every year gambling was spent on dining out, buying clothes, holidaying locally etc., it would have a massive positive impact on our economy,” Reverend Tim Costello, chief advocate, Alliance for Gambling Reform said.
“To put those losses into perspective, Australia spends around $10 billion annually on Newstart and sickness benefits.”
And nobody is more addicted to gambling than governments.
The total tax for all state and territory governments is estimated at over $6 billion annually with NSW raking in over $2 billion, and in past times gambling has accounted for around 10 per cent of state revenue.
NSW Treasury was contacted for comment but did not respond.
The reason for state governments’ greed when it comes to gambling stems back to the late seventies, when Australia became the world’s first developed nation to abolish death duties, so they had to look around for any means possible to replace the lost revenue.
In NSW the sprawling network of registered clubs across the state became the perfect source as the NSW Government allowed an increase in the numbers of poker machines that had been legal since 1954.
Just one year earlier, no doubt operating on a heads up, the Australian company Aristocrat began manufacturing a poker machine called the Clubman and the Aussie club changed forever.
Australia now has over 20 per cent of the world’s gaming machines with over 200,000 spread across the nation..
NSW accounts for over 100,000 of these, with Star Casino licensed for over 1,600.
The average poker machine in a NSW club will bring in $57,677 each year while a machine located in a pub will account for $113,561.
Reverend Tim Costello said it was time for the NSW Government to treat gambling harm the same was as it treats smoking.
“Smoking in bars was once pervasive in NSW, not unlike the scourge that is poker machines,” Rev Costello said.
Poker machines are specifically designed to trigger and exploit the brain, with psychologists often consulted on their design to ensure the lights, music and rhythm of play all work together to fire different synapses and addict people.
Dr Christopher Hunt is the clinical supervisor at the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment and Research Centre which provides free treatment for problem gamblers, family and friends across four treatment centres in Sydney.
“Usually people who have a problem with gambling have a preferred form of gambling and have a meaningful early win that will put them on the path to gambling more often,” Dr Hunt said.
“We see more of people who have a preference for playing poker machines, however part of the reason for that until recently is that it is the most available form of gambling, but now we are seeing more people who have a preference for betting on sports and horses than we did before.
Play more, pay more
With poker machines there can be no long term winners as the machines are programmed to have a return to player no higher than 87 per cent which means that over a long term, say a million spins, a machine will only return 87 per cent of money gambled.
This means that the longer you play the more money you are likely to lose.
And there is no such thing as a lucky machine as modern machines use a random number generator that generates a random value from billions of possible numerical combinations at a rate of around 300 to 500 per second.
Most pokies have hit frequencies between nine and 25 per cent which means a player, on average, will get hits nine to 25 times out of every 100 spins.
This is often enough to make the player feel that they are on a winning streak and that the big payoff is just within reach.
“There are direct connections in some instances between gambling harm and family violence and mental ill-health,” Rev Costello said. “Our governments can and should do better, it’s time that they cared about Australians instead of the wealthy few people and companies draining our citizens. It’s time that gambling harm is addressed as the public health issue that is so clearly is.”