Monday, 2 January 2012

The Untold Tragedies of Pokie Gambling

Pokies reform will either be enacted by May this year or shelved for a generation. Regrettably, the debate has been about the process of implementing reform rather than the harm suffered by Australians as a result of their gambling on these dangerous machines.

Nearly one in five gamblers report that gambling has had an adverse effect on their lives. This is surprising for an entertainment product, whose purpose is to add to the enjoyment of people's lives (Productivity Commission Gambling Report @ page 4.23). This stat get much worse when one focuses on pokie gamblers. Pokie Gambling dimishes the quality of all of Australian lives if one person suffers. Yet, on a quantitative basis, Australian problem gambling has a higher prevalence than heroin use or hospitalisations resulting from traffic accidents (PC 5.30).

Despite these numbers, what has been missing from the discourse is the horrific stories of what it is to be in the grip of a pokie addiction. These stories are flicked aside to get to the process of reform implementation. These stories should be told regardless of a legislative solution preferred by the speaker. Despite known stats about the unwillingness of problem gamblers (whether they be moderate or addicts) to even answer a prevalence survey (PC 5.14), the past emphasis is to talk to former problem gamblers who may suffer from extreme shame or guilt.

Even those who are most cited by the pokie industry say that 60% of problem gamblers commit crime to support their addiction yet I have never seen a story where an addict (present or former) will talk to this.

We have heard that pokie gambling causes emotional distress, family break up, loss of jobs, crime and even suicide but no one has spoke to these tragedies in stories. Even family members or work mates have not had their stories told.

The inclination is to then ask these former or present problem gamblers about their preferred political solution. Really, that's not the point. The point is the loss of humanity caused or made worse in any way by pokie gambling.

If the story needs an ending, then it is the absence of action, not whether one solution is better than another. Even discourse about the justification for absence of action misses the point because there is no excuse.

Gary Banks (PC Chairman in his 30 March 2011 Address - "Evidence and social policy: the case of gambling") has the most effective last word;
“most of the harm minimisation measures that were introduced by governments in the decade between our inquiries had little evidence to support their efficacy, let alone cost effectiveness. Indeed, we found that virtually no machine design change with an a priori likelihood of effectiveness had been introduced in any state or territory.”
Despite the political rhetoric, the Senate Committee, the Productivity Commission's reports, the research and the evidence:  nothing has been done. Nothing. We don't even have a government policy nor even an opposition policy.

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