Poker machines can devastate Australians and their families in ways you might not expect
A serious public health problem
When a person loses $21,000 a year[i], they are losing a quarter of the average Australian income[ii]. These losses often continue until everything is gambled away – disposable income, then savings, and then, the family home. The harms associated with gambling include not only financial disaster, bankruptcy and loss of assets, but also divorce, separation and its harmful impacts on children, family violence, mental and physical ill health, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and self-harm. For these reasons, ‘gambling disorder’ is recognised as a serious addiction and a mental health condition with major health impacts on the person gambling and those around them.
The scale of the damage done is large. There are at least 115,000 Australians at the moment who are directly and seriously harmed by gambling and another 280,000 experiencing significant risk[iv]. By comparison 24,600 Australians were admitted to hospital due to a car accident in the last year[v]. For every person directly harmed by gambling, between 5 and 10 friends, family and others, including employers, are also affected. This means that up to 5 million Australians could be negatively affected.[vi]
Poker machines are located in disadvantaged areas
Poker machine operators, whether clubs or large corporations like Woolworths, often locate machines in the suburbs with the lowest incomes and the least capacity to cope with the losses caused by poker machines.
For example, in 2013-2014, Fairfield in Sydney’s west lost more money that any other local government area.[vii] Victoria’s least affluent suburbs lose six times more to poker machines than the most affluent postcodes. The gambling operators are clearly exploiting communities that are already highly stressed, and that can least afford the additional problems poker machines create.
In Australia, poker machines cause the most harm
Three out of four people being harmed by gambling principally use poker machines[viii]. Poker machine designers spend millions intentionally designing machines to extract as much money as possible, using well known principles of behavioural psychology to create addiction.
Australia has 20% of the worlds’ poker machines[ix], despite having less than 0.3% of global population[x]
There are 198,418 pokies in Australia (half of them in NSW) and each machine has an average take of over $55,000 a year.[xi] They design machine features that are deeply misleading, such as disguising losses as wins. A $10 bet on the Melbourne cup means you could lose $10 on cup day. People using poker machines where the maximum bet is $10 lose an average of $1200 an hour[xii]. These machines are a con-job, not a fair bet, and certainly not just a harmless punt.
The problem is the product
As a community, we understand the need for sensible laws that inform us and keep us safe from dangerous products. We’ve led the world reducing deaths from lung cancer by helping those already addicted to nicotine and simultaneously passing laws to reduce the harm cause by tobacco in Australia. We provide support for some of those already hurt by gambling but we’re doing almost nothing to prevent people being harmed.
[i] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report2010
[ii] ABS Average weekly earnings, May 2015. Full time adult average weekly total earning of $1,541.50 Accessed at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6302.0/ October 2015
[iii] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report 2010
[iv] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report 2010
[v] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report 2010, p11
[vi] Australian Government Problem Gambling Department http://www.problemgambling.gov.au/facts/
[vii] NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA)
[viii] Delfabbro, P, August 2008, p67 http://www.problemgambling.gov.au/facts/
[ix][ix][ix] Slot machine world count http://www.gamingta.com/pdf/World_Count_2014.pdf
[x] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. June 13, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2015. http://esa.un.org/wpp/Documentation/pdf/WPP2012_Press_Release.pdf
Australian Bureau of Statistics 3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics, Oct 2015, accessed at http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/allprimarymainfeatures/54A5E977BB10644CCA257E1300775B9B?opendocument
[xi] Calculated from the 2013-14 Australian Gambling Statistics 31st Edition Summary Tables
[xii] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report 2010