Shonica Guy: I am completely astounded that the South Australian Government is proposing poker machines be available on Good Friday and Christmas Day. Is nothing sacred? Is the government so lacking in understanding of gambling harm they think this is okay?
Just two days of the year poker machines are offline in SA, offering a tiny break from addiction for people experiencing gambling harm. How beholden is the SA Government to the hotels industry that it thinks this is a good idea?
Compounding the harm that could come from these changes is the proposal to switch poker machines over from being coin-operated to accepting notes. This is something we know will increase gambling losses and the harm that comes with those losses. It is a lot easier to lose track of your gambling when you are feeding a $50 note into a machine instead of 50 $1 coins.
Poker machines are machines of addiction, with their design incorporating features that trigger addiction in the brain. They are designed to manipulate people into losing more and more money so that the industry can win big, but not the person using the machine.
I speak from lived experience. My brain was hijacked by poker machines 24 years ago. It took me 14 years to overcome my addiction to them, and that’s because the industry knows exactly what it is doing when creating the features, the lights, the music on poker machines.
Those 14 years are lost to me. I was milked of my money, and those years of my life.
Gambling harm literally takes food off of tables, causes people to lose their jobs and homes, it often plays a part in family violence and relationship break-ups, and it is inextricably linked with mental ill-health. Sadly, there is a chicken and egg situation when it comes to gambling harm and mental ill-health.
Why on earth would the SA Government want to make things worse for South Australians experiencing gambling harm? Why would they make it easier for people to lose more money, more often, and more quickly?
Some argue the introduction of poker machines was one of the worst decisions made by a South Australian government, and I agree with them. The harm these machines cause was well established in NSW, yet Victoria jumped on board and SA followed suit.
I don’t understand why we are looking to the eastern states for inspiration, when Western Australia is who we should be modelling ourselves on when it comes to poker machines. Over there they only have them in their casino, and funnily enough they have the lowest rates of gambling harm in Australia. That’s because these machines are nothing short of dangerous.
I’ll never get back the years of my life that I lost to gambling, but I have made it my mission to ensure others don’t go through what I did. That’s why I am speaking out about these changes.
There is no real upside to gambling; it’s an insidious, predatory business that needs to be reigned in, not given more opportunities to cause harm in our community.
I urge the South Australian Government to reconsider these changes as a priority. You can’t undo gambling harm, but you can prevent it from happening in the first place.
By Shonica Guy, gambling reform advocate