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14 May 2020
The bookies are taking their bets and the lines to the bar are out the door.
With the Melbourne Cup yesterday there was no shortage of people crunching the numbers hoping for a shot at a big return.
Some won. Many lost.
Amid all the glitz and glamour of the races, there’s an underbelly of gambling addiction that most don’t want to talk about, nor read about.
So when I recently heard about a local council hosting an event to talk about gambling, I initially baulked at the idea, but then thought: “Why not?”
The purpose of the meeting was to garner people’s views on the council’s Responsible Gaming Policy.
The questions they posed were intriguing:
• How much should be allowed to be spent on the pokies every hour?
• How do we help people who have a gambling addiction?
• How do you know if someone has a gambling addiction?
• What percentage of the gaming community are “problem gamblers”?
• To what degree should a local council intervene in people’s personal gambling choices?
The reason for the meeting was clear. It wasn’t articulated on a billboard or placed front and centre on the flyer, but if you weren’t worried about offending anyone, you would advertise: “I think our community has a gambling problem. Let’s discuss it.”
It was only December last year that the Sydney Morning Herald was writing this headline: “Australian gamblers lose a record $24b in a year”.
Fairfax journalist Nick Toscano wrote: “Pokies accounted for the largest share of losses ($12 billion), followed by casinos ($5.2 billion), racing ($2.9 billion) and Lotto ($1.9 billion).” That’s a lot of “ka-ching, ka-ching”.
I’d take a bet each way that there were far more losers than winners. It’s intriguing that even though the odds are stacked against us, Australians still love to gamble.
A research report looking into social influences on gamblers notes, “Those who have experienced more harm are also surrounded by more gamblers who have experienced harm, and are more likely to gamble with them despite experiencing harm”.
To me, that sounds like the company you keep reinforces the way you act. The report continues, “Thus, not only is gambling-related behaviour normalised through these social networks, so too is gambling-related harm”.
Now I know why they offer those $12 Parma nights: Let’s create a community that reinforces the way I behave, then I can feel like my choices are legitimised because a whole bunch of others are doing the same thing.
I have family history in the gambling industry. No, I’m not a multi-milliondollar fat cat who owns three casinos and a holiday house in Dubai.
I mean, I have family who used to be addicted to gambling. I’ve seen the effect it has on family life.
I’ve witnessed a little of what problem gambling does to relationships.
The problem is, we haven’t normalised the seeking of support for problem gambling in our culture.
We’ve done it for smoking; we’ve done it for drinking; we’ve done it for prostate cancer; we’re doing it for drug dependency.
But, when it comes to gambling, it’s like we either don’t think there’s a problem, or we’re too shy to speak up about it.
We need to normalise the seeking of support. There’s no shame in saying, “I have a problem with gambling”.
You might have a flutter on the Spring Racing Carnival, have a few too many drinks and go home a little tipsy.
But if you wake up the next day with your bank account shattered and your marriage on the line, then you’ve got a problem. Go get some help.
The same report I referred to earlier, says, “People experiencing problems with gambling need to be supported to develop the capacity to navigate these saturated social networks and environments.
At a broader level, strategies to increase social support and normalisation of efforts to limit or abstain from gambling should also be investigated.”
Maybe we should start a hashtag: #donewithgambling. Then we could create a movement that says it’s OK to seek help.
It’s OK to bring others into your social network that hold you accountable. It’s fine to tell someone close to you how much you spend and how often you gamble. It would be acceptable to say, “I’m done with gambling”.
The race that stops a nation may have spectacular horses, beautiful hats, and manicured fields, but I’ll be honest with you: I’m done with gambling.
Captain Pete Brookshaw is the Corps Officer of The Salvation Army Craigieburn.
He blogs at www.petebrookshaw.com