Australia has the highest rate of gambling in the world with 600,000 Australians playing poker machines at least once a week.
Recent research shows 18-24 year olds spend more on poker machines than any other age group.
Charlie Skelly, 20, began playing poker machines when he turned 18, literally. His first bet was on his 18th birthday. He told The Newsroom, “I need to stop” but has found it hard to cut back because the temptation is always there when he goes out. Charlie would “never go out specifically to gamble” but when he has money he tends to spend it with the hope he might win more.
Charlie’s gambling does not extend past poker machines where he bets anywhere between $20 to $1000 in a session, averaging about $80 a week. Now he has “cut back, but not as much as [he] should”.
Weekly gamblers lose an average of $7000 to $8000 a year. While Charlie doesn’t consider his habit to be a problem, some of his friends have told him to get help.
Australians spend almost $12 billion a year on pokies with three quarters of problem gamblers being pokie players.
The social cost of our 200,000 problem gamblers is estimated to be at least $4.7 billion each year. However, the state and federal governments have been wary of major change to the industry because it commands a powerful lobby group, Clubs Australia who have been actively campaigning against reform.
According to figures provided to The Sun-Herald by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, NSW earned $441.3 million from taxes on gaming machines in a three-month period. Making the industry a huge revenue generator.
In 2010, the Productivity Commission recommended a full pre-commitment system for poker machines in Australia. It has taken two years for the government to act on the report and last week the legislation introduced into parliament was called “piss weak” by Independent senator Nick Xenophon.
The reform package requires all pokies to have pre-commitment technology by the end of 2016 and a $250 daily withdrawal limit from ATMs in gaming venues (excluding casinos) from May 2013. Anti-gambling campaigners have taken the view that voluntary pre-commitment is better than nothing.
Not all clubs will be required to implement pre-commitment technology by 2016. The changes are being phased in over a decade to reduce costs for smaller pubs and clubs.
More than half of Australia’s clubs and pubs will have extra time to get ready. In New South Wales, which has more than half the nation’s poker machines, almost two thirds of pubs and clubs have been given extra time to get ready for the voluntary pre-commitment system. – Nigel Gladstone
Top photograph by Eleni Psaltis, ABC News
Poker machines photograph by Lily Crichton