Gambling returns come at a heavy price


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In 2017 poker machines accounted for over 68 percent of the gambling market

On the eve of the Gambling Community Benefit Fund’s latest handouts, eyewitnesses to the ugly underbelly of gambling are questioning the costs and benefits.

Self-confessed reformed gambler Brian Cowler said the Queensland Government needed to take more responsibility to fix the chronic issues that surrounded gambling addiction.

“A new building, a paint job or a couple of footballs doesn’t mend the festering social and personal wounds,” he said.

Data from 2008 to 2017 has shown the Queensland Government collected over $11 billion in gambling revenue.

Yet by their own figures they have given out less than 5 per cent in grants.

Evidence from the State Government Statistician’s Office also revealed the financial impact, with every Queenslander over 18 spending an average of $9,500 a year on gambling.

It is the equivalent of taking $184 a week out of every adult’s pocket.

Physician Dr Michael Ryan said he had conflicting views over the benefits and consequences of gambling.

“The gambling fund has done a lot of good in the local community,” he said.

“I read that Nambour Little Athletics recently received $35,000 and the Caloundra Scouts got over $10,000.”

However he said gambling addiction was a disease and needed to be treated as such.

“We know that anxiety, depression and other physiological effects can be a significant contributor to many physical ailments,” he said.

“When someone comes in with a problem we want to find the cause and therefore perhaps we need to dig a bit deeper.

“We ask if people smoke or drink when trying to come up with a diagnosis, perhaps we need to ask if they gamble as well.”

After 27 years as a member of gamblers anonymous, Mr Cowler said he had seen a disturbing trend in the changing face of gambling.

“Once it was the race track or the TAB where you did most of your betting,” he said.

“Now pubs and clubs are the place where you meet, eat, relax and win money.”

He said children were increasingly being indoctrinated into the pub’s and club’s social scenes.

“Almost every pub or club has a dedicated room filled with video games and play gyms in their beer gardens,” he said.

“Some even cater for birthday parties and have face painting and jumping castles on certain days.”

He said people still take their kids to the local community centre to watch a children’s show, but clubs were slowly becoming an accepted venue.

“You only have to look at a Wiggles or Playschool tour itinerary to see the influence,” he said.

He said online betting was another issue for children, as it seemed to be always in their face.

“Kids sit up at night and watch the footy with their dads and are bombarded with ads for sportsbetting,” he said.

He said that online betting was becoming the norm for the younger generation.

“Now you can walk around with a casino in your pocket,” he said.

But Government data revealed poker machines were still the most popular choice of gambling.

In 2017 poker machines accounted for over 68 per cent of the market, whereas online sportsbetting had gained 0.6 per cent.

Queenslanders put $224 billion through the machines in the 10 years to 2017, opposed to the $1.5 billion bet online.

Sunshine Coast Psychology Services representative Gail Baker said she was regularly confronted with the malignant effects of gambling.

“We sometimes see people who have lost everything, their houses, job, even their relationships,” she said.

“We get couples come in here at breaking point because one of them has blown almost all their money on the pokies or horses.”

She said for those with very little money it can be twice as hard.

“For many it means going without food or other essentials,” she said.

She said people were of the opinion that gambling was a lifestyle choice.

“For some it is, but for others it is an addiction and like any addiction it is very hard to break,” she said.

“For a few it is impossible.”

Publican John Buchanan said working behind the bar he consistently saw the sad side of gambling.

“I see people’s faces and attitudes change when they start playing the pokies,” he said.

“It’s like they are on a permanent high, but need a continual fix to stay there.”

He said for some the dream of a win has come at a heavy price.

“You see someone looking blankly at a machine and you know they have spent their last dollar,” he said.

“Suddenly their world has collapsed on them and they are left with nothing.

“You wonder if they have family and or what they are going home to.”

After 27 years of listening to horror stories from fellow sufferers, Mr Cowler said they all have one thing in common.

“The most expensive wager they have made is the one they couldn’t afford,” he said.