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The House Always Wins

BODIE GREATBATCH MURPHY | NEWS

It’s another Saturday night out at your local RSL. You walk past the hordes of pensioners thumbing the bottom of their seemingly endless purses for another dollar to slide into the blaring carnival machine of spinning lights and racially insensitive stereotypes. Heading towards the bar, you dodge slightly to avoid the blue screen rays of the max volume KENO machine to grab your beer and face the blokes watching the regular array of rugby matches, UFC fights and greyhound races. Invariably, you ask your friends who they have money on, before they show you any combination of sports betting apps downloaded. After a long night on the town, you come home and recline in front of the television, watching a telescreen feeding betting ads with any variety of celebrity endorsement, your brain begins to fold inwards.


Does Australia have a gambling problem?


The statistics seemingly make the case themselves, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that Australians have lost $25 billion on legal forms of gambling just in the years 2018-2019, and that in NSW only one percent of problem gamblers actually reach out for support. The Institute of Family Studies discovered that 16% of Australian teenagers aged 16-17 years reported spending money on some form of gambling activity, with some illegally gambling due to being underage. A child under the age of 13 has never experienced an Australian sporting event without some form of gambling advertisement.

Gambling industries appear to be expanding their reach further and further into every aspect of Australian life. When gambling starts to become a feature of going out to the footy, enjoying time out with your friends and time spent online, its presence only increases the odds of your eventual participation. Meanwhile, the Australian government seems to have established a keen friendship with the gambling industry, promoting events like The Melbourne Cup as an essential aspect of the Australian experience of “having a punt”.


During his tenure as Social Services Minister, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an inquiry into offshore gambling websites. 60% of the online gaming industry’s $1.6 billion belongs to these offshore accounts with more than 2000 sites out of the reach of Australian regulators. To address this, a revised 2019 version of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 banned gambling operators from promoting online services to gamblers while allowing players to continue without restriction. Additionally, under the current Coalition government, in 2018, the government collected $6.2 billion in revenue from gambling industries.


Opponents of gambling legislation often state the common viewpoint of “Freedom of Choice”, surely if one is willing to spend their own money on gambling, they assume the risks. To a certain degree, this policy makes sense, no one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to gamble. However, to understand how we can help afflicted peoples, we need to understand how gambling itself causes harm. Numerous scientific reports have demonstrated the debilitating effect gambling can have on the average person with symptoms akin to drug and alcohol addiction.


Assistant Wesleyan University Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson details the exact chemical effects that gambling induces in the brain. Robinson notes “Dopamine, the neurotransmitter the brain releases during enjoyable activities such as eating, sex and drugs is also released during situations where the reward is uncertain… dopamine release parallels an individual’s levels of gambling ‘high’ and also plays a role in reinforcing risk taking behaviour”.


Repeated exposure to gambling functionally changes how you respond to losing. Losing money can carry the same trigger release of dopamine almost to the same extent that winning does. This leads to the phenomenon known as “chasing losses”.


Additionally, the lights, sounds, and jingles of poker and slot machines have a subconscious effect on the brain that encourages people to play, as subtle lengthening of jingles increase excitement and lead gamblers to overestimate how often they are winning. Whilst this is occurring, policies in casinos like the distinct lack of clocks and windows create the perfect conditioning environment for an unsuspecting person to become wrapped up in hours of gambling.


This inevitably leads to the penultimate question:


What can we do about it?


Currently, the most effective policy ideas are framed around the idea of curbing gambling instead of outright banning it, through a practice of harm minimisation. University of Adelaide Associate Professor Michael O’Neil suggests minimising the amount of time spent playing poker machines, capping the maximum bet amount at $1 and reducing the number of hours gambling venues can remain open. Melbourne’s Darebin Council has experimented with removing the influence of gambling sponsorship from poker machine operators by removing sponsored club’s ability to access council grounds, facilities, and grants.


Former Mayor of Darebin Council Dr Susan Rennie stated, “We have a situation now where children quote the odds instead of focusing on the game… our community has lost just over $80 million a year on poker machines alone, and you can’t take $80 million out of the community and not have some people experience pretty severe poverty as a result.”


The federal government has also taken steps towards rectifying this issue through the establishment of a National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering and the introduction of a National Self Exclusion Registry that would allow people to voluntarily exclude themselves from gaming venues.


As advocates and opponents of Australia’s gambling culture war over thin patches of ground, as individuals, it is fascinating to consider the transition from ANZAC soldiers throwing two coins into the air to the digitised gambling sphere of the 21st Century. In times of strife, we often returned to games of chance as a comforting escape from our struggle. However, in the modern age of ease and comfort, we can only stand by and watch as colossal casinos force themselves alongside the ordered iconic skyline of the city.


If anything in this article has affected you in any way, do not hesitate to call Gambling Help Online at 1800 422 599 or visit their website at www.gamblinghelponline.org.au



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