KACHING: Gamblers lose $831m on Ipswich poker machines

Poker machine addict Shaun has overcome an addiction to poker machines. Photo Justin Van Heerden
Poker machine addict Shaun has overcome an addiction to poker machines. Photo Justin Van Heerden

IPSWICH poker machines drained more than $831 million from local wallets in just 12 years.

A special ARM Newsdesk investigation reveals $831,691,980 was spent on our local government area's 1519 electronic gaming machines from July 2004 to April 30 this year.

The amount gambled away is about $5884 for every one of Ipswich's 141,341 adult residents.

Yearly, our poker machine losses average out to $69,307,665 million.

The financial pain does not end at the region's 19 gaming venues, with the Alliance for Gambling Reform saying that for every $1 the Queensland Government collects in gambling-related taxes, local governments may spend up to $7 trying to fix the social problems pokies cause.

One of Australia's leading authorities on gambling, Dr Charles Livingstone, said for each addict, five to 10 other people would be impacted including family, friends and employers whose workers embezzled money to fund their habit.

The Monash University academic said the city's gaming industry employed about three people per $1 million expenditure compared to the restaurant industry which employed 28 people for the same cash turnover.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said gambling was part of the "Australian way of life" and while some punters had problems the gaming industry also contributed to the city's economy.

"Since the introduction of the machines the community has seen the creation of improved facilities and better local recreation and entertainment venues which trade to support local sporting clubs and community groups," Cr Pisasale said.

"They also create local employment.

"I know that responsible clubs keep an eye on problem gamblers and offer help when needed."

Ipswich Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive officer Carol Levinge  said her organisation was unable to comment on the $831 million lost over 12 years for a number of reasons.

"It's important to note that the ICCI is unable to provide a broad position on the issues of poker machine gambling since we represent a diversity of members, some of whom benefit from gambling and others who might hold adverse views," Ms Levinge said.

"I do not currently have the context around the figure ($831 million) quoted in terms of poker machine turnover necessary to give a view on whether that figure is relatively high."
Dr Livingstone warned the damage poker machines created was on par with the damage alcohol did.

"The harms are widespread but the benefits of poker machines are collected by a very narrow group - for example a company that's operating a pub with pokies," the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine researcher said.

"The harms include mental and physical health problems and in extreme cases suicide.

"There's also neglect of children, family breakdown, domestic violence and crime."

Alliance for Gambling Reform strategy director Rohan Wenn  said the avalanche of money flowing through poker machines must be stopped.

Mr Wenn's organisation will soon begin calling on all Queensland councils to join the alliance's battle to make pubs and clubs "safe con-free places".

"Poker machines are a con job - they are not accidentally addictive, they are deliberately addictive," Mr Wenn said.

"For every dollar in state taxes from gaming, local governments spend $7 cleaning up the mess made by poker machines - these are the struggling businesses, the broken homes, the suicides, the divorces.

"Local governments are the ones that clean up the mess and get no money for it.

"It's money that's not being spent in the local shops - it's money that's being stolen from local business."


Average Aussie bloke's average Aussie pastime ends in $60,000 debt

AT 24, Shaun is your average Aussie bloke.

He works hard, loves hanging out with his mates, adores his parents and four siblings, doesn't mind a beer and reckons having a punt is just part of being born under a southern sun.

"Gambling is actually something that I can track back to when I was really quite young, maybe eight or nine years old," Shaun says.

"I look back and I remember playing cards for chocolate - I have a little bit of a reflection on that and I can see that there were signs that I enjoyed gambling, even then."

Shaun is one of Australia's 500,000 problem gamblers and like the one in six Aussies who play the pokies regularly, he has a serious addiction.

It's an addiction that's led to him being $60,000 in debt.

Shaun first dropped a few bucks into an electronic gaming machine on his 18th birthday.

"It got to the point where it started costing me every spare penny I had," the hospitality worker recalls.

"It was up in the thousands of dollars (in losses) on some of the bad nights."

Asked why the pokies had such a hold on him, Shaun takes a minute to gather his thoughts.

"It's the excitement of the possibility of winning - there's just nothing else going on when you're playing," he says.

"You forget about your troubles, you forget about the money you owe, you forget about the money you shouldn't be spending.

"You really get wrapped up in the machines."

But what happens when the winning streak never comes?

"As time goes on and you lose your money and it becomes more frustrating," Shaun says.

"Soon you're playing out of desperation.

"You're trying to win your money back, you're trying to win the major jackpot to pay off your debts.

"Then you walk out of the venue and the reality really hits you hard.

"Suicide is a thought that anyone who has had a big loss on the pokies will have.

"You do go to some dark places."

These are just some of the complex problems Ipswich gambling counsellor Chris Jones faces daily in his role with Relationships Australia Queensland.
Last financial year, Mr Jones and his colleagues helped about 100 local clients overcome their need to play the pokies.

"People can be at the end of their tether and still not recognise they have a problem -to many the 'slide' does not exist," Mr Jones said.

"More often they will come in when something critical happens, for example their partner leaves or threatens to leave or (there is) financial stress such as a letter from the bank or debt agency.

"But they may still not see their gambling as problematic."

Defeating the punting demon is not easy but with commitment and the right resources, gamblers can find themselves overcoming the urge to chase the next big win.

"Our counsellors use a variety of clinical methodologies depending on the client and their presenting issues," Mr Jones said.

"These can include solution-focused therapy, client-led therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness and narrative therapy.

"This also includes providing clients with strategies and allowing clients to identify their triggers for gambling and working on ways they can avoid gambling in the future."

Mr Jones said family and friends played a vital role in helping gamblers to recover.

"People usually need a degree of support from friends and family to stop gambling and in some cases to keep them motivated and accountable," he said.

"It is also important for friends and family to stop enabling the gambler to gamble for example giving them money and bailing them out of financial trouble."

Last financial year, Ipswich gambling counsellor Chris Jones and his colleagues helped about 100 local clients overcome their need to play the pokies.
Last financial year, Ipswich gambling counsellor Chris Jones and his colleagues helped about 100 local clients overcome their need to play the pokies. Rob Williams

It's been five months since Shaun last sat down in front of a poker machine.

With help from his family and friends and a focus on meditation and physical fitness, he is slowly getting his life back on track.

"It's all about beating that initial urge and not gambling," Shaun says.

"The biggest thing you've got to change is your mindset - you've got to understand that you're not going to make the big win to change your life.

"The urges to gamble may come from being bored, lonely, angry, struggling financially or stress.

"When you feel those sort of things you need to find a more appropriate outlet that's not going to cost you money." - ARM NEWSDESK

For 24-hour support call The Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.

GIVING BACK - BUT IS IT ENOUGH? In the second part of our exclusive three-part investigation into the impacts of poker machines on our community, we reveal just how much money is actually returned to our region through the Community Benefit Fund and how the State Government spends the taxes it collects from poker machines.

Topics:  economy gambling high-stakes

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