Australia currently holds a world record, although on this occasion it is hardly one to be proud of. Today more than 80% of the adult population of Australia gambles, which just happens to be the highest rate on the planet, and it does not show any sign of dropping anytime soon.
Why would it? The opportunity to gamble is more prevalent than ever before and for many the prospect of a large, tax-free win is too good to ignore. With billions of dollars going into gambling, the profits speak for themselves. But while the government enjoys the benefit of the tax revenue generated from gambling, the reality is much less lucrative for the public.
The good news is that the majority of gamblers are casual gamers who play recreationally, enjoy themselves and suffer minimal loss. However the number of people who take their gambling habits too far is still disturbingly high, with around 300,000 Australians now addicted and both they and their relatives suffer for it. While there are many games responsible, the main culprit is the poker machine or, as they are more commonly known, pokies.
There are now over 200,000 pokies in Australia, collectively taking in $12 billion every year. That works out roughly as $1,300 lost by every Australian adult on average. As the addiction becomes more serious it leads to all manner of financial and personal problems, and it is not unusual for problem gamblers to break the law in order to finance their habit. From there, the problem only escalates.
Many serious problems are associated with gambling addiction:
- Debt or bankruptcy
- Embezzlement and fraud
- Crime, arrest and imprisonment
- Poor physical and mental health
- Alcohol or drug abuse
In addition to these permanent problems, friends and family can also be affected negatively. Relationships can be sorely tested by a gambling addiction and children in particular can experience neglect and even abuse. They are also much more likely to develop an addiction themselves later on.
Everyone is capable of developing an addiction. For some it really is the prospect of winning and if they do not win the first time, they hold onto the idea that the next game might turn out differently. Others enjoy the thrill of the game and get a genuine adrenaline rush just from playing, although they too expect to win. Of course, the odds are stacked impossibly against them and while wins do happen, the longer anyone plays, the more they will lose.
There is support there for those who seek it, but only a small percentage of problem gamblers take that step and are unlikely to stop without the intervention of others. MP Andrew Wilkie has campaigned in an attempt to reduce the amount lost to gambling with such policies as pre-commitment – pokies that lock players out after they have spent an amount they have agreed on beforehand – but unfortunately this has not been implemented on a large enough scale.
With people like Wilkie turning their attention to this issue there remains some hope but ultimately, it is down to the individual to try to regain control and fight their own addiction.