The real statistics are damning – The Mercury opinion piece

Michelle Wisbey 2018, Gambling, News and Media

Read the original article on The Mercury

You will have noticed the large political banners erected by industry on venues with poker machines.

For many Tasmanians, these banners have made them aware of the widespread presence of pokies in their local community.

Usually, we can go through our day and not notice how many pokie venues are between home and work, or school and the shops. But these huge banners catch the eye and, in the process, give us a glimpse into the daily struggle of people with a poker machine addiction.

For thousands of Tasmanians, these reminders of poker machines in their neighbourhood trigger chemicals of addiction in the brain. The stigma and shame for people with this addiction, as well as their families and friends, makes it difficult for them to speak up.

There is not an equal opportunity for their voices to be heard. That is why Anglicare, with the support of caring community leaders, is calling for change.

Our state has a once-only chance to choose a better future by reducing the damage caused by these machines.

What will removing pokies from hotels and clubs mean for jobs?

There are no jobs at immediate risk. None.

Freeing communities of poker machines will not happen overnight. The industry has a five-year transition period and $55 million offered to assist with staff retraining and business redevelopment.

Independent economic analysis shows that taking poker machines out of pubs and clubs would create more jobs overall in Tasmania.

Money taken by poker machines creates few jobs.

Food service creates nearly seven times more jobs than pokies, beverage service creates three times as many and retail sales, twice as many.

So while some people’s jobs may shift and change, spending the $110 million taken by pokies each year in other businesses would see better outcomes for Tasmania.

Best of all, it would better support local businesses that do not rely on taking money from people with a serious gambling addiction.

How many people are really affected?

While those with vested interests dismiss the size of the problem, we know from the government’s own Social and Economic Impact Study that at least 6.8 per cent, or about 26,000 Tasmanian adults are classed as problem and at-risk gamblers.

For every person with an addiction to poker machines, there are seven others around them being harmed. Tens of thousands of Tasmanians are being hurt by poker machines. This is not a small problem.

Social and Economic Impact Studies have estimated that the social harm caused by poker machines costs this state $50-180 million every year.

Can people just be responsible and make better choices?

Addiction is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of brain chemistry.

Poker machines are designed to trigger addiction. One in six people who use them develop an addiction.

The Social and Economic Impact Study found more than 50 per cent of the money spent on pokies in Tasmania comes from problem and at-risk gamblers. Of those who seek help from gambling support services in Tasmania, more than 80 per cent have a problem with poker machine gambling. They come from a range of backgrounds and most tell us that they never expected it to happen to them.

Are we being a nanny state putting them only in casinos?

Virtually no other country in the world puts high-intensity poker machines in pubs and clubs. Australia, with 0.3 per cent of the world’s population, has 75 per cent of the world’s community-based poker machines.

They are universally recognised as a dangerous product that can cause high levels of harm, so the normal approach worldwide, including in WA, is to put them only in casinos.

When evidence shows a product is harmful, caring communities choose to take steps to reduce that harm.

Why should I care?

We are at a crossroads on this issue.

We can emulate the rest of the world and WA and have our local communities free of poker machines, creating healthier communities where Tasmanians can flourish.

The alternative course would take us down the path of the other eastern seaboard states, creating more powerful vested interests and higher levels of harm.

Get informed and get involved in this conversation in your local community.