Aug 10, 2012

From the vault: the $800-a-night pokies habit and paying the ultimate price

For 10 years Julie was visiting up to four or five poker-machine venues a week in a country Victorian town. She took her own life earlier this year. Her sister asks why gamblers can so easily access money.

Tom Cowie

Crikey journalist

For 10 years Tracy Smith’s* sister Julie was visiting up to four or five poker machine venues a week in a country Victorian town. At these pubs and clubs, Julie would withdraw $100 from the ATM to play the pokies, sometimes taking out $800 a night. The family didn’t know she had a gambling addiction until Julie took her own life four weeks ago. She was 51.

“She was gambling everything as soon as her pay would come in,” said Tracy, who requested her’s and Julie’s name be kept private to protect her family. “We were appalled. My sister’s pattern was to keep taking out $100-150 and they just can’t stop. They can’t stop until the money’s gone.”

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27 thoughts on “From the vault: the $800-a-night pokies habit and paying the ultimate price

  1. Mike Smith

    Staff, who are paid by companies that make their profits from poker machines, are supposed to do this? Conflict of interest much?

  2. robinw

    Another form of addiction and in this case the clubs are the pushers. Ethical bunch I’m sure.

  3. Leon57

    Conflict of interest maybe but more likely a big call for a young bar attendant to cut off the money supply to an older known person.Similar to bar staff putting a good customer off tap and having to justify it to their boss. In theory its a safeguard but in reality its seldom used.

  4. John Bennetts

    My understanding, from a club manager speaking to a Rotary club, is that his club supports a gambling help line. Only.

    This is NSW, yet the same logic will prevail. Points made by him included:
    – Staff are not counsellors.
    – The gambling help line is the approved counsellor.
    – Staff are not trained to recognise problem gamblers.
    – Problem gamblers must first recognise that they have a problem.
    – Intervention by anybody, staff included, is not productive if the gambler does not first recognise the problem and initiate contact/discussion.
    – Intervention, when attempted, will simply result in aggression, denial and loss of a member, who will also spread his/her negative impression of the club amongst their friends and associates. An anonymous example was cited in detail of one such local encounter and its consequences.
    – Club employees are forbidden to become amateur counsellors and, in any case, have other duties to attend to.

    The Victorian POS facility and the Minister who supports it are misguided and doomed to fail. It is a thin veneer over a problem. It is simply and only a time-wasting attempt to avoid effective action to prevent harm.

    If the proponents of gaming machines (I prefer to call them gambling machines) consider their primary purpose to be pleasure, then why use money at all? Would the same kind of pleasure be achieved through a similar game which used only valueless credit points and where the total accrued was the objective, rather than a monetary sum? This would be akin to a high score on a video game, which is mechanically what today’s one-armed bandits are, after all. The defining difference between video games and poker machines is credit points (scores) versus money.

    Like all problems, gambling machine harm will only be reduced when the source of the problem is addressed. Treating symptoms, as any doctor will attest, is no way to prevent infection.

  5. Oscar Jones

    “problem gamblers are forced to interact with a staff member to take out money”

    Give me a break. So will these employees be trained psychologists?

  6. Mike Smith

    @John: IMO high score on video game isn’t going to be analogous. There’s no risk element. Well, it’s not the *same* risk element. Or would you run the high score comparatively against other players? That isn’t risk, but it’s an appeal to competitiveness.

  7. Scott

    @Oscar Jones
    It wouldn’t take that much training for bar/club staff to be able to recognise a problem gambler. Much like the problem drinker, there are always outward signs.

    While I am not a big fan of these sort of measures to stop gambling, I wouldn’t think it would be too much of a stretch to create a “Responsible service of Gaming” certificate, much like the RSA that bar/club staff would be take so that they can identify the signs of problem gambling and take the appropriate action.

  8. zut alors

    I imagine any staff member may receive an earful if they attempt to stymie a punter’s adrenalin rush (especially if alcohol is in the mix).

    It’s risible that staff be expected to inhibit the cash cows who pay their wages. What a disgusting industry it is.

  9. Ward Jennifer

    What ever happened to personal responsibility? I remember the outcry over a Catholic school teaching the law of probability via gambling on poker, blackjack and calculating jackpots & lottery odds. Funny, I learnt the same way from a friend who did mathematics at university and have never had a problem with gambling inspite of spending vacations in Las Vegas and never leaving the tables. Most I ever lost was $200 and that was because I was distracted by a gorgeous guy flirting with me. Isn’t this nanny state thing gettting a bit OTT? Why don’t these ‘problem gamblers’ take up volunteer work, do a sport or something useful instead of self indulgently feeding and staring at the pokies?

  10. Mike Smith

    @Jennifer: I think most of us here are arguing that it won’t work, the argument that it shouldn’t have to work (personal responsibility) isn’t all that different, in terms of outcome.

    “Why don’t they” is usually the precursor statement to “there should be a law” – and we’re back in nanny state territory.

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