Over the past year or so there has been a flood of articles, stories, reports and press releases about gambling. This was triggered by Andrew Wilkie’s success in the 2010 Federal election, his subsequent agreement with Julia Gillard, and the ensuing campaigns for and against (mainly against) poker machine reform.
Lots of yelling, lots of hype, lots of outrageous claims. We’ve heard about threats to the industry, jobs that will be lost, revenue that will be decimated. We’ve had a range of experts and pseudo-exerts telling us what will and won’t work. We’ve looked to Norway, England and most recently Nova Scotia, although what their experiences have told us remains unclear. Our politicians have taken stands on the issue, changed and changed them again… I tell you, as someone who’s been following the issue closely, it’s been exhausting.
But one thing has been overshadowed during this time. With the unrelenting focus on the industry, and the impact on clubs in particular (as they have the most organised voice in this whole mess), we’ve lost sight of the most important aspect.
People are being harmed by poker machines. This is indisputable, there is a wealth of information and statistics covering many years that proves this beyond any doubt. There are hundreds of thousands of Australians who suffer from an addiction to poker machines, and millions more who are harmed indirectly as a result.
It’s all well and good to lay blame, to point the finger and say “No one is forced to play the pokies,” but this is a misdirection. Poker machines are supposed to be fun, a legitimate form of recreation. It’s impossible to know if you’re going to develop problems with the pokies until you play, and for many, once those problems take hold, it’s too late.
People are being harmed, but their stories have been lost… drowned out by the claims of the industry, and the protestations of our politicians. We need to be reminded of what is really at stake here, of the human cost.
It’s not easy to stand up and speak publicly about gambling problems and poker machine addiction. The stigma is intense and humiliating. But those stories need to be heard.
This week, the Senate’s Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform announced a new inquiry. This inquiry will cover:
* measures to prevent problem gambling
* measures which can encourage risky gambling behaviour
* early intervention strategies and training of staff
* methods currently used to treat problem gamblers and the level of knowledge and use of them
* data collection and evaluation issues
* gambling policy research and evaluation
* other related matters
This could be our last chance to tell our government what is really going on, and force them to listen. The chances of any further inquiries taking place before the next Federal election in 2013 are remote, and beyond that point, the political landscape is uncertain at best. Our stories need to be heard, and the time is now.
If you have a gambling problem of any kind, whether it be with poker machines, racing, sports betting, online casinos, poker or anything else; if you’ve been touched by the gambling addiction of a family member, friend or colleague; if you’ve seen what gambling can do to people in your workplace or social circle; then please, I urge you to take part in this inquiry. It’s time to speak up.
The inquiry is taking submissions until 30 March 2012. Submissions can be confidential if that’s what you want; your anonymity is guaranteed. There are so, so many Australians suffering in silence, who think they can’t make a difference. This is our chance.
The website for the inquiry is here:
All of the information is there, including the full terms of the inquiry and how to make a submission.
I realise that taking part in an inquiry like this may be daunting for many. I made a submission of my own to the previous inquiry, looking at pre-commitment, and even though I am very open about my past and my experience with poker machine addiction, it was still a massive step to write down my story and send it in.
So if you think you have a story to tell but you’re unsure how to go about it, and there’s no one in your life that you feel you can talk to about it… feel free to contact me. I have an email form on this blog and I’m on Twitter (@cyenne40). Drop me a line, and I’ll do what I can to answer your questions and help you out. I’m not a gambling counsellor and I’m not offering advice on how to deal with gambling problems; but I can help guide you in making a submission that tells the story you want to tell.
And just like the inquiry, I guarantee your confidentiality. I’ve been addicted to poker machines; in fact, although I’ve been on the wagon for close to 12 years now, I believe I still am. I know about the isolation, the shame, the guilt. If you contact me for help with your submission, rest assured that no one else will ever know about it.
It’s time to speak up.