it’s time to speak up

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.

Inquiry into the prevention and treatment of problem gambling

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.

The harm.

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:

Inquiry into the prevention and treatment of problem gambling

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.

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7 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    Good on you Tom for putting this notice out…I agree it may be our last chance…and if only a handful of people send submissions it could be our very last chance to get this pokies issue better sorted!

    I am going to put your notice on my Facebook page and I am pinching your lines a bit… so I hope it’s OK?

    I wish that the notice could have been promoted a little more informally by the government…but it IS at least a chance to speak out as you say! We should be grateful for that chance.

    We need as many people as possible to share their stories…if they do not want to directly answer the ‘subject headings’ then I believe that they deserve to give their own views, nevertheless….and that does not mean that a submission has to be a thesis complete with references etc that cover every issue listed, or indeed any at all. A letter can be 5 lines long and still be most important commentary.

    Submissions from the public to government can be hand-written in lead pencil etc and still get noticed…so I am hoping that people do not get too spooked in putting down their thoughts. It can be anonymous and still count equally…and we need lists of ‘people’…long lists…to respond to the inquiry. The actual names are not important. The ideas and stories are!

  2. Cathy says:

    Taken at face value, the issues put forward for discussion in this inquiry makes it almost seem like we are not only starting all over again but is also a far cry from having within reach the potential to do something meaningful/practical about the chronic problems associated with these machines. I’m afraid I am now far too contemptuous of the matter to believe this inquiry will do anything other than generate another layer of words to complicate and add to the already piled high layers of words that have gone before. If they can’t figure out what to do from the information they already have then they are just wilful and totally incompetent. No disrespect intended, but how will gathering extra stories from those affected make any real difference. At the very least, the powers that be would only have to assess the numbers who are in counselling (which they know represents a relative small percentage) for them to realise how many potential submissions there could be. If they had any nous and compassion they would openly acknowledge and just accept there are real barriers preventing many people from speaking up, even anonymously. For crying out loud, how long do they intend on playing ‘spin the words’ with people’s lives?

    Although I know of others, I am shocked by the very recent revelation by my brother about someone I knew from my childhood. This man, now elderly would have been the last person you’d expect to fall for these machines. Apparently he lost $500,000 in them and now lives in a caravan out in the sticks – just bloody wonderful.

    Though I am curious, I admire your ability to be gracious about the few crumbs we got out of all that has transpired and I sincerely hope you can sustain sanguinity in the years to come. My guess is, unless there is a dramatic change in perceptions along with a concerted will to act by those in power, ‘the cause’ will again be swallowed up and spat out in the never ending cycle of pretence.

  3. Libby Mitchell says:

    I see that you support Gambling Help Online Tom?…so do I support any anonymous access point for problem gamblers. The site has much potential for good and would further benefit from an anonymous forum so that other recoverng / recovered problem gamblers could act as mentors. More people with gambling problems would be encouraged rather than daunted, if they saw others discussing addiction and over-spending issues from a position of direct experience, but anonymously. GamblingTherapy.org in the UK and other sites use that excellent strategy already. I am sure that introducing it for GamblingHelpOnline could be argued to be very simple and cost-effective.

    I was disappointed that the site adminstrators were [early on when I asked them] unprepared to recommend that all pokies gamblers should receive a record of their spending from Day ONE of their gambling, to assist all gambling consumers to better monitor their behavior and to better avoid addiction….before it became problematic.

    They obviously understood the need for careful budget management, hence their page as outlined here.

    http://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/gambling-issues/gambling-calculator.aspx

    Yet efforts to fix the problem at its source, at legislative level were not supported. That does not make sense to me. Asking people with gambling problems [the target market for this site] to try to guess their rate of spending from memory would be destined to fail mostly, as pokies users invariable indicate that their memories are very imperfect, on spending matters.

    There are many such inconsistencies in our ‘care sector’ policies and recommended strategies that need to be ironed out. They do not currently align with our ‘best practice’ in either public health or consumer safety policy terms. I hope that government funding would not be risked, if the care sector were to speak out in favor of measures that are not currently government-backed. Sadly to ‘fix pokies once and for all’ that firmer voice would seem to be required.

  4. Familyman says:

    Rambling out aloud……….This is a rehash of the last 13 years. The same old questions, answers and industry denials are coming about yet again. Politicians are looking for their re-election and favours from the industry turning their backs on the public who elected them in the first place for self-interest.
    Yes even many researchers on the same gravy train riding problem gamblers misery till they retire from academia. Greed for the dollar is seeing Australia slowly at first but like the flywheel gaining momentum rapidly to a collapse of the financial system. We cannot sustain the sort of money Problem Gamblers lose on Poker machines and on line going to a few greedy individuals and not into main stream economy. It is affecting our economy big time as it has done to England (1 million children addicted to gambling now and EU etc.
    Take a close look at Europe and USA economies falling and see Africa and Asia with millions of men, women and children starving to death for absolutely no good reason other than apathy of their fellow citizens.
    Are we as a nation any better than them and not heading in the same direction! The governments of Australia (political stooges for the gambling barons) are now once and for all legalising wholesale destruction of current and future generations of Australians for the gambling industry. They are voting for semantics rather than real change in dealing with suicides, homelessness, bankruptcies and kids losing the opportunity to live a normal life. All for the few casino and poker machine barons (paper tigers) of this country who refuse to see the forest through the trees.
    Are we as a society any better than the dictators of this world with absolutely no regard for our fellow citizen’s wellbeing, seeing addiction and turning the other way?
    My mother (86) went to Crown one day and in the toilet saw a woman with a toddler and a baby. She was giving the baby a bath in one of the sinks. My mother said wouldn’t you be better off taking the child home for a bath? The woman replied her husband had lost the house and was in the casino at the poker machine trying to win it back.
    One of my colleagues found a note from his wife saying she was ashamed of stealing the company’s money and took her life. My dental technician’s nephew mortgaged the house emptied the bank and stole the kids piggy bank money for the pokies then took his life in shame. If this is just some of what I know personally how much more is out there. Yet the governments (self-interested individuals) and men and women who work for poker machine barons are silent and give lip service along with many newspaper reporters and editors playing the tune the industry writes for them. Gillard the head of labour says she knows all about it yet has the audacity to BS the public. Abbott the ex-monk is a male version of Gillard. So if something doesn’t happen by May the Commonwealth of (Gambling Operators) Australia will pass a law that will condemn Australian kids to a future of exploitation in the name of a few grubby greedy corporations and Australia will go belly up along with the rest but the gambling operators will laugh all the way to the bank.

    I read a saying once that the people deserve the governments they elect but kids don’t vote and when we do vote as adults we get Prime ministers tearing up written agreements that got them into government along with independants or in Victoria Ted breaking an election promise. All over Australia governments protect the gambling operators and turn their backs on the people.

  5. Chris Hosking says:

    I heard (not a good way to start a story hoping for credibility but it’s hard to make some stories up) that a woman who self excluded from a club with pokies went to a loan shark and borrowed a heap of money.
    She went back to the club and did the borrowed money.
    She went back to the loan shark with the tale of despair.
    The loan shark organised a drug run for her to import some illegal stuff.
    The woman got caught on the way into Australia.
    The woman told the whole story and she sued the club because she was excluded, got her money back, the loan shark got into trouble and the club went broke.

    Message – if you play pokies too much, get your self excluded then carry on. Clubs and pubs don’t care.
    Also I have heard of self excludes (new phrase !) disguising themselves and even cross dressing to get access to the pokie joints they excluded themselves from.

  6. Braveheart says:

    Hi Tom,

    I am going to make a submission, probably with a request that my name is not published. It will perhaps be one way that I can contribute to change.

    The link to the website does not seem to be working, however.

    All the best 🙂

  7. cyenne says:

    Thanks Braveheart. The link was working, don’t know what happened there… but I have updated it. Should be all good now (I tested it).

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