no monopoly on common sense

In the two years or more that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with being told what to think. Wherever there’s a group, an organisation, even just a person with a vested interest in pushing their version of the truth and an outlet to emphasise that position, there’s inevitably a constant stream of bias and misdirection, agenda and spin, all designed to keep the wheels turning in the same manner and direction that they’ve always done.

It’s not just the gambling industry. Witness the reaction to Julia Gillard’s speech last week, itself born partially out of frustration with the persistent sexism permeating our parliament; while her words struck a popular chord and were globally acclaimed, our local press served up near-uniform disapproval and condemnation.

Or witness the efforts of Qantas last year when, having grounded their fleet and shut down their airline in an act of pure petulance, chief executive Alan Joyce placed the blame for his decision on the actions of his employees. It was a mantra he would repeat loudly and often.

Still, it can’t be denied that the gambling industry, and especially Australia’s poker machine industry, is pretty much in a league of their own when it comes to shading the truth and rewriting the script. Proposed reforms are “experimental technology” and the politicians who supported them are “zealots” and “prohibitionists”. Watered down compromises are hailed as “true reforms” and all other measures are described as “silver bullet solutions”. Clubs are the “fabric of society” and are apparently the only institutions that really want to help problem gamblers (never poker machine addicts, it’s always problem gamblers). And the gamblers themselves? They’re the ones ruining it for the millions of Australians who love a punt.

Give me a break.

While there is a vast array of catchphrases and buzzwords used by the industry to drive their agenda home, there is one in particular that has always grated on me. It’s not “nanny state” or “un-Australian”; it’s not even “Australians love to gamble”. No, it’s a phrase that gets trotted out regularly and while it has been dormant for much of this year (not surprising given the collapse of the heavily-opposed reforms), it was dusted off again last week after the Joint Senate Committee Report into the Prevention and Treatment of Problem Gambling was published.

Common sense.

Two little words, yet they can slant the debate like no other. You have to believe us, they say, it’s common sense. No one can argue with common sense.

Here’s just a few examples of what Australia’s clubs industry, responsible for well over half of the country’s poker machines, thinks about common sense.

“Clubs Australia advocates a common sense and proven approach to assisting problem gamblers.”

Won’t Work Will Hurt and It’s Un-Australian campaign websites.

“Clubs Australia issued a statement to our member clubs and the media supporting the Government response and saying it was a victory for common sense, recognising that there is no silver bullet to problem

Clubs Australia President Peter Newell’s National Press Club Address, 23/3/2011, about the government’s initial refusal to act on the 2010 Productivity Commission report.

Common sense, and now the Salvation Army, says you don’t help a problem gambler by giving them a gambling card. To invoke a law to control the urge of a compulsive gambler is nonsense.”

Clubs Australia Chief Executive Anthony Ball, Clubs Australia media release, 1/9/2011.

“Mandatory pre-commitment simply won’t work. Common sense says you don’t help a problem gambler by giving them a card to continue their destructive gambling addiction.”

Anthony Ball, Clubs Australia media release, 15/9/2011.

“We will focus most tightly in marginal seats. If MPs choose to vote for mandatory pre-commitment, as Andrew Wilkie wants them to do, then I can see clubs across the country reacting very poorly to that. We will continue our campaign until common sense prevails – be that before the election or after the next election.”

Anthony Ball on their anti-reform campaign, AFR, 14/10/2011.

“It’s common sense that the problem gambler will be first in line for a licence and will set unrealistically high limits.”

Anthony Ball, Clubs Australia media release, 21/10/2011.

“This is why clubs will continue to campaign against the expensive and experimental mandatory pre-commitment until common-sense prevails.”

Anthony Ball, Clubs Australia media release, 7/12/2011.

“We will continue to put our message out there until common sense prevails.”

Anthony Ball opposing STL, 20/1/2012.

Get the picture? It’s pretty clear that Clubs Australia’s perception of common sense has more to do with dollars and cents than anything else.

But the latest incantation of “common sense” takes a different angle. Responding to the latest Senate report, and a proposal to make poker machine venues more liable and responsible in situations where self-excluded gamblers continue to try and play poker machines, Clubs Australia spokesman Jeremy Bath countered by saying it would be better to extend the program to allow “concerned family members” to exclude problem gamblers. He said:

Common sense says the person who is best able to detect a gambling problem is the person who knows you best, and that is always going to be a close family member.”

And this is what has got me furious.

We’ve all known people with gambling problems, or read the news stories about the money lost, the crimes committed, the lives ruined. And the common thread to all of these stories?

“I didn’t know.”

“How could I have missed it?”

“I just didn’t see it.”

“How could I have been so blind?”

“I trusted him/her, and they let me down.”

“I didn’t know anything was wrong.”

“I never saw it coming.”

“I didn’t know.”

The sad, sad truth of the matter is that love is blind. So often our loved ones don’t see the warning signs because they’re not looking for them. They believe the lies because they want to, they need to… they have no reason not to. The little things, tell-tale signs that are glaringly obvious in hindsight, get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I was in a stable relationship for all of the three years that I was addicted to poker machines. For much of that time, we were engaged. I lived in constant, daily fear of discovery and to my shame, I became one of the most accomplished liars I have ever known. But there were clues, hints, signs that things were not as they seemed. I could see them, I was sure that sooner or later my partner would too.

Right up until the day that everything came crashing down, she never suspected a thing.

That is the reality. Our family members, our friends and loved ones, are often too close to see what is going on. More than that, they don’t want to. Having a partner, a parent, a child with a gambling problem doesn’t fit in with how we see our lives; it’s a reality that, once seen, cannot be unseen. So we ignore it, sometimes blindly, sometimes desperately, for as long as we can.

I’m not opposing this suggestion, not at all… but to throw the responsibility back not just to the gambler, but to their families, and then call it common sense is a bridge too far.

Common sense? If common sense were a reality then we would have no poker machine industry at all. Who in their right mind would waste even one dollar on a machine that can’t be influenced, can’t be swayed and is designed to win?

If common sense were a reality then the industry would admit that they target low-income areas because that’s where the money is, rather than waffling on about demographics and profit margins.

If common sense were a reality then the hundreds upon hundreds of poker machine venues in Australia would be falling over themselves to offer a safer, more responsible product, one where the chances of fostering addiction are greatly reduced.

If common sense were a reality… then I would no longer need to write this blog. Sadly, I can’t see myself stopping any time soon.


20 Responses

  1. fAMILYMAN says:

    The industry response to what to do should all be labelled as “rubber bullets”.

  2. Allison Keogh says:

    I have to say Tom, this one made me furious too. We really didn’t know my mother’s poker machine gambling was a problem until way too late. The issue is complex. Additionally, how the heck is a child supposed to see this? Let alone react/address it? The people ‘closest’ to the problem are those that witness it at the venues. I found this out for myself when I worked at a Club and saw it for myself. Only then did I see the extent of it. ‘Common sense’ tells me that’s where the responsibility lies.

  3. Allison Keogh says:

    And one more thing. It seems the industry keep looking for anyone else but themselves to shift responsibility to. First the gambler and now their families. Disgraceful. This one really has me furious.

  4. Chisato Nakayama says:

    hang on. So a family member doesn’t know about a pokie addict’s secret addiction but the part time worker at the RSL should?????

    I and plenty of other former addicts are able to take responsibility for our decisions. Tom it actually worries me that you continue with this blame the industry at all costs approach. It’s unhealthy IMO. I can only assume this vengeance works for you. I blamed my ex husband for almost 12 months which certainly didn’t help me with my gambling. The day I accepted responsibility was the last day I ever played the pokies.

  5. cyenne says:

    Chisato, you’re putting words in my mouth.

    At NO stage did I say that “the part time worker at the RSL” should know. I DID say that I don’t oppose the suggestion itself, that family members should be able to initiate exclusion.

    And regarding those “part time workers”? Here is a paragraph from my submission to the Joint Select Committee’s Problem Gambling Inquiry, from March this year:

    “I have never seen a staff member in one of these venues approach a gambler about their playing behaviour. I know it never happened to me. And I know from speaking to staff, after hours, that their training is regarded as a necessary evil, something they have to do to keep their jobs. Given that many staff are young casual employees, often university students, it is a bit much to expect that they would have the inclination or the presence of mind to approach and speak to someone suspected of having a gambling problem.”

    Don’t presume to lecture me about responsibility. I accepted responsibility for my actions a long, long time ago; it galls me that the industry steadfastly refuses to do the same.

  6. Allison Keogh says:

    Chisato – the short answer, for me, is yes. A worker at a Club or Pub is more likely to know well before the family that there is a problem forming. I am both the child of a poker machine addict and someone who later worked for a Club on a casual basis. It was obvious when I worked at the Club – those ones constantly getting more money and sitting at the machines for hours. But as a family, it was well past the point of causing huge amounts of damage by the time we knew what was going on. The point of this article is that the industry are claiming that we (the family) are best placed to identify the problem. That is simply not true until it is all too late. At which point, we are then dealing with our own issues because of it. It is a grossly unfair expectation that we should know before the venues do.

  7. Chisato Nakayama says:

    Allison, it’s a dangerous assumption to make that because a person has been sitting at a poker machine for hours they are a problem gambler. they could be playing 1c at a time. Similarly, such thinking could have the reverse effect of staff thinking that people who have only played a machine for say 30 minutes are gambling safely. For my addiction, i only gambled during my lunch break which meant i never gambled more than 45 minutes. But i was often betting $10 a spin so lost quite a lot of money in a short period of time. I don’t blame the hotel staff for my betting, the hotel or club industry or anyone else.

    of course people on this blog have suffered enormous pain, but the negativity verges on virtual hatred. the desire to blame the pokie industry conflicts with not only my own recovery process but virtually everything i have read and learnt from counsellors.

  8. cyenne says:

    You and I have spoken to different counsellors then, Chisato. And I get the strong impression you are wilfully misunderstanding or misinterpreting what you are reading.

    You say you accept full responsibility for your gambling, but that the industry was not to blame? Then you still have denial. Blame the smoker, not big tobacco. Blame the addict, not the drug labs. Blame the gambler, not the industry. Every party, be they the gambler, the industry or the government, has a stake in this mess. Gamblers cannot and should not carry that burden alone. Every day we hear and read in the news about how poker machine venues proliferate in low-income areas, because that’s where the money is… or how gamblers are encouraged to keep spending well beyond their means by early morning cash handouts… not to mention devoting millions of dollars to anti-reform campaigns, all the while rolling out new technology that is designed to make more money, but has NOT been tested for social impact. I myself have seen a presentation from TabCorp to ClubsNSW that told how, when a player left their machine, the number one priority was to get them back to it. The industry is not blameless in this.

    If you’d read a little deeper you would have seen me say that I’m not anti-gambling, nor am I anti-poker machines, even though I will never play them again. But I strongly oppose the industry that refuses to accept any blame, any responsibility for an untenable situation.

    For example: the industry in NSW has resisted cutting the maximum bet from $10 to $5, a move implemented in Victoria. That alone would have had a significant impact on your gambling, from the tale you tell.

    Give it time. It took me ten years, after quitting, to wake up to what was going on. I didn’t spend that time “hating the industry”; I ignored it completely. But once I started to take a look at the methods the industry employs, I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

    You are entitled to your opinion, just as I am entitled to mine. Obviously not everyone is going to agree with what I say (I’ve seen enough bile in the comments here and on other sites to know that for a fact) but the constant stream of correspondence I get from other former and current poker machine addicts tells me I’m on the right path.

    Good luck to you, Chisato. If you can’t find what you need here, then maybe you should look elsewhere.

  9. Cathy says:

    Well said Tom,

    I was going to reply along those lines to Chisato but couldn’t be bothered wasting my breath.

  10. Braveheart says:

    I think that problem gamblers have different ways of understanding what happened to them and also different ways of explaining it.

    That seems to me to be what has happened in this discussion. I don’t agree that Chisato is wilfully misunderstanding you, Cyenne40,

    In recovery problem gamblers often do have to really focus on themselves and their own decisions, attitudes and responsibilities. If, for one minute, they stop doing that and become actively involved in ‘blaming’ the industry or others, it is easy to slip into addiction and victim-hood again. Not for everyone, but for some.

    Amongst other things, addiction means the giving over of a personal sense of power. In the first years of recovery, one has to focus on regaining that power, putting one’s life together again and it is especially hard in pokie gambling because the loss and damage can be quite devastating and the pokies are on every street corner. Pokies and gambling overall are so normalised in our society now. It is very hard to avoid them if you are in trouble.

    As far as I know, you didn’t get involved in industry reform advocacy for some years after stopping gambling so possibly you were doing the same thing: putting your life together, trying to understand the whole picture, trying to understand and explain what happened to you personally. I am making assumptions and do not wish to be conflictual. Forgive me if it seems that way.

    There are always going to be different experiences of pokie gambling and different ways that people understand and recover from it for themselves. People also go through different stages in recovery, in their own time. Some may never agree with your or my understanding simply because they perceive things differently.

    As a recovering problem gambler, I do believe that the pokie industry needs containment. I’ve never believed in pre-commitment but do believe in $1.00 maximum bets, the limiting of availability and decreasing the dependence of the State and the community on gambling revenue.

    Your work in reform has been outstanding. I don’t mind you getting angry at an industry which is voracious but don’t like to see you getting angry at another problem gambler who understands things differently.

  11. Chisato says:

    wow, a former addict that isnt filled with hate or vengeance is told to look elsewhere.

    I’m curious though why Tabcorp would be presenting to Clubs nsw when the clubs and hotels in NSW own their machines? Tabcorp has nothing to do with pokies in NSW so your claim makes no sense and seems to be yet another attack on the industry. Boring!!

    I wish you well in your recovery. Clearly we have a different approach to recovery. Its a shame you seem incapable of debate without telling me to move on despite us sharing the experience of a pokie addiction.

    Oh well, I guess you enjoy the fight. I on the other hand enjoy the quiet.

    Take care.

  12. cyenne says:

    Thank you Braveheart,

    I’m not angry with Chisato. Frustrated, yes… but not angry. As I said, there were ten years between my last relapse and the start of this “next phase” of my life; it was not so much a period of putting things together, as it was a period when my life was on hold. For all that, it undoubtably served its purpose and gave me the perspective I needed.

    But I was serious. If my thoughts and writings do indeed conflict with Chisato’s recovery process then the last thing she should be doing is spending more time here. We all need to do what we can to reach equilibrium, and if this blog isn’t helping her then for her own sake she shouldn’t read it. I actively ignored anything to do with the industry for a very very long time.

  13. cyenne says:

    No Chisato, my words were: “If you can’t find what you need here, then maybe you should look elsewhere.” Some people find value in Gamblers Anonymous, others do not. Some people find value in counselling, others do not. And some people find value in self-exclusion; others do not.

    If reading this blog negatively impacts on your recovery process (as you implied) then being here is harmful to you. Why would I wish that on you?

    I admit I have absolutely no understanding of your position defending the industry. I cannot fathom that stance. Ambivalence, yes… but you seem more protective than ambivalent.

    And as a side note: Tabcorp is heavily involved in venue management and consulting in NSW, and has been for many years. Not an attack, just a statement of fact.

  14. Braveheart says:

    Chisato, I don’t believe that Cyenne40 is filled with hate and vengeance.

    Far from it. I know he he is simply advocating for industry responsibility and containment.

    Gambling is a huge public health issue in the same way as tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, mass market food – the list goes on.

    One of the problems in pokie gambling is that the addict voice has been so silent and public awareness so minimal. I don’t think that strong advocacy for the reform of an exploitative industry is vengeance and hate.

    I am interested in discussion and debate but the Internet can be problematic that way.

    All the best.

  15. Braveheart says:

    Quoting Chisato:

    “Oh well, I guess you enjoy the fight. I on the other hand enjoy the quiet”.

    I think that some of us do both, kind of alternately :). Chisato, I guess you might visit this site because you want information as well in the course of your own recovery. I visited here for the same reason a few years ago and I wanted contact with others.

    My own preference is to work collaboratively with other people who experienced some of the things I experienced. I have been so isolated at times and that is not good for recovery.

    There is value in Gamblers Anonymous meetings but I wanted something a little different as well.

    My professional background now enables me to see quite clearly that the pokie gambling industry is voracious and that Governments collude with the greed and avoidance because they feel they need the huge tax revenue derived from it.

    I advocate in various ways through letters and submissions but every so often I have to stand back and stay in the ‘quiet’ for a while. I deserve peace and happiness too and that flourishes best in the quiet and in doing things completely unconnected with gambling and controversy 🙂

  16. Familyman says:

    so the mysterious Chisato blew $10 a spin. And no one saw her doing it for 45 minutes every day at the club.How much can you lose doing $10 a spin? I don’t know but that is a hell of a lot of $50 bills or did she use $1 coins.:O)

  17. Cathy says:

    Chisato, it doesn’t bother me that you have a different perceptive on this as it is something you come across all the time. However, I am not really sure what to make of your posts. I recall your last posts on this site and had doubts then. As someone who spent a fair amount of time going through the Productivity Commission report, requiring regular revisits, reflection and so on. At the time, I was dubious about your statement of “I’ve just read the entire report”. Either I am incompetent or you must be a pretty remarkable person to be able to read and digest all that quite detailed information in 1 day and end up with what you projected as an informed opinion about it. You would know that in chapter 1 the PC explained why they didn’t do their own surveys and as for other research they did have a time limit and used what was available while pointing out shortcomings (as you mentioned). It seems no matter when a report like that is done similar accusations will be made.

    By the way, Allison also mentioned “those ones constantly getting more money” not just how long they stayed on the machines for. Any one factor on its own cannot determine with any great certainty a person’s status but with other indicators present it could raise suspicions. Hugging the extremes of playing 1 cent or $10 a spin is certainly not something I saw very often. In the case of someone prone to playing much higher stakes like yourself (even for less than an hour) am I to assume you entered these venues each time with a substantial amount of money and/or you made trips to the ATM? People who play high stakes fairly consistently (and not necessarily $10 a spin) generally stand out they get to be known and people do talk about them. Since you are such a fast reader and evaluator, for balance I think it is only fair that you read with at least some impartiality a portion of the substantial material put out by Clubs Australia (submissions etc). This may help to tone down the patronizing quality of your posts.

  18. Chisato says:

    wow, such hostility from fellow PG’s. It’s clear for some of you your aggression isn’t reserved for the gambling industry, its also directed towards anyone with a different take on things.

    I certainly have read every word of the PC report, both draft and final. it certainly wasn’t over the course of one day but it didn’t taken that long. Probably like many others, its formed a substantial part of gettign to better understand my addiction.

    I mostly read gambling blogs because while i don’t gamble now, I’ve become incredibly interested in the psychology of the gambler. For me it helps to keep me focused to be trying to better understand what causes someone to develop an addiction. for example, why can my ex husband play a poker machine regularly but always walk away when he has lost $40? Yet myself, i felt compelled to chase my loses, even when i knew i was being foolish.

    Anyway, its disappointing that I am being described as mysterious and my previous blogs challenged.

    I will move on, I have no desire to annoy anyone. I guess this experience should be a warning for other PGs that this blog is more for the vengeful than those simply wanting to share ideas on what causes a person to gamble in an irrational way. oh that’s right, its the machines. Except that argument does work for the horse racing addict, or the roulette addiction, etc. Gambling addiction comes in many forms and this blanket blaming of the pokie industry simply cant apply 100% of the time.

    take care and stay strong.

  19. Chisato says:

    lastly, thank you Braveheart for your kind words. Based on your nic, I suspect we actually met some years ago at a gambling conference in Melbourne. Anyway, peace to all.

  20. cyenne says:

    A few points, Chisato, and then I’m locking this down. Don’t know if you’ll read them but here goes anyway.

    You’ve repeatedly referred to violent emotions and states in your comments. Hate, vengeance, hostility. All I saw in some of the responses to you was scepticism. There are plenty of blogs and forums out there where hate and hostility have free reign; this isn’t one of them.

    You implied several times that I was blaming the industry instead of taking responsibility for my own actions. That’s an assumption you’ve made based on very little; you don’t know me at all. Yet I have said, and written, over and over again that responsibility is key. Responsibility on the part of the individual, the industry and the government. I said as much to the last Joint Select Committee at their Melbourne hearing.

    I expose things that I find and wrote about experiences I’ve had. There’s no hate or vengeance involved; you’ll notice that I pay particular attention to the clubs industry, yet almost all of my gambling happened in hotel venues.

    Finally, your first comment in this thread was written specifically to get a reaction. You didn’t just have a different point of view, you accused me of being vengeful and avoiding responsibility. You were crying out for a response; it’s only because I have to approve every single comment (yes, including yours) that the nastier responses weren’t published.

    You got the reaction you were asking for; I hope it met your needs.