If you ask the average Aussie why he or she plays the pokies, they won’t say it’s because they need to win some money, or that peer pressure drove them to it. They’ll tell you they play because it’s fun. Entertainment is the number one reason any of us put our money in a poker machine. The chance to win money is a big perk, but if someone is only playing to win, chances are they have—or are in the process of developing—a gambling problem.
If you think about it in a realistic manner, playing the pokies is just like any other form of entertainment. You could easily spend $30 going to the movies, including the excessive ticket prices, snack and beverage. Or you could abseil down the Kangaroo Cliffs for $45. You could snag two Mainstage tickets to La Boute Theatre for $50. Or, you could sink a few bills in the pokie machines at the local pub. All will deliver a good time, though the time frame for entertainment may differ greatly, but only one of them offers a chance at winning some or all of that money back, if not hitting a big score and walking away with even more in your wallet than when you started.
This is the average pokie player’s mindset. After a long day of less-than-fulfilling employment, many of us just want to kick back at the pub, sink a few coldies and spin the reels. It helps us dags relax and enjoy the evening before repeating the process the following morning. We win a little, we lose a little, we move on. But not everyone has the same experience.
Strangely enough, people who are at the worst risk of addiction seem to be those who win when playing for the first time. I knew a bloke a few years back who was trying to get a new business off the ground. He never touched the poker machines once in his life because his father was a severe gambling addict. It had torn his family apart when he was just 12-13 years old, and he never wanted to touch a pokie because of it. But one day, we were out celebrating another friend’s birthday and to my surprise, he turned around and put a fiver in a poker machine. He hit then button, and three spins later won $100. He was grinning like a shot fox and bought us all a round a drinks before dropping another $5 into the machine. This time he got lucky on the very first spin, hitting a $5k jackpot. It was a momentous occasion and we were all thrilled for him, but over the course of the next few months, he played so often that he lost his entire life savings, his fledgling business and nearly lost the love of his life.
What went wrong? It was his mindset. He went from one extreme of viewing pokies as the evil entity that tore his life asunder so many years ago, to viewing them as God’s gift to struggling entrepreneurs. He continued to seek that early stroke of luck, no matter how much he lost along the way, and it cost him everything.
Sadly, it’s the biggest winners that often become straddled with gambling addiction. Depression can also be a big contributing factor. When a person feels gloomy or hopeless, a win on the pokies, however insignificant, can be a huge comfort, much like indulging in narcotics or even ice cream to ease the emotional distress.
According to the government’s own website, pokies are the number one cause of problem gambling in Australia. We Aussie’s spend an estimated $12 billion each and every year on poker machines alone, and 75% of all problem gamblers are primarily addicted to the pokies. A statistical report released in 2010 by the Productivity Commission revealed that 600,000 Australians are dropping money in the pokies at least once a week, and 95,000 of them are classified as ‘problem gamblers’, with another 250,000+ considered to be at ‘moderate risk’.
I could keep laying out figures and percentages, but you get the idea. So how do you continue to enjoy the pokies without becoming a statistic? For the majority of us, as I said before, it’s all in the mindset. If you walk into a club with $20 to throw in a pokie, don’t go dropping another $20 when that one is gone. If you win, don’t throw the whole prize back into the machine. Take what you can get and never spend more than you can afford to lose. If everyone would treat the pokies as the entertaining experience that they are, there wouldn’t be so much compulsive gambling going on.
I know that is easier said than done and there are probably more than a few of you ranting at your computer monitor right now because I make it sound so simple. Once a player becomes addicted to gambling, the previous paragraph no longer applies. At that point, it’s time to seek help. No amount of encouragement from friends and family will convince a gambling addict not to play anymore.
There are several organizations problem gamblers can turn to. Gamblers Anonymous is the most universally recognized program worldwide, but having done quite a bit of research on the topic (and experiencing the issue second-hand), I’ve found that GA is more successful with problem gamblers who slowly developed the habit. Addicts with common tales tend to have the best success with GA’s programs, while those who have uncommon stories—like the friend I mentioned above—view themselves as outcasts among the group, therefore are less likely to recover.
The alternative is another organization called Relationships Australia. They deal with a range of issues that put strain on a person’s relationships, whether with their spouse, family, friends, co-workers, etc. They help problem gamblers in Australia by identifying the root cause and offering multiple routes of assistance, including face-to-face counseling, strategies to avoid relapse, financial counseling and, most importantly, dealing with the individual’s underlying issues that cause their compulsive behavior.