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What is the impact of poker machine gambling and online betting on mental health?

In case you missed it, the Mapleton Pub team featured in an ABC story this month regarding their decision to sell their two poker machine licenses for around $400K and utilise this money to refurbish the hotel and build family friendly amenities. Wow! (The online response to their decision has also been overwhelmingly positive.)

Problem gambling is a huge mental health issue in Australia. We are the world’s biggest gamblers per capita spending $25 billion a year, and nearly half of this goes into poker machines.

We have 20% of the world’s poker machines, despite our relatively small population. It’s estimated that only 1% of poker machine users exhibit problem gambling behaviour, and it’s contested what proportion of gambling revenue comes from this group.

However, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the intense pushback from the AHA and casino operators regarding the proposed introduction of enforceable curbs to problem gambling on poker machines, indicates problem gamblers represent an income stream worth fighting for.

The manual of mental disorders,DSM-V, now includes Gambling Disorder, recognising the parallels with substance addiction in terms of irrational action against the interests of the sufferer, and the dire impacts on health, relationships, and security.

Gambling in the form of poker machines (and online betting) deliberately targets theneuropsychological vulnerabilities of those with Gambling Disorder.

Relying on the user with Gambling Disorder to self regulate or self exclude is a nonsense, and the only greater nonsense is the call to protect the “freedom” of those with Gambling Disorder to bankrupt their family, descend into life threatening depression, and loseeverything that sustains them.

Defenders of legal gambling fall back to the benefit to the public from the taxes imposed on the industry. But as data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics shows, this is money coming directly from the pockets of the people who have lower incomes, and who are losing it on machines that are designed to addict them.

Australia is in desperate need of uniform, enforceable, and external limitations being placed on these companies. No easy objective given the revenues governments, political parties, and entertainment venues gain from this process. Good on you Mapleton Hotel!



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