Australians continue to lose more to gambling than any other industrialised nation, and poker machines are the main cause.
On average, Australian adults bet $1176 each year, British firm H2 Gambling Capital estimates.
The only nation that comes close to this is Singapore on $1081 per capita, with the US ($589) and Finland ($586) trailing behind. Our close neighbours, the New Zealanders, spend a whopping $583 less than us per person.
Australia has held this dubious honour since the late 1990s, thanks mainly to poker machines. One-armed bandits account for slightly more than half (52.4 per cent) of our total gambling spend, and between 75 and 80 per cent of all problem gambling, the Productivity Commission has estimated.
Despite this, cash-strapped state governments are introducing more of the machines, says a leading gambling researcher.
“We have one of the highest per capita rates of gaming machines and also have machines which can take a lot of money much more quickly than is the case for overseas models,” University of Adelaide’s Professor Paul Delfabbro says.
“There will be an increasing temptation to [introduce more machines] as budget deficits continue to grow.”
Central Queensland University gambling researcher Dr Matthew Rockloff says what is most concerning is that fewer Australians are actually gambling, which means the few who do wager must be spending more.
Addiction is a huge national issue, and must be recognised as an illness, says a Salvation Army spokesman.
“They’re not only remaining hooked on gambling, but what we find is that those people who develop an addiction to gambling normally end up addicted to other things such as alcohol and other drugs,” Salvation Army clinical director of recovery services Gerard Byrne says.
Anyone with an addiction should be approached in a positive way and encouraged to seek help, rather than being confronted, Mr Byrne says.
Only one in 10 of those with a gambling problem seeks help, says a state-based foundation, so it could come down to you.
“Friends or family members of people who gamble can feel isolated but there are support programs available for them. What they can do is make it clear that their loved one with a gambling problem needs to get help, that there is help available and it does work,” says Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation CEO Serge Sardo.
Some of the warning signs include chasing losses, becoming secretive about gambling and borrowing money.
For immediate help, call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858.
*An earlier version of this story used an incorrect currency conversion. Figures have been adjusted.