Australia tops its fair share of lists, including hosting the deadliest animals on earth and, perhaps paradoxically, some of the world’s most livable cities. But the country also tops the charts on an indicator that is far more insidious: gambling losses. Last year, Australians lost $17.5 billion, or about $949 per adult. These per capita losses are among the highest in the world.
How did Australia get into this mess? It is the outcome of a symbiosis between a hugely profitable industry and pliant governments.
Half of Australians’ losses were on slot or video gambling machines, a grossly outsize proportion compared with other countries. Video gambling machines are good at making money because they are designed to be addictive. They have been called the “crack cocaine of gambling,” and Australia is hooked.
From the music and graphics to the math behind each spin, every feature is the result of the enormous resources dedicated to ensure that the machine extracts the maximum amount of money from the gambler. It is highly effective: Experts estimate that around 60 percent of losses on video gambling machines in Australia come from problem gamblers and that some 600,000 people use gambling machines at least weekly.
The documentary “Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation” features an interview with a man known as the “Wizard of Odds” whose job is to do the math that goes into these machines. “I have such pity for the people who play them,” he laments. “I know what an awful bet they are because I designed hundreds of these games.”
For gamblers, it is not always the sense of chance that is attractive but the predictability of the game that underpins the escapism. Even winning disrupts this state of dissociation. “The point is to stay in a zone,” writes the anthropologist Natasha Schüll in her comprehensive examination of these machines, “Addiction by Design.” Professor Schüll explains, “Their aim is not to win but simply to continue.”
State and federal governments in Australia have been captured by the industry’s highly organised and well-resourced lobbying campaign. The main advocates for the industry is a large donor to both major political parties. The federal government is currently pushing for regulation of online gambling, but video gambling machines always somehow elude reform efforts. The outcome is that government effectively rubber-stamps a huge volume of machines that generate high-intensity losses. According to a 2013 report, the state of New South Wales has more gambling machines than any other state in the world outside of Nevada. Gamblers in New South Wales rack up some $4.4 billion in losses annually.
Why don’t state governments uphold their duty to the public and properly regulate the industry? … Continue reading story.