By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JULY 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A long-running debate over gambling in Australia received new impetus following reports that payments to families to compensate for the country’s new carbon tax has led to an increase in poker machine revenues.
There was a 7% rise in poker machine revenues in gambling venues in the state of Queensland’s gaming venues in May, when the government’s first payment was made, the Brisbane Times reported July 18.
Following this, revenue rose almost 12% in June, on a year-by-year basis, according to the Queensland government, the article said.
According to the Brisbane Times gambling revenue also rose in the state of Victoria. The payments were highest in lower income areas, which are also the localities with the highest concentration of poker machines.
According to information from an Australian government Web site (http://www.problemgambling.gov.au/facts/) on problem gaming in 2009, 70% of Australians participated in some form of gambling. Australians spent more than $A19 billion on gambling in 2008-09, around $A12 billion of which was spent playing poker machines.
The social cost to the community of problem gambling is estimated to be at least $A4.7 billion a year, according to the Australian government.
Problem gamblers lose around $A21,000 each year, the Web site noted, which is one third of the average Australian salary. Moreover, some poker machines can be played at a very high intensity, so much so that a gambler could lose more than $A1,500 in just one hour.
A poignant example of what this means in practice was the case of Leanne Michelle Scott, who a few days ago was sentenced to a six-year jail term for having stolen more than $A800,000 from her employer to feed her gambling habit, the Australian newspaper reported July 13.
“I’m not here to make excuses,” she said outside the Adelaide Magistrates Court. “I just want to warn people that it could happen to anyone.”
Federal senator Nick Xenophon was present and he commented that the South Australian government had received about $400,000 in taxes from her gambling, and that it should take responsibility.
“The state government rakes in close to $1 million in gambling taxes day after day,” Senator Xenophon said outside the court.
Four out of every five problem gamblers in South Australia are addicted to poker machines, despite the growth of online and sports betting, the Adelaide Now news Web site reported July 11.
There is one poker machine for every 108 people in Australia, according to an article published last Oct. 2 in the Age newspaper, from the Australian state of Victoria. In spite of its relatively low population of just over 22.5 million, Australia ranks number seven in the world for the number of poker machines.
Last Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the legalization of poker machines in Victoria. From July 1992 to the end of June 2011 losses by punters on the machines totalled $A37.9bn, the Age newspaper reported July 14.
No less than 40% of losses on poker machines come from problem gamblers, according to government data.
Venues with poker machines can operate almost around the clock, the Age reported in a July 16 article, only being obliged to close for four hours a day.
The Age noted that according to the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre one in six people presenting to a public mental health service had a gambling problem, and half of those were at risk of suicide. The most common form of gambling for these people was poker machines.
“People do actually develop the suicidality and depression as a result of gambling,” Professor Kulkarni, the director of the center commented.
Despite the traditional popularity of poker machines, Internet gambling is sharply increasing. An increase of almost five million visits were clocked on Australian sports betting and lottery sites in the past six months — a rise of almost 23%, the Herald Sun newspaper reported July 10.
“The real concern now is that a whole new generation of young problem gamblers could be created,” commented psychologist Heather Gridley
In fact, nearly 130,000 Australians are playing illegal internet poker games, with US operators raking in $68 million in one year, according to an article published July 6 in the Brisbane Times.
Online casino games are currently illegal in Australia, but there is pressure for them to be legalized.
”If online poker was given the seal of approval there would be an explosion in its use and with it all the associated issues of problem gambling,” said Senator Xenophon.
In the meantime Australia’s political parties are divided over how to deal with the problems created by gambling, complicated by the fractious political situation of a minority federal government, dependent on support from independents and the Green party.
With state governments relying on gambling revenues for a significant proportion of their income it remains to be seen if concerns over the common good can triumph over self-interest.