After growing up watching her mother battle a fierce addiction to poker machines, Allison Keogh has an insight into how gambling tears families apart.
“I basically lost my childhood,” she told news.com.au. “I had stress-related health issues, I had to leave home and take on jobs to support myself. I was 17 when I left home … I had appalling school results.”
Now a spokesperson for NSW Alliance for Gambling Reform, Allison is backing a call by a Western Sydney council for a crackdown on the huge number of pokies in the jurisdiction.
Fairfield, the city’s most disadvantaged area, demanded a freeze on new machines in clubs and pubs in at-risk communities in a submission to the state government. But Allison says the focus on individuals and areas that already have a problem isn’t enough. “People talk about disadvantaged areas, they’re actually creating disadvantage,” she says.
“These are machines designed for addiction, they affect the brain like a drug. The designer tries to create machines that people stay on as long as possible. You’ve got people in a hypnotic state on the machines.”
She says that when state regulators and the Federal Government talk about “problem gambling”, they are looking at people who have already “fallen off a cliff.”
NSW has half of Australia’s gaming machines and 10 per cent of the total worldwide, at around 95,000. Players can feed in as much as $7000 into just one machine, with roughly $8.27 billion gambled on pokies in Fairfield and $80 billion played across NSW in 2015-16. That’s around 55 per cent of the national total gambled on poker machines, which was $135.7 billion in 2014-15.
In Western Australia, pokies are restricted to casinos only, and on Friday, the Victorian Government froze the number of pokies in the state until 2042 as part of a suite of reforms.
But that doesn’t mean it’s just NSW with the problem.
Victorian anti-gambling advocates told the Herald Sun AFL clubs could become pokie giants under the state’s changes. The new rules mean licences will be doubled to 20 years and caps increased from 420 to 840 pokies per club, with up to 105 permitted per venue at eight sites.
This article was originally published by News.com.au.