A recovering gambling addict has questioned the effectiveness of proposed government measures to reduce gambling.
“The smart card has been talked about for years but never implemented. ATMs shouldn’t even be in venues with poker machines, although gamblers will always find a way to gamble,” Apostolis (name has been changed) said.
His comments follow the announcement by the newly formed Gillard government of policies on gambling, including pre-commitment technology to limit poker machine losses by 2014, and $250 withdrawal limits from pub and club ATMs with poker machines on the premises
Apostolis, started gambling at age 17. “I come from a family of Greeks, they all used to play cards. Being a young kid you could see gambling around you; you know you hate what they’re doing, but eventually I started too,” he told Neos Kosmos.
The Melbourne man, now 59, first attended Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meetings at age 23.
“People told me their stories and I listened but I said ‘that’s not me, I haven’t lost a house, I haven’t lost my kids or my wife’, but now look at me; I’m the same as everybody else,” he said.
For 40 years Apostolis has been going to GA meetings on and off.
“You can have 15 or 20 years up but that doesn’t mean you’re not gonna bust; you will bust if you let your guard down. It’s not easy, and when you’re losing you’re in denial, you don’t know what you’re doing anymore, the money has no value, it just goes through the machines,” he said.
When he was winning Apostolis rarely slept. “If you’re winning you’re thinking you’re gonna get up the next day and gamble more and heavier, you’re thinking you’re going to have a yacht and buy a house. You dream but your dreams don’t come true. You come down and a lot of people suicide or go into prison,” he said.
While working full-time as a taxi driver Apostolis would find excuses to leave his cab and gamble.
“I wasn’t just losing my money I was also losing business at the same time. I lost the boss’s money, I lost the taxi from gambling. Talk about losing, I lost a lot: the house, the marriage, everything because of the gambling,” he said.
With 620 days of not gambling, Apostolis is committed to his rehabilitation.
“I could go out and gamble but I don’t. I walk outside, I clean the house, go to the movies, go for coffee. I just keep away from gambling, I don’t associate with gamblers,” he said.
Sophia Alexandra from Gamblers Help has worked for the program for 15 years and said in her experience the majority of people presenting for help had problems with poker machines above all other forms of gambling.
“With poker machines it’s an immediate reward,” she said.
Greek men and senior citizens are less likely to seek help, Ms Alexandra said.
“Far less Greek men present for help and when they do they’ve been ordered to get help. As long as they’re paying their bills and they’re keeping their family going they don’t see what the problem is,” she said.
Alexandra see social trips to the casino for elderly Greek citizens are particularly problematic.
“I’ve seen the dangers of introducing that age group to gambling, particularly the women,” Ms Alexandra said. “Some of these Greek elderly citizens are being supported by their children to provide food and pay their bills. They’ve taken out loans the family don’t know about, taken out credit cards and they are in the silent group of people who will not come for help because of the shame and stigma attached to it,” she said.
Independent senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon has been a long standing campaigner against poker machines in both the South Australian and Federal parliaments.
“The issue is how it will be implemented and to ensure the industry and the hotels and clubs don’t water it down so that it loses its effectiveness. Certainly pre commitment policy effectively implemented could significantly reduce the level of problem gambling,” Mr Xenophon told Neos Kosmos.
Mr Xenophon will work closely with independent member for Denison, Tasmania, Andrew Wilkie, to bring gambling to the forefront of parliamentary attention.
“It’s great to have an ally in the Australian parliament who has directly campaigned heavily on the issue of poker machines,” he said.
Australian punters are losing around $10 billion a year playing the pokies, making them the biggest gamblers in the world.
Gamblers Help offers free, 24 hour, confidential help all over Victoria with Greek speaking counsellors, interpreters and telephone support available. For the 24 hour Helpline call: 1800 858 858.