KACHING: Gamblers lose $537m on Bundaberg poker machines
BUNDABERG poker machines drained more than $537 million from local wallets in just 12 years.
A special ARM Newsdesk investigation reveals $537,699,795 was spent on our local government area's 1189 electronic gaming machines from July 2004 to April 30 this year.
The amount gambled away is about $7228 for every one of Bundaberg's 74,390 adult residents.
Yearly, our poker machine losses average out to $44,808,316 million.
The financial pain does not end at the region's 19 gaming venues, with the Alliance for Gambling Reform saying that for every $1 the Queensland Government collects in gambling-related taxes, local governments may spend up to $7 trying to fix the social problems pokies cause.
One of Australia's leading authorities on gambling, Dr Charles Livingstone, said for each addict, five to 10 other people would be impacted including family, friends and employers whose workers embezzled money to fund their habit.
The Monash University academic said the city's gaming industry employed about three people per $1 million expenditure compared to the restaurant industry which employed 28 people for the same cash turnover.
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said while there would be some repercussions from losing $537 million to poker machines over the 12 years, EGMs were also economic contributors.
"The figures quoted present a worrying statistic," Cr Dempsey said.
"In an area like the Bundaberg region it is obvious that this level of loss from poker machines must have an impact on the quality of many people's lives.
"It is also evident that this level of recreational gambling produces jobs and facilities across the region that add substantially to the social enjoyment of many residents and the economic stimulus of the region."
Bundaberg Chamber of Commerce president Yale Morgan said the pokies were keeping local hotels afloat and were helping boost tourism coffers.
"Hospitality businesses in the hotel sector told the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland that electronic gaming machines are an extremely important part of keeping their businesses viable and profitable in light of high staffing costs, food prices and unpredictable demand for accommodation," Mr Morgan said.
"This aligns with data showing that hotels which have EGMs enjoy greater revenue, high levels of employment and are overall more profitable.
"Further, local entertainment venues that provide food and beverage, accommodation, live music, sport telecasts as well as poker machines are becoming increasingly important for our tourism offering in Queensland."
Dr Livingstone warned the damage poker machines created was on par with the damage alcohol did.
"The harms are widespread but the benefits of poker machines are collected by a very narrow group - for example a company that's operating a pub with pokies," the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine researcher said.
"The harms include mental and physical health problems and in extreme cases suicide.
"There's also neglect of children, family breakdown, domestic violence and crime."
Alliance for Gambling Reform strategy director Rohan Wenn said the avalanche of money flowing through poker machines must be stopped.
Mr Wenn's organisation will soon begin calling on all Queensland councils to join the alliance's battle to make pubs and clubs "safe con-free places".
"Poker machines are a con job - they are not accidentally addictive, they are deliberately addictive," Mr Wenn said.
"For every dollar in state taxes from gaming, local governments spend $7 cleaning up the mess made by poker machines - these are the struggling businesses, the broken homes, the suicides, the divorces.
"Local governments are the ones that clean up the mess and get no money for it.
"It's money that's not being spent in the local shops - it's money that's being stolen from local business."
Average Aussie bloke's average Aussie pastime ends in $60,000 debt
AT 24, Shaun is your average Aussie bloke.
He works hard, loves hanging out with his mates, adores his parents and four siblings, doesn't mind a beer and reckons having a punt is just part of being born under a southern sun.
"Gambling is actually something that I can track back to when I was really quite young, maybe eight or nine years old," Shaun says.
"I look back and I remember playing cards for chocolate - I have a little bit of a reflection on that and I can see that there were signs that I enjoyed gambling, even then."
Shaun is one of Australia's 500,000 problem gamblers and like the one in six Aussies who play the pokies regularly, he has a serious addiction.
It's an addiction that's led to him being $60,000 in debt.
Shaun first dropped a few bucks into an electronic gaming machine on his 18th birthday.
"It got to the point where it started costing me every spare penny I had," the hospitality worker recalls.
"It was up in the thousands of dollars (in losses) on some of the bad nights."
Asked why the pokies had such a hold on him, Shaun takes a minute to gather his thoughts.
"It's the excitement of the possibility of winning - there's just nothing else going on when you're playing," he says.
"You forget about your troubles, you forget about the money you owe, you forget about the money you shouldn't be spending.
"You really get wrapped up in the machines."
But what happens when the winning streak never comes?
"As time goes on and you lose your money and it becomes more frustrating," Shaun says.
"Soon you're playing out of desperation.
"You're trying to win your money back, you're trying to win the major jackpot to pay off your debts.
"Then you walk out of the venue and the reality really hits you hard.
"Suicide is a thought that anyone who has had a big loss on the pokies will have.
"You do go to some dark places."
Relationships Australia Queensland gambling counsellor Steve Novak is just one of the people who help gamblers like Shaun pick up the pieces when they hit rock bottom.
Mr Novak helped about 200 gamblers, and their family members, from the Gympie, Bundaberg and Sunshine Coast regions last year.
"Clients … may have become aware that gambling has recently become problematic at one end of the continuum, through to being at the end of the tether at the other end of the continuum," Mr Novak said.
"Family members often present looking for assistance long before the actual gambler has acknowledged they have an issue."
Defeating the punting demon is not easy but with commitment and the right resources, punters can find themselves overcoming the urge to chase the next big win.
"Support includes psychotherapy, referrals to financial counsellors, GPs, mental health services and domestic violence services," Mr Novak said.
"Family members and friends often get involved with the therapy also.
"Typically I try to contract with the client to do two years of counselling.
"The gambling related goal is reached within the first few sessions - the rest of the therapy focuses on consolidating the changes and monitoring for relapse."
Mr Novak said it was possible to beat the urge to punt.
"It is quite common for people to achieve the goal of no longer feeling the need to play the pokies," Mr Novak said.
"Social and emotional support levels are very important predictors of recovery from a wide range of 'problems with living' type of issues including problem gambling.
"A strategy to keep them safe from relapse would also be part of the therapy."
It's been five months since Shaun last sat down in front of a poker machine.
With help from his family and friends and a focus on meditation and physical fitness, he is slowly getting his life back on track.
"It's all about beating that initial urge and not gambling," Shaun says.
"The biggest thing you've got to change is your mindset - you've got to understand that you're not going to make the big win to change your life.
"The urges to gamble may come from being bored, lonely, angry, struggling financially or stress.
"When you feel those sort of things you need to find a more appropriate outlet that's not going to cost you money."
For 24-hour support call The Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.
GIVING BACK - BUT IS IT ENOUGH? In the second part of our exclusive three-part investigation into the impacts of poker machines on our community, we reveal just how much money is actually returned to our region through the Community Benefit Fund and how the State Government spends the taxes it collects from poker machines.