Gambling health: don't bet on it

February 2, 2000

Gambling health: don't bet on it

By Kerry Ridgway

"Governments are addicted to gambling", says Michelle Gunner, a PhD student from the University of Western Sydney, Nepean.

Once a nurse therapist treating all manner of addictions, Gunner specialised in gambling after noticing major problems with health services.

The first obstacle to treatment is recognising the problem. "Very often there is a mask of normality. Clients are above average intelligence, successful and likeable so there appears to be nothing wrong", Gunner said.

Once the addiction is detected, the policies of health services make it difficult to get help. "If people do need treatment they must have a co-morbidity, they must have some other addiction, and Gamblers Anonymous takes only those who are still gambling."

The other problem is that governments are reliant on gambling revenue for financial gain, so clubs are encouraged to attract customers. Gunner said, "People who work in clubs are encouraged to be as personable as possible.

"They memorise your name and get to know you and ask you what your favourite drinks are. They convert money into chips or plastic cards straight away so it feels like you're not using real money. You don't even have to speak English to use the pokies."

Contrary to the stereotype, gamblers are not there to make money. "Intellectually they know they won't win. It is more about beating the machine. Pokies are also transitional objects. When children have 'good parents', they start to break away from them by clinging to a toy, then they become fully independent. Often gamblers don't come from stable families so they cling to poker machines in similar ways."

Those with gambling addictions can receive counselling under private health cover or can dial phone lines, but services are scant and inadequate, Gunner says.

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