Bright lights, entrancing colours, fun music and the idea of winning thousands and thousands of dollars – that’s what first attracted 49-year-old Sue* to gambling.
It is more than two decades since Sue succumbed to the pokies. For two years, she’d spend thousands of dollars a week. She says she almost lost her house had it not been for her sister who loaned her money to pay her debts.
Now, after years of struggle to get her life back on track, her recovery has been set back by a new form of gambling.
Sue started gambling again after discovering on Facebook a way to gamble at home or on the go with slot machine simulators and fantasy card games such as poker and blackjack. She says she spends close to $500 dollars every few weeks on a fantasy slot machine application called ‘Slotomania’ and ‘Texas Hold ‘Em Poker’.
According to problemgambling.gov.au, about 80 per cent of the Australian population is involved in some form of gambling, with about 500,000 at severe risk of becoming problem gamblers, a condition which not only affects themselves, but families and friends.
“When I got a call about my house, that’s when I knew I need to get help with my addiction,” Sue says of the impact of the pokies in the 1990s. “I still can’t thank my sister enough.”
“It’s a dark habit,” she says.
Sue sought help from family and gambling counseling services in her local community, all the more determined to recover for her the sake of her daughter, Helen*, just six when her addiction began.
Helen remembers the nights when her mum wouldn’t come home until the early morning, wake up a few hours later and go straight back to it, Helen is forever grateful her aunt stepped in and helped put an end to Sue’s problem.
“Some nights I’d lie awake waiting for her,” Helen says. “Some nights she wouldn’t come home…I remember crying a lot in my grandma’s arms wanting my mum.”
Now there is no need to leave the comfort of home. With online gambling it is no longer necessary to visit a venue.
Simulated gambling games imitate many of the core characteristics of gambling, such as the look, sound and actions without necessarily providing an opportunity to bet, win or lose real money. The Interactive Gambling Act, passed in 2001, makes offering and advertising real-money online interactive gambling services illegal. This includes online poker, online casino games and betting during a sporting event.
However, some simulated gambling and casino online games enable users to purchase credits or virtual currency with their actual money via PayPal and their credit cards.
Sue has fallen into the trap repeatedly. “I think I’ve cut back a lot from what I use to spend when I first got heavily involved with gambling,” she says. “I stopped for years but now my children are grown up, I haven’t got anything to do”.
A clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research, Sally Gainsbury believes the convenience of online mobile gambling can be too convenient.
In a 2015 study, ‘Virtual addictions: An examination of problematic social casino game use among at-risk gamblers’, Gainsbury estimates that Australians spend approximately 3 per cent of their income on online gambling a year, a third of Australian adults and just over a fifth of Australian adolescents play social online gambling games each year.
Some research suggests females are more likely than males to play social gambling games and the average online social gambling gambler is in their early 40s .
“Mobile devices are fantastic devices that are convenient, but when it comes to things like accessing online gambling applications, it’s almost too easy for people to access and consume, making it much easier for reformed gamblers to revisit old habits,” Gainsbury says.
There are many ways someone suffering gambling addiction can help themselves as well as their family’s help with the aid of online websites such as responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au and seeking out help from councillors. Steven Dupon, a specialist in the rise of gambling an online gambling believes the help starts at home.
“Someone addicted to gambling at home need support from their family. Changing a suffering family member’s habits is as easy as reducing limits on bank cards and transfers from bank accounts, as well as set a spending or deposit limit for their online gambling accounts… it may come to the use of softwares that block gambling sites,” said Mr Dupon.
Sue’s daughter Helen fears that she might have to download software that potentially blocks online gambling games from her mum’s computer.
“I never expected to have to do this to a grown lady,” Helen says. “I’d expect to do something similar for my 5 year old son but not my own mum… I just want to help her get through this again.”
*Names have been changed in this report.