Tasmanian gaming inquiry hears of impact of pokies on communities

Poker machines have the ability to influence, change and damage communities, a Parliamentary inquiry has heard. 

A joint select committee met in Hobart on Tuesday to discuss the future of gaming in the state. 

Patrick Caplice from Rein in the Pokies told the committee that he had seen firsthand the impact poker machines could have on society.

“Most gamblers are recreational, they’re players who don’t have problems … they don’t expect to win in the long run,” Mr Caplice said. 

“Problem gamblers … they can’t say “I’ve lost enough for now” and they can’t walk away. 

“This 15 per cent always continue betting that same money again and again.” 

Mr Caplice, who lived in Glenorchy, told the committee that now was the time to make a change that could lessen the impact poker machines were having on some Tasmanian communities and individuals. 

“Every single one of the pubs that I grew up in, and I grew up in them all, is now a pokies palace,” he said. 

“The intent of them isn’t as a social area in the place, the intent is to rake money out of people’s pocket. 

“Because I know how odds work … it’s just impossible to have any success on these machines. If you sit in front of them, you’re going to lose the money.” 

Mr Caplice said that, above anything, it was the addiction of the poker machines he had a problem with. 

“Take the addictive elements out, and for me, you can have them on every street corner,” he said. 

Monash University gambling expert Charles Livingstone said his research had found gaming and the constant sense of a potential win could have chemical impacts on the brain. 

“There is a very strong relationship between disadvantage and the density of poker machines – this is about the strongest relationship I’ve ever seen in Australia,” Dr Livingstone said. 

“We now know from physiological and MRI measurements that people are stimulated by an actual win, by a loss disguised as a win, and by a near miss, and the machines are now engineered to produce both of those latter two at quite a high rate.

“The secret is to identify characteristics which will prevent harm in the first place, which in my opinion is far more important than picking up people who have already fallen off.” 

He said it was now known that in places where there are many machines, people will spend more money.