There were harrowing stories of people losing their homes and ruining relationships with loved ones as a direct result of their gambling addiction..
But a public forum in Wollongong on Wednesday took a public health perspective to create public education, awareness and information around the real extend of gambling harms in the community as a whole.
Speakers at The Understanding and Responding to the Spectrum of Gambling Harms seminar also addressed new research explaining how what was previously considered “low risk” gambling is evidencing considerable loss of quality of life years due to gambling harms - up to 50 per cent.
Gambling Impact Society NSW executive officer Kate Roberts said this required turning some of our assumptions on its head around the extend of harm in the community from gambling products such as poker machines.
‘’These are astonishing new facts about the harms caused by gambling to individuals, families and community,’’ she said.
‘’Up until this point governments have put a lot of energy into measuring and understanding the sharp pointy end of the spectrum - those with gambling addictions, but what this research is telling us is that we really need to understand the full spectrum of harms and work as community to prevent and address them.’’
That’s why Gambling Impact Society NSW invited experts in their field to the seminar to come up with some commitments and pledges to affect positive change.
I don’t think anyone sets out to harm communities, but that has been the significant impact and they are complicit in their response to addressing that.- Kate Roberts
Speakers included Alliance for Gambling Reform member Reverend Tim Costello and Central Queensland University lecturer Erika Langham.
NSW Greens MP Justin Field also spoke, saying the NSW Government had allowed the balance to go too far toward the vested interests of the pokies’ industry over the safety and wellbeing of local communities, like Wollongong.
‘’It is clear that the business model of the clubs and pubs relies on pokies profits which are based on immeasurable harm to individuals and local communities. They need a new business model,’’ Mr Field said.
Ms Roberts agreed, adding Wollongong ranked seventh in the state in terms of its density of poker machines and turnover.
‘’Clubs NSW is the major lobby group for clubs in this state,’’ she said.
‘’I don’t think anyone sets out to harm communities, but that has been the significant impact and they are complicit in their response to addressing that.
‘’There has been a lot of focus on the individual, where in fact we really need to put the focus back onto the product and I think that’s one we have to grapple with politically as well as as a community.
‘’We need some leadership. We need our state governments to stand up and be counted on this.
‘’We also need a national framework on public health and gambling and that needs to come from national leadership as well. The federal government is not as conflicted obviously because they’re not getting direct benefit from the taxation dollars through poker machines.’’