Pokies, dopamine and the young gambler

Opinion by Lacee Froeschl

Let’s face it, Australians like to gamble. There is no denying that our country is, and has always been, among the most eager punting nations on the planet. So much so that going to the pub warrants feeding Mary Reibey and Reverend John Flynn into the pokies. But today’s world of teenagers and increasing gambling expenditure has led a string of gateway dangers in the poker machine world, attracting and often overwhelming many young Australians.

Pokies are as addictive as drugs for young Australians. Photo: DJEDJ, Pixabay.

Admittedly, the young adult in me loves the idea of making a quick buck, but inadvertently and carelessly losing my life savings in front of my friends and family is irrational and unnecessary.

As a young adult, money doesn’t come easy. In fact, money doesn’t come easy for most people; they have to work hard. But with up to five per cent of people developing a large-scale gambling problem before the age of 25 and 16 per cent considered at-risk, the generation of successful young entrepreneurs can get kissed goodbye if nothing more is done to provide stronger regulation of pokies in pubs and clubs.

My interest and concern in the gambling spectrum began a few years back when I heard of a friend who gambled her savings away. At 18 years old and only just legally permitted to enter the gaming room, the sounds of Super Mario collecting gold coins caused her dopamine levels to skyrocket and gamble $50 a week at the local pub. That $50 soon doubled and tripled until it reached half of her life savings. Then the conquest of the occasional jackpot trapped her enough to blow $15,000 and her chance of moving out of home and gaining a university education. I mean, poker machines aren’t called one-armed bandits for just any reason, right?

Currently, Australians pour over $23.5 million into gambling activities with more than half injected into Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) alone. Despite seeing a 20 per cent decrease in EGM participation since 1999, the wretched machines still have the most impact on 18 to 24-year-olds who are willing to give up too much to scratch their compulsive itch. But, with the increasing offers of support for problem gamblers and their families, I can’t comprehend why in 2018 we are still having to discuss the destructive and seemingly tactless works of the gambling industry.

It’s one thing to like to make money, it’s another thing to gamble your life savings. Photo: Joshua_Wilson, Pixabay.

It’s reached the point to which watching pokie giants like Woolworths fund their Ferrari F60 America (worth $2.5 million) has enraged me. With pokies being available in casinos, pubs and clubs in almost every state and territory of Australia, I can see why expenditure is increasing, families are torn apart and, my fellow young adults are dropping out of school to fund their addiction.

The most recent report by the Australian Government Productivity Commission found that choices to gamble beyond the affordable household disposable income are created on a lack of understanding about how pokies work. While this harnesses some truth, I believe it’s the vicious tactics of pokie owners and developers in creating glamorous sounds, visuals and hype around the one in a million chance to win big.

Gambling researcher and scholar at Monash University Dr Charles Livingstone says the “tactical” developments of EGM design are a tool for rapid dopamine stimulus. Regardless of the ability to free teenagers of scrambled and sorrowful behaviours and feelings, there are far more effective and accessible methods of dopamine stimulus than a machine that eats away your life.

I understand that some believe the one-armed bandits help our community as the government revenue and voluntary taxation by the gamblers’ addiction contribute to community support funds like charities and surf-lifesaving clubs. While these are essential needs in a society, isn’t helping millennials and generation Z what we’re supposed to do? How can losing money and gaining addictions to destructive activities be an effective method?

It’s hard to express an equal opinion in such a renowned debate, but I have and always will believe poker machines are fraudulent appliances disguised as games to psychologically manipulate and exploit young adults to harness an addiction for profit. As part of the second youngest generation in the 21st century, I want to be part of the group that secures success and riches, not the one that grows up among normalised dangerous computer games that surrender our chances.

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