(Investigator 131, 2010 March)


Poker machine players in South Australia lost a record amount in the year ending June 2006 despite cuts in the number of machines:

New figures posted by the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner show punters in SA lost $751 million in 2005-06 – up from $749.2 million the previous year.
They lost the money on only 12,598 machines compared with the 14,062 machines in service in 2004-05. (1)

Australia wide, gambling losses at legal gambling venues for 2004-2005 were $1,700 million than for 2000-2001 with the following breakdown:

 Losses in $millions
Poker & gaming machines $8,700
TAB $2,100
Lottery-style games $1,400
Online gambling $114

Total: $15,500

(From: Sunday Mail 2006, September 24, p19)

In December 2008 Australia's Federal Government gave $10 billion to pensioners, families and carers so as to stimulate the economy and stave off economic recession. That same month the losses of gamblers to poker machines reached record highs. Evidently a substantial part of the "stimulus package" was gambled away at "pokies" and other venues. (The Weekend Australian 2009, January 24-25, page 10)

In March, 2009, a second stimulus package brought a similar consequence. In South Australia poker machine takings increased from $57 million in March 2008 to $63 in March 2009. (The Advertiser 2009, April 24. p13)

There were no reports of gamblers becoming rich because, as argued in previous editions of this magazine, gamblers mostly lose.


In 1970 casino gambling in the USA was confined to one state, Nevada, and lotteries to three states. In 2006 both were legal in 47 states. The result:
…some 2.4 million Americans are afflicted with pathological gambling and at least 6.1 million with problem gambling. The social cost, including that for treatment of gambling addiction, bankruptcy, divorce and crime, is significant… (2)
Helen Phillips in New Scientist (2006, August 26) asks "Can gambling, shopping, sex and gaming really be as addictive as the hardest drugs?" She says:
A growing number of researchers believe that the same processes lie behind all addictions, behavioural or chemical, whether it's gambling or shopping, computer gaming, love, work, exercise, pornography, eating or sex.

All pleasurable stimuli, natural and unnatural, act on the same "reward" circuitry in the brain. When we find something desirable, the brain chemical dopamine is released in the brain.

In the 1970s the term "addiction" described heroin abuse. If, however, the above listed behaviours are addictions rather than overindulgence by choice, and with similar stressful withdrawal symptoms as drug-withdrawal, the question arises whether society's response should be treatment rather than punishment.

However, people can monitor themselves and stop a certain behaviour before it become excessive, or if they don't stop and continue until compulsion sets in they can still choose to attend therapy! This is part of responsible decision-making in a free society!


A British tourist, 24, went to the Sydney casino and gambled away the money for her return fight to London. (3)

A Commonwealth Bank employee lost $8 million in stolen bank money at Sydney's Star City casino. (4)

A branch manager of the Commonwealth Bank in Western Australia embezzled and lost $19million in five years. (5)

An unregistered financial advisor used $2million of his clients' money to fund his gambling habit. (5)

An accountant in a large engineering company got hooked on internet gambling and lost $22million of his company's money in four years. (5)

A man mistakenly loaned $198,000 by Westpac rather than the $18,000 he had applied for, went on a betting spree and lost $142,000 in horse racing. He claimed he "could not restrain himself", which affected his health, and tried to sue Westpac:
But the bank denied any "causal link" between the mistake and the 12-week betting spree…any loss or injury sustained as a result of the gambling were brought about by the voluntary acts of the plaintiff… (6)
A female loans officer, 38, in the Bendigo Bank pleaded guilty to taking $4.7 million to finance her gambling habit. (7)

In Adelaide a Casino employee with a "poker machine addiction" that left her "debt ridden" died after overdosing on medication. (8)

A property developer lost $30 million in Las Vegas. After that he lost another $30 million during a 16-month gambling spree at a Crown Casino, Victoria. (9) He subsequently sued because, "the casino allowed him to continue gambling despite knowing he was a pathological gambler…banned from casinos in other states."

Kerry Packer: "lost hundreds of millions of dollars on the gaming tables of the world." (10) His son has been investing in casinos and hopes to profit $1million per day from "City of Dreams" in Macau:
This would involve 40,000 people losing an average of $100 apiece. And lose they will. That's the beauty of casinos. As Mr Packer discovered from watching his father, punters never win. (Ibid)
Further evidence that gamblers mostly lose is the report titled "Gambling addicts join the homeless":
Gambling addictions are pushing South Australians onto the street.  (2006, April 7, p. 9)


Gamblers not only lose their money but may lose their health as well.

A survey of 43,000 Americans revealed that people who gambled more than five times per year had greater negative consequences to their health than people who gambled less often. They had increased heart rate, angina and liver disease. Considered as forms of gambling were bingo, playing cards, betting on horses/dogs/sports, lottery tickets, the stock market, and gambling at casinos. (11)

Physical damage can get much worse if criminals are involved. In Sydney a drug dealer had an innocent man killed by sloshing hydrochloric acid in his face because the man's brother in law gambled away $500,000 of the dealer's drug money. (11) The gambling-addict brother in law was supposed to launder $800,000 through Melbourne's Crown Casino but lost most of it.


Belief in good and bad luck probably arose when people observed that nature often appears unpredictable and disruptive – earthquakes, storms, floods, disease epidemics – and that some people survived and prospered whereas others carked it.

Fortune telling industries arose in which charlatans claimed ability to predict or control outcomes. Hundreds of different methods came into vogue such as astrology, palmistry, examining animal guts, reading tea leaves, cards, dream-interpretation, etc.

Nowadays there are still numerous organizations and individuals, including supposed psychics, who advertise and offer good luck –   but for a price.

The booklet Seven Ways To Attract Good Luck suggests good luck can come from talismans or amulets with supposed lucky designs such the four leaf clover, rabbit's foot, scarab beetle, black cat, magic square, horse shoe, and King Solomon's Seal. The last named could be ordered for $39.90.

Science, however, has not discovered any "good luck" force which assures hoped-for outcomes at games of chance. Rather, the mathematically calculated probabilities nearly always prevail in the long run at roulette, dice, poker machines and other games even if the gambler possesses a rabbit's foot or other "lucky charm".

A gambler who calculates the odds and works out the probability of losing or winning and bets accordingly, knowing he can't predict the result, is being scientific. If, however, he thinks he's going to win regardless of probability then he is trusting in luck and superstition and rejecting sense and mathematics.


Research reported in New Scientist in August 2006 concluded that gambling, sex, shopping and exercise can all become as addictive as hard drugs.

According to Mark Griffiths, a Nottingham Trent University psychologist, virtually the same biological process occurs in the brain of a drug addict as in that of a gambler.

In both cases the "high" released the chemical dopamine into the brain. And in both a tolerance eventually develops so that a greater dose is needed to achieve same high. Gamblers played longer and/or bet more money and drug users used more of the drug.

When addicts resist their craving they experience withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, sweats, headaches, cramps and moodiness. The choice is either to keep gambling, or get professional help and go through the withdrawal symptoms.

One female gambler lost up to $400,000 per year in a 15-year poker machine addiction. She refinanced her house, "maxed-out" two credit cards, gambled away the child support, raided her daughter's part-time job earnings, was on antidepressants, and phoned Lifeline every night. After a "complete breakdown" at age 36 in 2008 she entered the Gambling Therapy Service program at Flinders Medical Centre and stopped gambling. (Sunday Mail 2009, July 12, p80)

The addictiveness of drugs and gambling is common knowledge and therefore a person's own responsibility. With few exceptions the law won't help him get a refund or assign responsibility to the supplier such as a hotel with gaming machines since the latter is supplying a lawful service.

The Advertiser reported:
A problem gambler, who lost a world-first case aimed at making clubs responsible for his wagers, has reached the end of the road in his legal battle.
Former milkman Chris Reynolds failed yesterday to gain leave to appeal to the High Court.
Mr Reynolds had sued the Katoomba RSL Club, in the New South Wales Blue Mountains, for nearly $57,000 in compensation, claiming it failed to prevent him gambling away thousands of dollars. (13)
The problem gambler's choice is either to keep gambling or get professional help and go through the withdrawal symptoms.

While not extending credit to ordinary losers some casinos allow known "high rollers" to cash cheques for immediate gambling. In one case:
A high-roller has taken gambling giant Tabcorp for $11.5 million, bouncing cheques in exchange for cash that he then lost playing baccarat at casinos… (The Australian 2009, January 30, p3)


In May Australia had "Responsible Gamblers Awareness Week". Its theme this year was to: "Gamble Responsibly; Stay in Control". Four tips to achieve control were promoted:
•    Gamble for the fun of it, not to make money.
•    Set the limit that you want to lose and stick to it.
•    Don't chase your losses, instead walk away.
•    If gambling takes over your life, get help.
To coincide with Awareness Week the Minister for Families and Communities launched several "resource kits" for combating problem gambling and a government web site:-

Since 2004 gaming machine venues in South Australia have been subject to "Responsible Gambling and Advertising Codes of Practice". These place venue licensees under obligation to introduce various measures to reduce problem gambling.  

The Office of Problem Gambling has produced leaflets, brochures, and booklets, to inform problem gamblers and their family and friends, which are available for free.

The "Statewide Gambling Therapy Service" has offices in various Adelaide suburbs and all large country towns. Professionals offer clients cognitive behavioural therapy to extinguish the urge to gamble.

There is also a 24-hour Gambling Help Line offering free counselling.


Investigator Magazine articles on gambling appeared in #19, #25, #34, #63, #86, #90, #96, #107, and  #110.

The consistent message has been that any feeling that winning is just ahead is subjective and unscientific, and that in fact gamblers mostly lose. If you want greater financial security it's better to bank your money than to than lose it.


1 The Advertiser 2006 July 15, p1

2 Scientific American 2006 April, p20.

3 The Advertiser 2006 April 29, p28

4 The Advertiser 2006 September 2, p7

5 The Australian 2007 May 9, p35

6. The Australian 2008, June 2, p5

7. The Advertiser 2006, June 16, p7

8. The Weekend Australian 2009 May 16-17, p9

9. The Australian 2009 May 21, p5

10. Sunday Mail 2009, June 7, p75

11. Psychosomatic Medicine 2006 Volume 68, pp 976-984

12. The Weekend Australian 2006 December 2-3, p9

13 The Advertiser 2002 August 10, p14

(B S)