Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Race that Stops a Nation

* This article is featured in The Salvation Army Others Magazine - Nov2018

The Spring Racing Carnival is in full swing. The horses are being immaculately groomed, and the fashions on the fields are luring in the eyes of the crowd. The bookies are taking their bets and the lines to the bar are out the door. With the Melbourne Cup just around the corner there’s no shortage of people crunching the numbers hoping for a shot at a big return.

Some will win. Many will lose.

Amid all the glitz and glamour of the races, there’s an underbelly of gambling addiction that most don’t want to talk about, nor read about.

I think we’d rather admire the ginormous hats and the pristine fields of green.

So when I recently heard about a local council hosting an event to talk about gambling, I initially shirked at the idea, but then thought, ‘Why not?’ The purpose of the meeting was to garner people’s views on the council’s Responsible Gaming Policy. The questions they posed were intriguing:

-         How much should be allowed to be spent on the pokies every hour?
-         How do we help people who have a gambling addiction?
-         How do you know if someone has a gambling addiction?
-         What percentage of the gaming community are ‘problem gamblers’?
-         To what degree should a local council intervene into people’s personal gambling choices?

The reason for the meeting was clear. It wasn’t articulated on a billboard or placed front and centre on the flyer, but if you weren’t worried about offending anyone, you would advertise:

“I think our community has a gambling problem. Let’s discuss it”

It was only December last year that the Sydney Morning Herald were writing this headline:

Australian gamblers lose a record $24b in a year

Nick Toscano writes, ‘Pokies accounted for the largest share of losses ($12 billion), followed by casinos ($5.2 billion), racing ($2.9 billion) and Lotto ($1.9 billion).’
That’s a lot of ka-ching, ka-ching over the course of a year. I take a bet each way that there were more losers than there were winners.  
It’s intriguing, that even though the odds are stacked up against us, Australians still love to gamble.

Who am I surrounding myself with?

A research report looking into social influences on gamblers notes, ‘Those who have experienced more harm are also surrounded by more gamblers who have experienced harm, and are more likely to gamble with them despite experiencing harm.’

Sounds like the company you keep reinforces the way you act.

The report continues, ‘Thus, not only is gambling-related behaviour normalised through these social networks, so too is gambling-related harm’(page 15).

Now I know why they offer those $12 Parma nights. Let’s create a community that reinforces the way I behave. Then I can feel like my choices are legitimized because a whole bunch of others are doing the same thing. Mix in a little Spring Racing Carnival beer and you have yourself a potential problem.

Normalising the Support
I have family history in the gambling industry. No, I’m not a multi-million dollar fat cat who owns three winning horses and a holiday house in Dubai. I mean, I have family who used to be addicted to gambling. I’ve seen the effects it has on family life. I’ve witnessed a little of what problem gambling does to relationships.
The problem is, we haven’t normalised the seeking of support in our culture. We’ve done it for smoking. We’ve done it for drinking. We’ve done it for Prostate Cancer. We’re doing it for drug dependency.
But, when it comes to gambling, it’s like we either don’t think there’s a problem, or we’re too shy to speak up about it.
We need to normalise the seeking of support. There’s no shame to say, ‘I have a problem with gambling.’
You might have a flutter on the Spring Racing Carnival and drink too many Coronas and you go home a little tipsy. Do what you do. But if you’ve woken up the next day with the bank account absolutely shattered and your marriage on the line, then you’ve got a problem.  

Go get some help.

The same report referred to earlier says, ‘People experiencing problems with gambling need to be supported to develop the capacity to navigate these saturated social networks and environments. At a broader level, strategies to increase social support and normalisation of efforts to limit or abstain from gambling should also be investigated.’

Maybe we should start a hashtag:


Then we could create a movement that says it’s ok to seek help. It’s ok to bring others into your social network that hold you accountable. It’s fine to tell someone close to you how much you spend and how often you gamble.

The race that stops a nation may have nice hats, groomed horses and pretty fields, but I’ll be honest with you: I’m done with gambling.

Pete Brookshaw is the Corps Officer of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith and you can find him on:

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