How small changes could help stamp out problem gambling
PROBLEM gambling is a dark shadow we're failing to shake.
The region's poker machines became a battleground for politicians in the late 90s.
In 1999, then Deputy Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said Labor had approved an additional 1000 poker machines for the Wide Bay Burnett region.
He accused Labor, and then Bundaberg MP the late Nita Cunningham, of encouraging poker machine use in the region.
Mrs Cunningham hit back, saying the pokies were approved under a system the Liberal government had introduced, which "opened the floodgates".
Mrs Cunningham vowed to consult the public on the number of poker machines allowed in the region and said they would not be allowed in supermarkets or bowling alleys.
But while pollies argued over how many poker machines to allow, the region's taste for gambling was growing.
Fast forward 20 years where data shows more than $9.2 million was lost through 1153 of Bundaberg's poker machines in just two months - October and November last year.
The $9.2 million represents the metered win - the sum of money not returned to gamblers.
The statistics were released by the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation.
Bundaberg's CQUniversity Professor of Psychology Matthew Rockloff, who has spent years researching poker machine use, said pokies were causing harm every day in Bundaberg.
He says monetary figures go up and down, but the very real harms from gambling included an entire spectrum from taking away enjoyment of life right through to child neglect and domestic violence.
His research has identified 72 types of harms that result from gambling.
Prof Rockloff says there are a few solutions that would make gaming safer.
"Pokies can be limited to $1 bets," he said.
"Most recreational gamblers bet smaller amounts, and higher denomination betting appeals most to players who are already experiencing problems.
"Mandatory pre-commitment is a technology based solution whereby people nominated a maximum amount they want to lose before playing, and are locked-out of playing for a cooling-off period if they reach this limit.
"This most often involves play with a card, similar to membership reward cards that are already in frequent use."
Prof Rockloff said banning pokies outright as a solution was "unlikely politically" and said "surveys show majority support for the idea that people should be allowed to gamble if they want to".
While Prof Rockloff said it was hard to scientifically determine the link between regional areas and gambling, there were factors that influenced problem gambling.
"There is a relationship between easy access to venues and the likelihood of developing a gambling problem," he said.
"Localities with more pokies are also places that have more people with gambling problems.
"There is also a relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and gambling problems, and people in regional areas are more likely to suffer from socio-economic disadvantage.
"Because severe gambling problems are rare, it is difficult to concretely demonstrate, however, that regional areas definitively have more people with gambling problems than metro areas."