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A couple of months after finding out that Newcastle has an alcohol problem, new reports are now telling the nation that Newcastle now has a gambling problem. It’s like this city has been taking mystery prizes from the evil lucky dip.

Newly released statistics show that people in the Newcastle area have a gambling problem and which long-shot, money-making, get-rich-quick scheme is taking the citizens of this fair town. That would be the pokies.

Apparently there are more poker machines (or slot machines, as the Americans call them) in the Newcastle area than the Sydney city and Fairfield areas and those households in the Newcastle area are losing an average of a whopping sum of $2,200 each year on these devilish flashing boxes. And that sum is higher than the rest of the state.

The numbers released by the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, based on a report paper from June 2007, say that the Newcastle area has 3,613 poker machines, which is again a greater number than the rest of the state. Newcastleis closely followed by Lake Macquarie with 2,550. For Newcastle, that averages 24 machines for every 1,000 people, which is twice the state average. Novocastrians never do anything by half measures, do we?

Between Newie and Lake Macquarie there is a difference of just over a 1,000. Considering no other area in the region has broken the 1,000 mark and most of these other areas rarely go above 500, that is a lot of machines in a small area being fed a lot of blues, oranges and yellows. It’s like a reverse Pac Man, and we are turning into the little ghosts that get eaten.

Newcastle does have a gambling problem it seems. With so many poker machines in Newcastle how could you deny the area has a gambling addiction?

The vice co-ordinator of Mission Australia's Hunter Gambling Counselling Services, Jenni Gilmour, was quoted in The Herald on 12 May saying that the gambling is linked, in most cases, to some type of trauma. She cited conditions such as depression, anxiety, child abuse and any kind of grief and loss as prime candidates  for developing a gambling addiction.

I believe that last statement deserves a ‘Well, duh!’ All addictions are caused by these traumas. Something bad happens and, whether or not you are conscious of it, you try a fill that missing piece of yourself with something, anything. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, sex, food, cheesy movies, the written word, S & M, nicotine, an unhealthy attraction to Barbra Streisand, or gambling, they are what we use to get us through the hard times or to allow us to escape. And yes sometimes these obsessions of ours bite us in the arse and they bite hard.

It is all text book stuff and if you watch CSI, Law and Order or any drama on television you can see this dance of the obsessed and addicted played out on screen and it can only end two ways; they get better or they get worse. And while depictions like these are fictionalized with the mass-produced American TV brush, it usually ends the same way in the real world, too.

Trauma can cause addictions? Aren’t these people a bunch of geniuses?

Your wife or husband dies, you lose a child, you get fired, you become a victim of violent crime or rape or assault, natural disaster or survivor of a war. All of these are reasons or causes for the development of an addiction. If Newcastle does have a gambling problem, why?

People are attracted to the instant gratification of winning big with the hope of fixing all problems. The next press of the button could be the win they are chasing. And there is the trap. That win may not be there and if it is there is no guarantee that they will win all the money back that they’ve already lost. The old Vegas mantra rings in their ears, ‘To win big you have to risk big’ but sooner or later that risk is too great and they could lose for a very long time.

But is it any surprise that any town or city, not just Newcastle, could develop a gambling addiction and a dependence to the pokies? I see one of those reasons every two weeks. I am still in the low income and struggling demographic and Centrelink is a place I spend time once a fortnight. In this den of the depressed you can see some of the saddest and neediest of people. Some look like they have not eaten a proper meal since Keating was Prime Minister. Many of these people play those pokies trying to make their lives better and they get caught.

Pensioners who have nothing better to do since they retired come to meet like-minded senior citizens and play the pokies to feel they have a purpose because life just hasn’t felt the same since they stopped working.

Newcastle has had a major earthquake and a flood that weighs heavily on the collective consciousness. If a truck flies passed the house or the rain is too heavy, it could be the big one. Not to mention that some people lost a hell of a lot in the flood recently. Why not try and win big?

It is all easy to understand. So we park our butts down on the stools in small rooms in front of machines with lots of flashing lights and ringtone-like music and stare transfixed like farm animals in a defeatist state of hypnosis and throw our money away. And you strangely begin to understand why teenagers spend so much time playing their Xbox consoles.

Whose fault is it then? Well, ours partially. But who put the machines there? The pubs and the poker machine manufacturers. It is their attempt to make large amounts of money out of the weakness of others.

But we don’t have to play the things? Come on, yes we do. You tell a human being no to press a flashing red button in a room that contains nothing else, sooner or later there going to press it. We don’t have to press it, true. But just because there is a demand for something doesn’t mean you have to supply it.

Victoria has far less pokies, in fact there are hardly any in most pubs in Melbourne that I can ever remember seeing and yet NSW has more than any other state and sad little Newcastle has the most per capita in the state.

Well, listen here big boys, old boys, cold hearts, business men and women, bureaucrats and politicians. Instead of looking down on us, change the laws and get rid of the damn things and throw in some cash for counselling. It’ll be the best gamble of your careers.

Published: May 19, 2008 12:33pm by redhead.

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  • Ban the Pokies

    We absolutely agree with Redhead…and that is why we are holding a Silent Scream Masked March in Sydney on the 24th August 2008 to protest against pokies…we need as many ‘unidentifiable bodies’ as possible to help us make our point! We want pokies banned before they kill us all in this joint! The masks are awesome too!! Email us…say hi…and make one!!

    Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour at 10.30am…come along with your mask…and join the throng!

    email libby.mitch@bigpond.com for a flyer and mask-making pattern

    Published Jun 26, 2008 2:41am by banpokies1

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