Please help me!
Kate Seselja lived experience gambling harm advocate
Poker machines are the most harmful form of gambling, making up $11 billion* of Australia’s total gambling losses in clubs and pubs alone.
As Australians we always fight to save others from danger, we generously respond to the cries of those in need. Let us not ignore the cries of those who are captured, those still grappling with the aftermath of Gambling Harm, those being relentlessly groomed and all who are currently ignorant to the dangers of gambling harm, because if we don’t, then perhaps one day, they may, like myself, become unexpectedly entrapped, uttering the same haunting prayer that I once whispered ..... Please HELP me.
My seat at the roundtable is paid by no one, my voice is sometimes shaky and my heart pounds, but that’s when my body knows, I have to speak up. Almost 10 years I have been at it, the only voice in the room, fighting for people that I don’t know and have never met and yet I know their pain. I fight for those who haven’t yet walked into a gambling venue or turned 18. I felt alone in the struggle and at times I feel alone in the fight. My name is Kate, I am a lived experience speaker, gambling reform advocate and recovery coach. I never imagined that I would have to write such a letter, because I actually never saw or heard about gambling harm, before I experienced it. Yet almost every single day since I decided to go public with my journey, I have heard from person after person, share with me their experience of Gambling Harm and I just want to cry. So why does it keep happening to people? It boils down to two main factors, a lack of consumer protection (we naively assumed the Gambling Industry would regulate responsibly) and a failure to educate the Australian public on Gambling Harm (to have adequate product knowledge of the various gambling products and their related harms).
It is clear that this gap in consumer awareness leaves members of the Australian public vulnerable by default. Decades ago, Australians were abandoned by our governing bodies who made agreements with the gambling industry to devise an elaborate revenue generating system. This system is designed to rapidly capture money from the public, return massive profits for industry and a generous tax revenue stream for the Government. This Scheme was intentionally crafted to give the outward illusion of community benefit and all the while hiding the extent of the gambling harm being generated in its wake. The protections and regulations in place have always been about the protection of the industry and not the consumer.
I’m hoping this letter finds its way into the hearts and minds of Australians because at this point in time, a very large number of our population are in the midst of this struggle or experiencing the devastating aftermath of the gambling harm legacy of decades gone by.
I make this appeal as I think it’s just un-Australian for us not to fight. We always fight for fellow Aussies in distress, like we do in bushfires and floods. Aussies are literally dying from gambling harm with (over 400 gambling related suicides each year, that we know of, most sadly we never hear or speak of).
From the outside looking in, if you are lucky enough to be someone like I was at 18, to have never known about gambling harm, it can seem like an easy fix. ‘Just don’t do it or just stop.’ But gambling addiction is very real and very powerful and very subtle in the way it first captures a person in a seemingly benign way. No one ever sees it coming. The attitude of ignorance, a lack of understanding and compassion for the complexity of the issue, means we are turning a collective blind eye to the $25 Billion dollars that is lost each year from our small population, ranking us the no1. nation for the highest gambling losses in the world. This issue has a very real impact on everyone, we just haven’t been educated enough to see it.
In my efforts to help others and break down stigma and shame, I have appeared in a variety of media. But last week, something extraordinary happened. I was contacted by someone who works in the industry, his name was Michael (not his real name) and he felt compelled to share with me his knowledge and the reality of the gambling environment in our culture. He said he felt haunted by a truth he could no longer ignore, and it prompted him to act.
He wrote down all the things that are never discussed in the gambling debates, the things everybody in the industry knows but keeps hidden from the public. He shared his words with me in the hopes that I may be able to disseminate this truth, as he is not free to do so, he said “I would end up at the bottom of Sydney harbour, if anyone found out I wrote this.” These are his words; (I broke down crying as he read them to me)
The Poker Machine Operator’s Prayer
That Poker machine manufacturers continue to refine and develop poker machines to enhance their addictive features and appeal to a larger audience.
That Politicians appreciate our donations and accept the obligations that are attached.
That poker machines will remain the preferred vehicle used by money launderers and that governments will never introduce legislation to kerb this or any other restrictive measures.
That government ministers who are committed to Poker Machine reform, be swiftly moved to other portfolios, where they will be ineffective.
That all proposed legislation to lessen the damage caused by poker machines will be defeated in Parliament.
That our own families will never be impacted by the designed compulsion to gamble and become addicted to poker machines.
That the true extent of the damage caused by poker machines on our communities is never fully reported or accounted for.
That the gambling industry on the whole will remain immune to the impacts from the Australian government money laundering authority along with the state government gaming statutory body.
That all the major churches, charities and community leaders with limited exceptions, will continue to support the poker machine industry by their amplified silence on the devastating impacts of poker machines in society.
That the banks and financial institutions will continue to support the poker machine Industry in direct contradiction to their social and moral obligation under the current banking code of Australia.
That every person who uses a poker machine will believe, they have to ‘Gamble Responsibly’ so that the shame narrative stays with the individual and we don’t have to change our product.
That Facial Recognition be widely adopted to help us further exploit our customers in a myriad of ways.
And lastly, we pray that no one disrupts the status quo.
In contrast this is the pokie players prayer.
The Pokie Player’s Prayer
Please HELP me.
I had remembered feeling so alone, so profoundly misunderstood. Slipping into hopelessness and almost taking my life after a 12 year struggle with poker machines, I could have easily been one of the 400 Gambling related deaths in 2012. I could never make sense of it at the time, because I didn’t have all the information. I had absolutely no awareness of the whole gambling landscape or an understanding that Gambling Harm from Pokies is addiction by design. Len Ainsworth- famously gloated that ‘he built a better mouse trap’. Michael confirmed this by saying to me 'they intentionally built Poker machines, as a product that defeats our natural instincts.'
Again I cried at his words, the confirmation of my body hearing the truth and the release of pain I once carried, of feeling broken beyond repair. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked myself over and over, trying to make sense of everything I was experiencing but having no words or knowledge to draw on. I no longer ask myself that question as I understand from a design perspective I was the ideal customer, using it as it was designed and yet I was shamed, what a sick system.
The level of shame, self-blame and self-hatred I carried at that time, breaks my heart. So many families and individuals feel that same pain and confusion each day, so many people just like me, becoming over powered by intentional design features like losses disguised as wins, near misses and random rewards.
Giving people hope again is everything. Helping them with new vernacular, new awareness and a pathway out of pain and isolation has been my primary focus for the last 7 years. Restoring their dignitity by helping them rewrite that internal narrative – myself and millions of others are knowingly financially abused for the sake of profit.
Fighting for gambling reform and greater protections for unsuspecting users is an important step in prevention. No one ever sees it coming, the industry describes engagement with poker machines as harmless entertainment, if it was meant to be just that it would be set at the lowest possible setting to ensure customer protections, but pokies are set at maximum harm levels until they are forced to change.
Prevalence is the other main factor, they are available almost everywhere, as an imposed toxin to otherwise safe social spaces, without proper harm warnings, it is their words like ‘lambs to the slaughter.’
Watch Kaching pokie nation documentary.
The widespread damage of gambling harm continues to grow exponentially each year. Gambling harm has a variety of horrific outcomes like intergenerational poverty, homelessness, suicides, domestic violence, crime, incarcerations, mental and physical health impacts, along with financial impacts to small business located near gambling venues that miss out on essential revenue.
It infuriates me that the overworked and under resourced community organisations are left to mop up the extensive damage, caused by the myriad of devastating outcomes from gambling harm, mostly whilst also receiving meagre levels of support from gambling venues through ‘Community Grants Schemes’. This is again another sick joke. If your venue derives over 70% of its income from gambling, you are a casino in every other country, except in Australia, they get to hide behind the status of not-for-profit organisations?
Gambling harm is a very complex issue, and I am in no way suggesting a quick fix, but right now most Australians don’t even know any of this because we fundamentally believe we will be protected by our governing bodies, from known harms. We expect action will be taken to keep us safe, like the action that was taken on other toxic industries like tobacco and asbestos. These industries were identified as public health issues and action was taken to protect the public from being exposed to known harms, yet gambling harm HAS been identified as a public health concern, but only to appease reform stakeholders. Once again, to provide the illusion of action, whilst the industry continues to grow, unchecked like a cancer in all our suburbs.
The rate at which the gambling industry is growing as a whole is alarming. The variety of ways in which to gamble, becoming more and more available, this is not at all in line with a public health response. Scratchies are now available in some service stations, football is completely saturated by the sports bet industry, 948 ads per day TV advertising, other countries have 11 per week, pop ups online (like “social casinos” where you play for ‘free’ only to become completely addicted and end up pouring money into offshore gambling sites and win absolutely nothing), in emails, in text messages, intentional gambling- like features built in to every kid’s app and games, grooming the next generation. The Australian public is just seen as easy prey to the biggest predator in the world, the GAMBLING Industry. It is the single greatest source of harm to Australians, hiding everywhere in plain sight.
Please share this message, please warn your children of the dangers of gambling harm, educate yourself on this issue and when the truth is suddenly illuminated, in your conscious awareness, it becomes impossible to ignore. Do you know what I think is very telling, when some venues become aware of the level of gambling harm in their community, they aren’t ok with just cutting down the number of machines, they choose to go POKIE FREE. This venue led initiative is very powerful and speaks volumes of where we need to refocus on community care and wellbeing over profit with a very real human price tag.
As Australians we always fight to save others from danger, we generously respond to the cries of those in need. Let us not ignore the cries of those who are captured, those still grappling with the aftermath of gambling harm, those being relentlessly groomed and all who are currently ignorant to the dangers of gambling harm, because if we don’t, then perhaps one day, they may, like myself, become unexpectedly entrapped, uttering the same haunting prayer that I once whispered
... Please HELP me.
MONASH UNIVERSITY GAMBLING AND SOCIAL DETERMINANTS UNIT RESEARCH
Associate Professor Charles Livingstone PhD.
Gambling & Social Determinants Unit
School of Public Health & Preventive Medicine
For more information, please go to: https://www.agr.org.au/resources