Gambling in Suburban Australia
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Method
- 3. Community context and local environment
- 4. Venue promotions, amenity and ambiance
- 5. Life stressors
- 6. Financial and crisis harms
- 7. Harms to health
- 8. Relationship harms
- 9. Benefits to the local community
- 10. Conclusions
- Appendix A: Methodological detail
- Appendix B: Study materials
- Appendix C: Brief historical overview
6. Financial and crisis harms
A study of the social costs of gambling in Victoria recently estimated these to be around $7 billion annually (Browne et al., 2017), a figure more than four times the state taxation revenue generated by all forms of gambling in Victoria (ABS, 2016). Findings about the nature and extent of gambling-related harm reported by participants in this study are presented thematically in this chapter and the following two chapters, and provide a description of:
- financial losses and the relationship to crisis and legal harms (this chapter)
- physical health, emotional/psychological issues (chapter 7)
- relationship harms (chapter 8).
The severity and nature of financial and crisis harms reported by participants across both sites are described in this chapter under the following thematic groupings:
- financial harm
- crisis harms occurring for those already disadvantaged
- legacy effects of financial harm.
Quotes from participants reported in the results section are coded to provide anonymous context with reference to the site (1 and/or 2), study categorisation (person who gambled [G], significant other [SO], local resident [LR], Vietnamese local resident [LRV] or professional [P]) and gender [M] or [F].
Losses were unaffordable
Analysis of self-reported expenditure on EGMs in Australia found higher losses on this product compared to other forms of gambling, with users losing an average of $1,292 per year (Armstrong & Carroll, 2017). The structural characteristics of an EGM ensure that the longer a gambler spends on a machine, the more money they will lose (Livingstone, 2017). EGMs available in local hotel and club venues across most of Australia are high intensity, with machines in Victoria capable of taking on average about $600per hour when a maximum of $5 is wagered per 'spin'. During venue observations, the research team regularly noted EGM users losing money at an even greater rate than this average, demonstrating that thousands of dollars can be lost in an hour.
As would be expected for people who gamble and experience related harms, all participants who gambled reported substantial financial losses. The consequences of these losses varied, often according to their available financial and social capital. While many participants reported that they may have initially spent relatively small sums of money, many described their gambling eventually spiralling out of control.
Short-term losses: Session expenditure and pay cycle
Participants in both sites commonly reported losses of several hundred dollars in a session. In many cases this pattern of expenditure persisted over years, or even decades. One person who gambled stated:
If it was a Saturday, you know, you could walk in there with $600-odd and you'd say, 'Look I'm going to walk home if I lose $300', and you very rarely did [leave]. You might have [left with] $50 in your pocket. (2GM)
Many people who were experiencing gambling-related problems reported regularly continuing to gamble until their funds were exhausted:
Every day my pocket is empty, I don't go home with anything in there. Even if I win $2,000 there, I will gamble it there. (1GF)
People who gambled also frequently described remaining at the venue beyond their pre-determined limits:
I just go in with the idea of like, 'Well if I can double my money I'll leave'. Do you know what I mean? If I can make 100 bucks I'll leave, and then you get trapped and you're like, 'Well maybe I can make $200'. And then you'll lose it all. (2GM)
Several people who gambled in both sites reported their gambling activity coincided with their pay cycle, creating serious shortages for essential household spending over the remainder of the fortnight. For many who gambled, losses equated to a substantial proportion of their wage; in some cases, most - if not all - of their income. One person who gambled who, on some occasions, spent up to $450 per week at EGM venues described:
That would be about half my weekly income ... Like, normally I probably spend about $150. (2GM)
I get paid on a certain day and then the next day I might spend it all and then I'd have to wait a week to get other money to do other things. (2GM)
However, even relatively modest expenditure can have substantial effects on a household. For instance, a single mother reported:
Sixty dollars or $80 a week, that's still a lot of money … Especially when you're not coming from anything … you need every single cent … [It] makes a big difference. (1GF)
Professionals reported encountering clients who viewed gambling as a way to earn regular income:
Newly arrived communities seem to be presented with the idea of, you know, if you're struggling to pay your bills or, you know, buy your car or live the Australian dream, go to the venue, there's this machine that gives you money and a lot of people consider quitting their jobs and making gambling their full-time or part-time job ... I recently had a young client who came to Australia I think 10 years ago … he um watched somebody gamble and got this misperception that he could actually win a lot of money … spending a lot of time at the casino. And often um, you know, if they meet people from their community, they will tell them this as well. (1P)
Credit cards and short-term loans exacerbate debts
People who gambled and significant others in both sites reported spiralling debts from the use of credit cards and short-terms loans to fund gambling:
Credit cards [are] so easy to get hold of these days … He ended up getting three credit cards and maxing them out and then, of course, that he was going to win to pay them all off and I'd never know. And he'd never do it again. He got himself into that catch ... I think it was about $42,000 in the end. And, then, lost his job over it. And then it all came out. It was pretty horrific at the time. (2SOF)
Participants in both sites described using short-term loans and/or selling their possessions as a last resort to pay for food and utilities. High interest rates on these loans further exacerbated debts:
You'd lose all your money and then you'd have no money for food so you go to the [payday lender] and you hock anything … I lost so much stuff over the years like just because the interest rates at those [payday lenders] are crazy … You'd get $50 on some CDs and you'd have to pay them $100. (2GM)
We do see a lot of clients that will go and hock stuff at [Pawnbroker name] and then … pay a 25% interest on whatever you borrow ... I've got one particular client … She probably visits [Pawnbroker name] once a fortnight. She'll hock her jewellery in and she'll go and buy food or whatever she needs … then she's broke the next fortnight because she's paying back the [Pawnbroker name high interest] loan … It's a catch 22, she's always broke. (1P)
One gambling professional who worked across both sites commented on differences between working with the financial debt of his clients between the two areas. He noted that dealing with 'mainstream' or formal debts was easier than informal loans. He reported that clients in Site 1 were more likely to have informal loans than those in Site 2:
They're [Site 2 clients] not as confronting in the casework … It's fairly easy in that they tend to have mainstream debt … they're older and it's easier to deal with the credit cards when there's mainstream debt, mainstream credit providers. (1, 2P)
Another professional working in Site 1 described gambling debts as complex and debilitating:
[For] my clients it's usually a combination of formal and informal debts … [They] tend to have very little or no income, so Centrelink income, and then … a wide variety of payday loans, and then a wide variety of … small to medium debts to family or friends. (1P)
Income-generating illegal activity
A number of people who gambled and significant others in both sites reported engaging in crime to support their gambling. This ranged from theft of money from family and friends to robbery, drug trafficking and unregulated sex work. For some these activities had resulted in criminal prosecutions and jail sentences.
Although this person who gambled reported he paid back money stolen from relatives, he also acknowledged that it was sometimes difficult:
I have stolen it [money from family] … As soon as I won it, I gave it back ... But yeah, they have noticed some missing ... I know that stealing from family is not good and - yeah, sometimes you may not get it back. And you just dig yourself up a further hole. (2GM)
Another participant from Site 2 reported that her partner had lost his job due to attempting to commit fraud at work and had found it difficult to gain employment since:
He'd got himself in such a mess that he'd try and [de]fraud the company to pay the debt and got caught. Luckily, he got caught before it actually happened. But still, it's horrific to think that he would plan all that … Put a dodgy receipt in to pay it off and never do it ever again ... So, once he got the sack, it actually got out why. So, he's wrecked his career … It's been about five or six years. So, he's still trying to get jobs. And yeah, just often gets to the interview and doesn't get there. So, I often wonder if they ring his old company to get a reference ... A lot of our marriage problems was also financial arguments that I had to go more hours and work harder and stuff like that. (2SOF)
Two people who gambled, one in each site, reported that they had served significant jail sentences for crimes related to gambling. One male reported he had served multiple sentences for gambling-related crime resulting in him spending much of his adult life incarcerated:
I've actually been to jail through stealing to go gambling. You know like drugs and gambling. I don't know, it's very hard, I will say, ice and gambling go hand-in-hand together ... Seven times in total ... No violence ... Shop theft. Large amounts. (1GM)
A small number of participants in both sites reported that unregulated sex work occurs in EGM venues, with some noting that 'it's not as tolerated as it used to be' (2P). Sex work was reported as a means to earn money to pay off gambling debts:
Sex workers. I don't think there's a venue that I've got that does not have, does not know of that sort of service ... One of my venues, it was [happening in] a big car park. (2P)
In some cases, they will be forced to carry the drug into the country and selling the drug on the street. And some other types of selling [sex work] ... If they female gambler, they could sell themselves for money. (1LRV)
In Site 1, some residents and professionals reported drug trafficking being undertaken as a consequence of gambling debts, which often resulted in criminal prosecutions and jail sentences:
My experience, I saw one of my friends who never had any experience in gambling before. The first time she gambled, she won $2,000. Since then she started getting into it and eventually she lost everything, including trafficking or buying and selling drugs. (1LRV)
We're talking about a loan shark who lend money per month. The lowest one is 15% into - up to 30%, okay. So, we take an average 20%. If you've got $10,000 - then one month you have to find $2,000 to pay. And no negotiation … if you pay $2,000 interest a month, the debt's still sitting there, $10,000 ... And they also have multiple debt … to different people ... They may have $50,000 of that but owed to four or five people so the pressure ... And that leads, some people had to - like, for example Vietnamese people dealing drugs to find some money or grow marijuana … I've got a Vietnamese client referred to me by correctional and she said that because of that $40,000 debt she cannot pay, she under a lot of pressure and someone advised her to grow marijuana ... And some people even go overseas to carry back some heroin back here … So, it happen quite often ... The last time I went there [women's correctional centre], there were about between 40, 45 Vietnamese women in the prison. And most of the women is - had to involve criminal activity, you know, in order to repay the [gambling] debt. (1P)
Borrowing from friends and family strains relationships and isolates people who gamble
All participants who gambled reported borrowing from family and friends to help pay for essentials such as rent and bills and/or to fund further gambling.
I've borrowed money from every single member in my family and 80% of them I've not paid back … They'll be there for me if I ring up and said, 'Hey, I need to go to hospital, I've broken down' ... But if I ring up and said, 'I need $50', they'll go no. Anything to do with money is a taboo now with my family. (1GM)
A person who gambled, who borrowed from friends and had served a jail sentence for gambling-related crime recalled how debts with friends isolated him further from his support network:
And I haven't got a friend in the world now because I would have to tell them that many lies that I needed the money for ... Once that bug [gambling] hit, you've got to lie, you've got to borrow, you've got to steal ... There was nothing that was going to stop me, not even handcuffs. (2GM)
A sister of a person who gambled described that she and her mother were often asked to pay for living and gambling expenses for her adult brother, creating stress for the whole family:
He doesn't have money for his bills and then she [Mum] pays the bills ... Well, then it means that Mum's stuck in the financial situation. 'Cause obviously her finances are stressed and she's emotional. (1SOF)
Strains on finances also caused guilt for people who gambled, finding they could no longer provide their usual level of support to family:
Plus my stress in losing. Gambling never go good. I used to send money to [overseas family] for the past. I didn't even give them that last Christmas. When you are a gambler, you cannot do charity more. All you think is you put it in the pokies. (1GF)
Further discussion of social isolation experienced by people who gambled is provided in section 5.4.
In both sites, many participants who gambled reported spending household money to fund gambling without the knowledge of their partner, often accumulating significant debts for both parties. Financial abuse - including how this is defined in the context of gambling - is relatively understudied and requires more research to understand the dynamics and issues involved.
Superannuation and redundancy payments used to fund gambling
When other income had been exhausted, some participants who gambled in Site 1 reported spending superannuation or redundancy payments. They lost very large sums; this could result in difficult financial circumstances that were compounded by a reduced earning capacity. One participant was unable to afford the expenses of owning a car, and reported:
I lost my super on pokies [almost $100,000 in the mid-1990s]. Nine months later, I couldn't go into the bank, I had nothing in there. (1GM)
Another person who gambled described taking a redundancy payout in order to pay off credit card debts:
I am gambling everything ... [then work] offered some [redundancy] packages ... I have to take it because my credit card is soaring [due to] gambling debts … $30,000 in credit cards ... All my supervisors said insane for me because I'm earning a lot of money … I said, 'And I'm [early 60s], I'll get all my super. I'll get about $300,000 super and I had $100,000 in redundancy … I [lost] … nearly $300,000 superannuation [in] four years … gambling. (1GF)
However, for this participant the losses did not stop with her superannuation. She also reported redrawing over $100,000 on her mortgage and was still spending about $1,000 a day on EGMs.
Only one participant in Site 2 reported using superannuation to pay for gambling debts. In this case, the partner of a person who gambled described the financial support received from extended family to help them repay gambling debts of over $40,000, which included a component where 'his mum got some super out' (2SOF).
Financial and emotional support provided by family and its role in helping families, particularly in Site 2, to recover from substantial gambling debts is discussed in more detail later in this chapter.
The following section describes how participants who gambled and had experienced harms were unable to contain their spending, resulting in their inability to meet day-to-day needs for themselves and their families. These harms are described as crisis harms, as they result in an inability to meet basic needs.
Participants reported that money needed for essential items such as food, transport and housing were frequently diverted to fund gambling. A person who gambled in Site 1 estimated she spent between $200 and $250 a week on gambling, which has created ongoing housing stress and transport issues. Having recently reduced her car insurance coverage, she subsequently lost her car in a collision:
I can't pay my rent on time ... I am a month behind at the moment ... And then recently my car met with an accident and I couldn't buy a car, it went through the house ... and also I had changed, you know, my insurance from comprehensive to third party so I'm not getting any [compensation to replace my car]. (1GF)
Difficulties in maintaining or purchasing a car were reported by several participants in Site 1, but no similar instances were reported in Site 2. For these participants, this resulted in the further shrinking of their social world, and limited access to a range of opportunities for employment and alternative recreational options.
Food stress vs restricting discretionary spending
Participants in Site 1 were more likely to report food stress than in Site 2, reflecting the particularly strained circumstances of many in this more disadvantaged area.
A single parent with two adolescent children with significant disabilities in Site 1 reported:
[Because I have no money left after gambling] I've stopped eating just so that they can all eat 'cause … I cook … just enough for all of them without including myself. I've lost a shitload of weight. I feed all of them and then when I go to dish up mine, they've already finished. And they go, 'Is there more?' So, I have to give them my food. (1GF)
Professionals identified food stress as common among people who gambled in Site 1:
People would come to us for food parcels but they would tell me how they've been, you know, down the pokies or at the bingo … (1SO&P)
Participants in Site 2 were more likely to report reducing the quality of food they purchased when debts accumulated after gambling losses:
We just ate more basic food … like powdered milk. I would make up the milk. So, that would last ... I'd buy the $1 loaf of bread. (2SOF)
You know, our quality of life changed and stuff like that. And maybe a little bit for the kids too. But then, they're young and adaptable. And gosh, we're not - we're not desperate or anything. (2SOF)
Participants who gambled in Site 2 also reported managing losses by restricting other discretionary spending:
So, if you've just blown a couple of hundred bucks on the pokies then you sort of tighten up for the next week or so and think oh I'd better not spend pittance on - any money on anything else. (2GM)
Random shopping y'know, buying that shirt that you might like in the window or go and spend 150 bucks in a restaurant or y'know, buy really, y'know, an expensive bottle of wine rather than a cheap bottle of wine or things like that, you, for me anyway, I mean, I tend to sort of like if I've, y'know, you've got sort of, you know, a balance sheet floating around in your head the whole time ... I'm lucky that I can afford to lose 200 bucks and it doesn't really matter. (2GM)
A professional in Site 2 explained how gambling in more advantaged families may have less severe immediate financial consequences:
We had a client come in once and she was paying for [her husband's] golf membership … and I pointed out to her that until she stopped doing that he wouldn't feel the effects on his gambling. They were relatively well-off. But they weren't getting anywhere … they weren't paying the mortgage off at a rate they could've for instance … whereas with both of them working they could've been doing a lot better. It concerned the wife. It didn't concern the husband. But she was bailing him out by paying for his luxuries. (2P)
People who gambled and significant others in both sites reported payments for housing and utilities being diverted to gambling, with around half the participants in each site reporting harms ranging from rent or mortgage arrears, to redrawing home loans to mortgage foreclosure.
A total of five participants (of 44) who gambled across both sites reported the forced sale of their family home due to gambling debts (three in Site 1 and two in Site 2):
Lost my house and yet we [had] owned it [outright]. (1GF)
An additional three professionals in Site 1 described clients who had recently been forced to sell their houses due to gambling debts, and another two participants in Site 1 described their houses were in imminent danger of repossession due to escalating gambling debts.
Another participant who had experienced serious gambling-related harms that started when she turned 18 - more than two decades ago - reported never having been able to save a deposit for a house in the first place:
I could get my … bank account statements out and ... if I added it all up over 22 years, well that's my house that I don't have. (2GF)
Several participants in both sites managed their gambling-related housing stress by returning to live with family members:
I was um just in rentals and have been ever since, to the point of um six years ago I got to the stage where I was homeless. And I stayed with my daughter for a few months and then I got some help and … eventually … I got transitional crisis housing and, then, I have now got permanent public housing. (2GF)
A small number of people who gambled in each site described periods of homelessness. One participant from Site 1 described staying in a hotel at a local EGM venue:
I've had homeless problems before … They've [venue] got cheap rooms … it's $69 a room [per night] ... I've stayed in the rooms and played [EGMs] ... I think they're about the cheapest [place to stay]. The rooms aren't the best but you're not really in the room, you're in the gambling part, so. (1GM)
Those who reported homelessness in Site 2 were not long-term residents of this area and described somewhat more transient lives than other study participants in this site. All described living either interstate and/or across Victoria for long periods of time. One reported having lived in a motel in regional Victoria with five children:
We had nowhere to live. I was with bags and backpacks all day until we'd get a motel room, which would be $130 for the night or I'd make a deal with them, $700 for the seven days. But I would still gamble the rest of the money away. (2GM)
Another Site 2 participant described a more mobile life than many other participants and reported developing gambling problems while living in other parts of Australia:
I've had a gambling problem since I was in my 20s [over 30 years] that spanned Canberra, Queensland and Victoria. Um I've lost a home, I've lost quite a bit over that period of time. I'm now on a pension, so what I gamble is limited to what I get. (2GF)
Another, reporting periods of homelessness as a result of gambling beginning after his mother's death in Queensland, described the stress of relying on friends across Melbourne for support. More recently he had been evicted from his rental property twice:
Look it must have been a year or so … Just bumming on people's couches and you'd shower once a week or, you know, it was really tough like and then you'd put people out and you'd feel really bad. So, you'd hang in the parks until like 9 or 10 at night, till those people went to bed so you wouldn't see them. You'd have a key to the house and stuff and that's fine but you'd still feel bad. (2GM)
It was more common for professionals in Site 1 to report their clients with gambling problems were facing homelessness. They also noted that their financial problems often involved high interest loans from payday lenders with an increasing number of 'lenders of last resort' moving into the area:
[Some of my clients are] getting very close to homelessness because they're prioritising their payday loans over their rent ... We offer like vouchers … People do come in not being able to pay for their food … nappies, that sort of thing. (1P)
A male who gambled in Site 1 described waiting over 25 years for public housing before being allocated a unit next door to an EGM venue, which he subsequently frequented.
Coping with debt by eroding assets
Overall, the reported experience for the majority of people who gambled and their families in Site 2 was markedly different and participants in this site generally had more financial resources to draw on to buffer them from major crises - either their own or assets of extended family. While assets had been significantly eroded, these participants more often reported the ability to avoid the loss of their home or family relationships.
For instance, one participant whose marriage had broken down due to gambling had managed to maintain relationships with his extended family and had some ongoing contact with his child. He had maintained his permanent employment and was able to access leave to seek treatment for gambling problems. However, curtailed time with his child was an ongoing stressor.
The degree of social and financial capital described in the Site 2 area was much higher:
My best mate's reaction was awesome … So my mum and my two sisters know … and my mother's fantastic … We've borrowed large - substantial amounts of money from her to help get through ... The other brother has been reasonably supportive that knows but also supportive in - in the right way. He hasn't asked too much … They lent us a bit of money to help us out. We've paid them back. (2GM)
One participant who gambled in Site 2 who 'grew up in a family where gambling was what happened in the family, all day, everyday' remembers his family's financial circumstances as being frequently constrained throughout his childhood because of gambling. He subsequently had gambling problems himself as a young adult but reflected on how shared values with his life partner had contributed to a financially and emotionally stable family life and recovery from gambling harm:
Look we, we think that we're just average people and - but we've been married for 35 years and we know we're very lucky to have had two children and they're both quite comfortable … So we, we do feel very blessed ... But we, we wouldn't want to be in a position where we blew it, do you understand? ... I'm actually retired ... We own our house, we live comfortably, go on holidays. (2GM)
A partner of a person who gambled in Site 2 reported the steps she had taken to ensure her family were insulated from her partner's gambling debts. They included negotiating for the family home to be put in her name and returning to part-time work. The couple had also received substantial financial and emotional support from her partner's family:
I used to [have financial difficulties] because when I had my younger children and before that … I didn't go to work but now I got some part-time job and then I got … certain amount of income so that makes me feel more secured ... [Our house] used to in, under both our name but last year he agreed to put it all under my name. I think he probably knows about he can't control himself ... So for me I think the financial pressure not that big. (2SOF)
Several families experiencing gambling-related harm in Site 2 reported the help of extended family in reducing debts and providing emotional support. For instance, the partner of a person who gambled in Site 2 reported that her extended family helped to bail her partner out of significant debts:
He owed probably about $8,000 then. And then, yes, we fixed - my parents paid and he paid them back over time and had some counselling … I found the strength I didn't know I had. And felt - lots of family and support and friends around me. (2S0F)
Another participant in Site 2 reported that extended family paid off her partner's gambling debts:
We found out his gambling habit during that time is very bad and he owed about … $40,000 and then his family [were able to help him]. (2SOF)
There were no similar reports of debt repayments by extended family in Site 1.
A number of participants in Site 2 who had previously been stay-at-home parents reported returning to work to relieve the financial strain of gambling debts on the family. In both sites, participants who had mortgages reported drawing down on these to fund gambling. However, in Site 1 people who gambled and had experienced harm generally had fewer assets to buffer them from crisis harms:
There was a secondary home loan account that had $40,000 in there and my dad had withdrawn it all and gambled it all away ... Yeah, it's just sucked the life out of them. This gambling. So yeah I've actually said to my mum, you know, what if you guys can't meet your repayments or, at least, you'll have to sell. That's the reality. (1SOF)
I probably had access to over a $150,000 ... Money I could take off the mortgage ... When I started gambling I had a mortgage of $350,000. I now have a mortgage of $650,000. But my house is worth $1.2m. But … I could've sold up and probably had no mortgage during this time, right. I could be starting to buy investment properties. (2GM)
The effects of gambling were significant in Site 2, and the erosion of assets was problematic, but participants in this site were less likely to report experiencing financial crises that they were unable to recover from. As this person who gambled in Site 2 went on to describe:
I'm paid extremely well … in the vicinity of a quarter a million a year. While I could be way better financially off, it's not dire … My kids don't miss out on anything … They still do two sports per week and get … a computer for school and stuff like that … iPods and you know … But financially for my retirement, financially what I'd be able to give my kids, maybe to help get a house and stuff, which is what I was planning on, I probably don't have those options … We could be much better off, my wife shouldn't really be working at all, she had to work … I've had to wait six months to buy, you know, an extra charger for an iPhone, that's how bad it got right when I had to wait six months to, to fix a broken dishwasher, we went six months without a dishwasher. (2GM)
Reduction in earning capacity and job loss
Reduced work performance and, in some instances, job loss due to gambling had immediate effects for people who gambled and their families. Anxiety and stress from gambling-related worries intruded in to work hours. Participants commonly reported reduced performance at work as a result of gambling:
I'm a senior person so I didn't have to be in the office … You could work from anywhere. So that enabled me to hide a bit and … not work as hard probably or … come in late or sleep, you know, stay like, back until 4 am and come in at 10 o'clock … At times I was able to get away with not, not functioning at work ... I wasn't on my game and functioning ... I got retrenched in the end. (1GM)
A number of people who gambled reported leaving work early to gamble:
I risked [my job] a few times too … If I got the chance to get out of there, and just disappear for a few hours, I'd do that ... But … when you start missing meetings and things because, and having to make up excuses for, oh I wasn't feeling well and I just had to go to the doctors … you start lying to people about it. (1GF)
If I have the money in my pocket, I work, I tell my boss lie. 'Oh I have to pick up my son at school today 2 o'clock.' I went home early two hours and then I straightaway to the machine ... Everybody, not only the boss. My wife, my children, everybody, as long I get to the machine. (1GM)
Gambling through the night resulted in exhaustion leading to underperformance at work, and ultimately job loss:
I spent too much after midnight so it takes me daytime [morning], like today so I had to start work at 11 o'clock but I feel sleepy … I did that regularly for a couple of weeks and then my boss … wasn't happy with my … work performance, I lose my job. (1GM)
As one significant other in Site 2 reported (see also section 6.1), the whole family bore the stigma after her partner was dismissed from his employment for attempted gambling-related fraud:
So, once he got the sack, it actually got out why. So, he's wrecked his career. So, that, we've had to live with as well. (2SOF)
Unemployment was linked to an escalation in gambling by some participants who gambled, who described frustration with not being able to find employment despite spending many months searching for work.
The severity of financial losses left a painful and devastating legacy on gambling participants. Professionals working with clients experiencing gambling harms reported many who had lost large sums of money in both study sites:
There have been some cases where it's gotten to the point of bankruptcy. Losses of house and assets and things like that where it has gotten way out of proportion and they have had to really lose everything because of their gambling behaviour. (1P)
My largest client ever … as far as numbers of debts, lived in [Site 1] … She had 15 credit cards, three personal loans, a home loan and a husband. (1, 2P)
I've had [an elderly] lady who did $2.5 million on pokie venues. I've got [another] who's done $200,000 worth of credit card on horses and online betting. (2P)
Another participant who gambled was working with a financial counsellor and intending to apply for bankruptcy at the time of interview:
Because of gambling of - my financial debts are still shocking. I still haven't faced them all ... thousands and thousands of dollars in debt ... We are going to apply for bankruptcy. (1GF)
A recent study estimated that gambling costs Victoria $7 billion annually in social costs (Browne et al., 2017), which is more than four times the state taxation revenue ($1.6bn) generated by all forms of gambling (ABS, 2016).
The experiences of financial harm reported in this chapter demonstrate the ways in which gambling can have devastating effects, not only on people who gamble but their families and friends. Small losses were reported to escalate to very large amounts of money for many participants, with some reporting spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars a day. The effect of this was to deplete available assets. Where assets were already limited or non-existent, participants who gambled reported resorting to loans, including high-interest payday and informal loans. Mounting debts could cause food insecurity, housing crises and homelessness.
Those with social and financial capital eroded assets to avoid crisis and/or drew on family resources for support. The legacy harms resulting from the depletion of assets, including loss of superannuation, homes and bankruptcy, are long lasting and likely to affect the ability of many participants to adequately provide for themselves and their families in the future.
Many participants who gambled reported obtaining access to lump sums, drawing down on superannuation accounts, spending redundancy payments or using a reverse mortgage to fund gambling.
Our data suggest that financial institutions should be alert to large-scale withdrawals or transfers to cash accounts, particularly where other parties (e.g. partners or spouses) are unaware of such transactions, as these may be indications of gambling harm.
These harms were compounded by the loss of earning capacity for those already in work, and by the loss of employment due, for instance, to reduced productivity or unexplained absences. Food and housing stress was more likely to be experienced by those already in impoverished circumstances. Participants reported that in extreme cases, people who gambled resorted to crime to fund their gambling.
Many participants described using credit cards to support gambling, and the harms this caused. The high interest rates attached to credit card debt causes overall indebtedness to escalate even more quickly than it might otherwise. Credit cards are often available to people with limited alternative forms of credit at their disposal. Our data suggest that the impacts of the use of EFTPOS cash transactions in gambling venues require further investigation.
This chapter also reported evidence of harms experienced as a result of short-term lending through formal payday lenders, who charge high interest rates. The effects of these services on people who gamble and their families also requires further investigation.
8 Observations also noted much larger sums of money being lost. This is an average amount and actual losses are dependent on the volatility of the machine. It is possible gamblers could lose more or less money.
9 Previous work has demonstrated the limitations of self-regulation in this area (Rintoul et al., 2017).