Allison Keogh is a spokesperson for the Alliance for Gambling Reform. Here she tells her story growing up in a household affected by gambling addiction and why Government needs to do more about tackling poker machine addiction.
As a kid, all I knew were Labor governments. I was 10 years old when the Hawke government was elected and 23 years old when Keating lost office.
I was engaged in politics from a young age. I was probably the only kid in school excited about visiting parliament house on a school excursion. Prime Minister’s Hawke and Keating promised there were opportunities for kids like me. I was promised a good education, a decent job and a health care system that would be there when I was sick. I wasn’t to be denied good health and opportunity.
But I didn’t have a normal childhood, because of poker machines. It was more about survival than ambition and opportunity. I grew up quickly in a volatile and tense household. I had enormous responsibilities and study was low on the priority list. I suffered stress related health issues.
Ultimately, I lost a parent to addiction.
Addiction to a product that I have since come to learn was designed for that purpose – to create addiction. My mother wasn’t the person to blame – these machines did exactly what they intended to do.
I began speaking about my experience in 2013 after a long period of research - reading Productivity Commission reports, academic papers, and seeking out the stories of others. I made the decision to re-live the pain and share it with others because we were still invisible, misunderstood, stereotyped and often shamed into silence. The voice of the industry was so much louder than ours, resulting in no balance or fairness in the debate.
Most importantly, I felt a sense of responsibility to the generations of people after me, going through the same hell. As a kid I felt alone. But I now know I wasn’t.
Up to five million Australians are impacted by this problem, right now. People are suffering.
As a Board member and spokesperson for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, I am able to bring a greater voice from a lived experience to the table. Rather than people speaking for us, we are speaking for ourselves. In less than a year, the Alliance has grown to include over 60 organisations from around the country, thousands of individual supporters and is making a real impact. But it will take commitment from political parties to make policy makers listen to those hurt by these machines, and not those who profit from them.
When it comes to poker machine reform, and caring for those who most need help, it is core Labor values of equality and a fair go that will help to address the issue in the right way.
There are four key areas that would go a long way to addressing the devastating harm that poker machines create.
1. Prevent the problem happening in the first place
The design of the machine is where it all starts. It’s a con. They are designed for addiction and affect the brain in the same way that drugs such as cocaine do. Losses disguised as wins and ‘near misses’ are examples of ways these machines have been designed to mislead and deceive.
It’s time to remove the con, deliberately addictive and unsafe features from machines. The Alliance is not waiting for government on this front. We’re taking the industry to court with law firm Maurice Blackburn arguing that these machines are breaking Australian consumer law.
2. Public Health approach
Thirty percent of people who ‘play’ poker machines end up with a significant problem. And recent research has indicated there is no ‘safe’ level of play. If thirty percent of our water supply was making people sick, it would be a national emergency.
Other health and safety issues have incremental and continual changes for reducing and minimising harm. Just as there is no acceptable level of road toll, and we increase safety measures such as seat belts and speed limits, we need to be looking at regular measures with poker machines. Being able to load $7,500 into a machine in one hit isn’t recreational. It’s madness. Being able to spend $1,200 per hour isn’t the average person’s limit, it’s more than the average weekly wage.
3. Empower communities
In the case of poker machines, many communities feel powerless to fight off the gambling industry – casinos, gambling clubs and gambling pubs.
Fairness in decision making means giving those who are impacted by the decision a serious say in what happens in their community. The gambling industry tell us that they effectively need to fleece the community in order to give back to it. The reality is that they are taking far more than they are giving and harming families and local businesses.
This is about giving the people a right and a say about whether they have poker machines in their local area, where they are placed and how many there are. It’s about a fair distribution of power and influence for people to shape their local communities.
4. Independence and fairness in policy making
There has been a longstanding history of political donations and lobbying from the gambling industry – hotels, clubs, manufacturers. Decision makers need to be independent and empowered, free of undue pressure from vested gambling industry interests, so that they can stand up for the people they represent.
We need voices from all over the country to speak out and start the conversation about the need for law reform to stop the con-job in the pokies. In your union, branch, council or workplace, you can be a part of the movement against one of the most regressive aspects of Australia – the pokies.