In his recent biography All Bets Are Off, former top Australian Rules footballer, David Schwarz, details his battle with a gambling addiction. Losing some $4 million over his career, he was only able to start the journey back to a more normal life by coming to terms with the fact that his addiction was partly due to not having resolved the inner turmoil surrounding his father’s tragic death many years earlier.
Not everyone gambles at addictive levels that medicate some unresolved pain. However, more than 2% of Australians have mild to severe gambling problems and account for 40% of gaming revenue according to a 2010 Productivity Commission gambling inquiry report. Government statistics further show that over $1,100 is gambled for each adult Australian annually.
Strictly speaking, it should be of no concern to anyone if someone wants to blow their own money on the outcome of a chance event. If someone wants to budget tens or hundreds of dollars on racing, on pokies, on lotto tickets, or raffle tickets, it probably shouldn’t matter if it is money they can afford to lose. For all those who are morally opposed to such ‘wastefulness’, I would ask whether they have ever needlessly blown money on clothes they don’t need, fast food they could live without, DVDs that get watched once, and so on. We all make value judgments and probably all fail to be able to completely justify them by the highest of stewardship standards.
So is there anything wrong with gambling? I’m reluctant to give a blanket opposition to all gambling. Some people won’t even buy a raffle ticket. If I was going to give a $20 ‘donation’ to a good cause, though, then I’d want the tickets just in case of a win! The issue here, however, is that I believe in the cause and not in any notion that I might actually be better off by winning whatever is on offer. The possibility of a win is a side issue. Yet I’m also reluctant to say that there are no dangers in gambling when the statistics say otherwise. Every problem gambler gets their start somewhere, after all. And even if we don’t gamble much, we still may be contributing to an industry that can then improve its position and its resources to be able to set up more and bigger ways to fleece dollars out of others.
I think that some empathy for those who struggle is needed. Addictions are insidious because they callous people with insensitivity to the pain they cause others, indifference to the harm they cause themselves and an insatiable desire for the next big win. In such cases, it’s time to pick up the phone. Knowing when you’re in too deep is an important first step to recovery.