I once heard a story - I don't think it's true - about a man betting big on the pokies way into the night.
He was still going in the dark and early hours of the morning and had already gambled away his wages, lost all his savings and was about to break into his children's inheritance until he finally came to his senses and rang the gambler's help line.
"I've had a terrible night," said the man down the phone, holding back tears.
"Do you really think you can help a problem gambler?"
"Of course we can, sir," said the kind and wise woman from the gambler's help line.
"Well," said the man, "I've just won $100 on this here poker machine and so I hit double or nothing. What should I hit next? Black or red?"
I told you I didn't think it was true.
I read somewhere that one of the worst things that can happen to you in life is to win at gambling at an early age. I am so blessed I experienced the opposite.
Aged nine, I was at my school fete when my mother gave me more money than I had saved in the past nine years.
With the aid of trauma, I have remembered the following details.
As I looked around the fete stalls to spend my fortune, I found the putt-putt golf. Three putts to win $1, and all for only 20 cents.
I blew every cent of my fortune at that stall, including the one and only $1 I won.
Sad and broke, I asked the man at the stall if I could have my money back.
He explained to nine-year-old me that it was going to a good cause.
No wonder I still get nervous at golf when I putt.
Shame on me for blowing all my money on gambling; but, shame on that man for letting me.
Still, I think I learned more at school that particular Saturday than I probably learned in class all month.
This week, the Royal Commission into Melbourne's Crown Casino began its first week of public hearings.
As reported by the ABC, the commission has already shared "harrowing tales of lives ruined by gambling addiction on the casino floor", including first-hand accounts of the ongoing trauma after relationships were destroyed due to addiction.
Nothing surprising here, right? But it gets worse.
A recent study by the University of Bristol in the UK revealed online gambling grew six-fold during COVID-19.
The perennial problem with gambling is that it is addictive. Do people stop when the lockdowns do?
I am not anti-gambling. A lot of football clubs, schools and churches would never have been built without it, and a lot of the clubs people play the pokies at would not be as luxurious without them.
But I think we should all be concerned about the spike in gambling after pandemic lockdowns, increased government subsidies and the current saturation of online betting advertising.
You can't even watch sport anymore without having to endure the high-pressure sales pitch from gambling agencies.
Whether it's Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg sitting on a rocket or basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal doing ... OK, I don't know what he's doing in those betting ads ... the ads for online gambling are relentless. This is no accident.
Betting agencies know gamblers better than anyone. They've done their research.
They know gamblers are fighting their addiction but are weak, so the betting agencies keep up the triggers - just keep tempting them again and again and again until they fall.
I sat near the pokies at a club recently and I noticed a few things.
Although I could see hundreds of poker machines, there was only one cashier window.
All these flashing lights saying "win" were funded by losses.
If someone had no success at one machine, they tried to change their luck by changing machines.
I started getting the horrible feeling that the only person who walked away from the pokies with a small fortune was the person who arrived with a large one.
Gambling in moderation is not wrong. But the level of advertising currently targeting gamblers is anything but moderation.
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