Year after year, Aussies lead the world in overall gambling by their citizens. While this results in a fair amount of fun and profit, there’s also a major downside. Far too many residents are classified as problem gamblers, which can lead to financial and physical issues, as well as suicide.

The government of New South Wales is considering a proactive new measure meant to protect punters. If it comes to pass, pokie venues across the state will be assigned gambling marshals. These individuals will ensure that all rules are followed, as well as keep an eye out for problem gambling.

Self-Exclusion and Staff Oversight

NSW has several safeguards that are meant to stand between the patron and serious gambling addiction. Unfortunately, these remedies are less than perfect when it comes to being successful.

For starters, a punter can add their name to a self-exclusion list. The logic is that a person can’t become addicted (or feed an existing habit) if they can’t play.

It’s a good idea in theory, but there are a couple of major flaws. First, the player must initiate the exclusion process. Second, a patron can remove their name from the exclusion list. In either case, those suffering from problem gambling are unlikely to make the best decisions.

Staff members have the authority to intervene, and most have been trained to recognize red flags. However, a 2020 study by the Responsible Gambling Fund found that employees rarely get involved. In fact, some who were interviewed for the study actually thought that intervening would be illegal.

Increased Suicide Risk

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden studied more than 2,000 individuals with gambling addictions. Compared to the general population over an 11-year period, problem gamblers were found to be 15 times more likely to commit suicide.

These numbers are especially troubling when you consider that around 95,000 Australians fall into the “problem gambler” category. One in five annual suicide attempts are linked to poker machines, and around 400 pokie enthusiasts actually succeed in ending their lives each year.

Sad Case of Gary Van Duinen

In 2016, Gary Van Duinen won about $60,000 on pokies within the span of two weeks. This caused his habit to skyrocket, although he was predictably unable to maintain his winning streak.

Problem gambler and suicide victim Gary Van Duinen

Over the next two years, Gary gambled an estimated $3.7 million on pokies and lost $230,000. Then, following a 13-hour gambling session, Gary walked out of the Dee Why RSL at 2am and disappeared. Six days later, authorities informed Gary’s family of his death by suicide.

In the aftermath, it was discovered that Gary was a “diamond” high roller at Dee Why RSL. Despite numerous red flags, and the protests of his family, casino management continued to wine and dine the father and husband.

The court ordered Dee Why RSL to pay $200,000 in penalties. In addition, they must hire a round-the-clock gambling marshal to monitor and engage with punters.

Statewide Expansion

Gary’s mother, Joy Van Duinen, has started a movement called Why Just Dee Why. The objective is to see gambling marshals installed in all pokie machine venues across the state. She’s been joined by a number of supporters, including anti-gambling MP Andrew Wilkie and reformer Benjamin Hamilton.

According to Wilkie, “Right now, venue workers can blame everybody else for failing to protect gamblers. But if venues are required to have a full-time gambling marshal, the buck will finally stop somewhere.”

Additional Reading

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