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In Australia, casino slots are everywhere

In Australia, casino slots are everywhere

In Australia, casino slots are everywhere

SYDNEY – One by one, men and women tell of lives ruined, relationships cut short and bank accounts wiped out. A young father stares at the ceiling in shame as he describes yet another relapse. A woman on Zoom, clutching her cat to her chest, describes herself as hitting rock bottom.

What united them at this meeting in a monotonous church in a working-class suburb of Sydney?

It’s a slot machine.

In most parts of the world, video slots are largely confined to entertainment cities. In the United States, millions of people flock to Las Vegas or Atlantic City each year to press a button and watch the wheels spin in hopes of winning a jackpot.

But in Australia, slot machines, as they are called here, are everywhere. They are in thousands of hotels and bars in big cities and small towns. They have turned neighborhood social clubs into glittering entertainment towns. In many cities, a walk of more than a few blocks will bring you to a VIP room or VIP lounge.

They’re more prevalent than McDonald’s, said Nick Xenophon, a former senator and prominent opponent. It’s on every street corner. It’s right in your face.

Australia has less than 0.5% of the world’s population, but has 20% of all slot machines – 80% of which are located outside of casinos. The result is a country with one of the worst average gaming losses in the world: about $1,000 per adult per year. Opponents of gaming say that slots contribute to suicide, domestic violence, bankruptcy and financial crime.

Charles Livingstone, an associate professor of public health at Monash University, said, If you look at comparable countries around the world, we are undoubtedly the worst in terms of spending and its impact on communities.

The problem seems to be getting worse: according to one study, the percentage of Australians with gaming problems doubled to more than 1 percent in 10 years.

The gaming industry says slot machines are legal, regulated and enjoyed responsibly by millions of Australians. But many addicts and their relatives breathed a sigh of relief when a strict coronavirus blockade shut down bars, clubs and casinos.

It was probably the most peaceful moment of my life, Sonia said. She says her son has tried to end his life twice since she got hooked on slot machines as a teenager in Sydney. She and the others spoke on the condition that their full names not be revealed, as gaming addiction remains stigmatized.

However, when the lockout was lifted, the financial losses of the slots soared to an all-time high. They are still as strong as they were before the pandemic.

In a country where the gaming industry donates millions of dollars to major political parties and pays billions in state and regional taxes, there is little political will to change. In New South Wales, home to half of the country’s 200,000 slot machines, the gaming commissioner was recently removed from office after pushing for reforms that would protect gamblers at the expense of the industry.

This allows recovering addicts like Emma to make a mistake in the midst of a disaster.

When it was her turn to speak at the Gamblers Anonymous meeting, the quiet woman in her 30s said it had been 306 days since her last gaming session. From her employer, she almost went to jail.

That night, she told the others, she felt the pull of the slots as soon as she stepped out of the house and drove wholeheartedly to the meeting instead of stopping at one of the many bars on the road.

Three hundred days later, she says, I still have that impulse.

The entertainment city at the doorstep

On a rainy Saturday morning in February, two dozen people huddled in a house in southwest Sydney, drinking coffee and studying maps. Five years ago, they won a long-running legal battle against the construction of a slot machine bar near their Casula. But now a developer has bought the cheap motel across the street and is launching a similar scheme.

The impact of slot machines on this area will be huge, warned Chris Moore, a local teacher who led the previous legal battle. There will be 60 to 90 new slot machine addicts.

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