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Addicted to gambling


I’ve studied gambling from the perspective of a counsellor, which is somewhat intriguing.  Random positive reinforcement is a powerful factor.  Another issue is that people ‘get something’ out of gambling; think of the person who feels his or her life is pointless or powerless, but gets a real buzz from a win on the gg’s or pokies.

My grandmother was a wealthy woman after her divorce settlement from her first husband who ran away with another woman in the 1950s.  She was even more wealthy after family members left their estates to her, but her second husband gambled it all away.

When I was a young adult – 18 years old – my violent, abusive husband allowed me to have two nights out with girlfriends from high school after he’d smashed my 2 front teeth and irreparably damaged my left incisor, as well as damaging ligaments in my left wrist, leaving me with bruises barely able to talk…

On both girls’ nights out,  we went to the Casino – notice the capital letter preceding casino – in Hobart.  I allocated myself $20 for gambling.  Time makes my memory fuzzy so I’m not sure if that $20 was also for drinking or whether it was just for gambling.

On both occasions I came home with significant change – more than $10 – of that $20.  Why? Why wasn’t I suckered into the casino and gambling culture like the victims of Crown Casino as per 7:30 Report this evening (the locals, the ordinary Mums and Dads who can’t afford their gambling, whose gambling robs their families of food, who weren’t really investigated by tonight’s 7:30 report).

I suspect that the reason I didn’t get hooked was clear and present.  I’d seen my step-grandfather gamble away the latter portion of the family fortune, including a heritage house in Newtown (close to Hobart’s CBD in the beginning of a real estate boom for that suburb) that was sold for a sum that made no appreciable difference in lifestyle (I was living with Grandma again during the restoration of this property and after the sale).  Also, in the late years of primary school (when I was 9 to 11 years) I went hungry while my mother and step-father fought out the last bitter moments of their de facto relationship, which included forcing me to watch while my half-brothers and half-sister ate sufficient while I went hungry at the end of each pay-period.  As my step-father was a teacher, we should have been comfortably middle-class.

I ended up being obsessed with having enough money to live on.  I didn’t get hooked on gambling, but I can understand why others escape their desperate lives by resorting to gambling for that high.

James Packer is aiming to raise new casinos in Sydney and Brisbane to prey upon the ordinary Mums and Dads whose lives are so bland or unbearable that gambling gives them a natural high.  Claims that the casinos would prey on wealthy Chinese businessmen are acknowledged to be superficial and unrealistic by the 7:30 Report, while the real targets are intended to be your neighbours whose kids will go hungry and cold as a result.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


  1. The misery left by gambling is one close to my heart; thank you for sharing your thoughts on it, although I can’t help also being moved by your survival from domestic violence. Such accounts sicken me and I fear for those still trapped in such relationships. The other element to understanding problem gambling is that, apart from the partial reinforcement modelling the EGMs use to ‘hook’ addicts you mention, there is also a personality type that responds favourably to the stimuli. It is actually classified by DSM IV as an ‘Impulse Control Disorder’, making a cohort of the population vulnerable to injury from this activity. The Productivity Commission’s report indicated that 40% of gambling income is from problem gamblers – an outrageous situation. I can only hope that with the continuing work of Nick Xenophon that legislation curtails the greed of gambling purveyors and people get the help they need. Perhaps with increasing awareness of the ‘duty of care’ some of the losses incurred by problem gamblers can be recovered by legal avenues.

    • Unfortunately the government is as addicted to gambling – revenue from taxes and in bed with big business – as the problem gamblers.

      Your comments are well-informed but I’d also like to add that studies have shown that intermittent positive reinforcement occurring in gambling is the most effective formula for repetitive behaviour, regardless of impulse control issues.


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