THE tragic story of Ballarat’s Julie Smith, who committed suicide because of a gambling addiction, has echoed far and wide across Australia.
Julie hid her $1000 a week pokie habit from family and friends for 10 years before recently tRaking her own life.
Her sister Tracy spoke publicly this week to urge for problem gambling reforms so her sister’s death wouldn’t be in vain.
Anti-gambling campaigners Senator Nick Xenophon and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie both weighed into the debate yesterday, while Ballarat MP Catherine King said her government was committed to pokie reforms.
Ms King said Ms Smith’s death was a tragedy and highlighted the gravity of problem gambling.
“I understand many people in our community enjoy an occasional flutter at the races, buying a lottery ticket or playing the pokies at the local pub and club,” Ms King said.
“But for some — as in this truly sad case — gambling can be highly addictive and destructive, ruining lives and destroying families, and the biggest cause of this is pokies.
“That’s why the government is committed to reforms to limit the devastating effects of problem gambling, while continuing to allow thousands of Australians to enjoy recreational gambling.”
Ms King said a large scale mandatory pre-commitment trial on gaming machines would soon be held in the ACT.
“We want to introduce electronic warnings and cost of pay displays, along with a $250 daily withdrawal limit from ATMs in gaming venues.
“And we will provide more support for counselling, self-exclusion and staff training.”
Independent Senator for South Australia and anti-gambling advocate Nick Xenophon said stories like Julie’s made a mockery of responsible gambling programs.
“The government just wants to look good and feel good,” Mr Xenophon said.
“But we need legislative change. We are dealing with a dangerous, destructive thing.
“We need reform and we need to look at the lack of accountability.”
Senator Xenophon said Julie’s story raised a wide range of issues, including the need to have smaller jackpots to make gambling less addictive.
“How can this legitimately be called entertainment when it causes people to lose money.”
He said reducing the bet to $1 per spin would cut losses to $120 an hour.
He also said mandatory pre-commitment was vital, along with decent intervention strategies and a duty of care.
“Individuals in all the major parties are concerned about this.”
Senator Xenophon said venue staff should be trained to look out for gambling addicts, as bartenders do in hotels and pubs with patrons who have too much to drink.
“There is stuff we can do. Look out for any signs of visible distress, watch for consistency, if they are playing hour after hour, and make inquiries about their welfare.”
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who withdrew his support from the federal government after it knocked back his proposed gambling reforms, said Julie’s story was further evidence that pokie venues should have a legislated duty of care for patrons.
“They should be heavily fined for allowing problem gamblers to sit at machines hour after hour, day after day,” Mr Wilkie said.