I’ve noticed that addiction treatment programs rarely assess for gambling disorders. Oh, they may ask a question or two, but that’s about it. Odd, since the SUD population is at elevated risk for a gambling co-disorder.

And gambling disorders are a growing problem around the developed world. Here’s a glimpse into the situation in Australia, from the New York Times.

Losses there exceed $17 billion, about half from video machines. Sixty percent of that total loss comes from so-called problem gamblers— defined as those with an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.

It’s an urge that video machines are designed to exploit– as one source put it, “[to] extract the maximum amount of money from the gambler.”

Now that’s what I call a revenue generator. Reminded me of a 19 year student I met, whose idea of a weekend’s fun was to stoke up on energy drinks and caffeine pills and play video poker through the night. “I feel like I’m flying,” she recalled, ecstatically.

Seniors are another target population. You may have seen those tour buses bringing older folks from senior centers for a day of unstructured giving to the casino industry. I’ve seen long racks of those mobility scooters by the casino entrance, complete with side bags for portable oxygen tanks.

I believed that the principal lure of gambling was the chance at a jackpot, but apparently that’s not it at all.  Psychologists insist that for many gamblers, the goal is to enter and remain in ‘the zone’– a psychological state where the external world recedes and is replaced by a continuous repetitive cycle of play. As in, press the button. Press the button again. Press again. Win/lose. Start over.

Imagine how immersive this will be once the next generation of Virtual Reality devices arrives to replace conventional machines. You could almost disappear inside the experience.

Easy to see how destructive this can be to any semblance of normal life. Why hasn’t the Australian government intervened? Apparently, dependence on the tax revenue from gambling. Australian states, like their US cousins, need the money. The gambling industry knows this. They’re not 100% against additional regulation of online gaming, but they want no interference from government when it comes to those lucrative video machines.

Once cash is flowing into industry coffers, it’s used for high-pressure lobbying. With the legislative process stymied, change has to come through the Courts. In Australia, that means lawsuits about deceptive advertising practices, and promotion of ‘rigged’ gaming.

Let’s hope the juries aren’t stacked with industry lobbyists.


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