Gambling addiction linked to 128 suicides in Victoria

Report sparks renewed calls for $1 bet limits, as anti-gambling campaigners lambast Coalition for pandering to pokie lobbyists

Gambling addiction was a contributing factor in nearly 130 suicides in Victoria over the past decade, according to figures released by the Victorian coroner.

The report identified 128 gambling-related suicides between January 2000 and December 2012. Almost all – 126 – were of people with a gambling addiction, while two were of people who were adversely affected by a partner’s problem gambling.

Men accounted for 84% of the suicide toll, with the figure peaking for those aged between 30 and 39.

While the coroner could not identify the type of gambling engaged in by 105 of the people who took their lives, of the remaining 23 deaths, 19 were linked to poker machine addiction. Two deaths were linked to TAB gambling, one to online gambling and one to roulette wheels.

In addition to the suicides, the coroner reported two murders linked to problem gambling, in which someone with a gambling addiction killed their partner before committing suicide.

A 2010 report suggested that gambling was a factor for one in five suicidal hospital patients in Victoria.

Poker machines have been regularly cited as the leading cause of problem gambling in Victoria. Last year, $2.49bn was spent on Victoria’s 26,000 poker machines – down $184m on the previous year. The Victorian government has removed all ATMs from gambling venues.

The coroner’s report shows that gambling-related suicides may be on a downward trend, with two suicides in 2012 and five in 2011, compared with 17 in 2001 and 16 in both 2002 and 2003.

Federally, the new Coalition government has promised to help problem gamblers kick the habit, although it has come under fire for its plans to abolish the national gambling regulator, with a gaming industry-headed advisory body in its stead.

The anti-pokie campaigner Tim Costello, also chief executive of World Vision Australia, told Guardian Australia the figures showed the need to introduce $1 bet limits.

“I’ve known of these suicides for a while because I’ve taken funerals as a minister,” he said. “There are also cases such as babies who died in cars during summer because their mothers have gone in for a quick play of the pokies and forgotten about it. It’s clear that gambling can cause the ultimate catastrophe, not just crime or broken marriages.

“This is an optional entertainment and it’s the state’s duty to protect the vulnerable. It’s not prohibitionist to have $1 maximum bets – people can have their recreation but at a lower cost.

“I think the Victorian government is generally moving in the right direction but that’s because the strongest voice is in Victoria. The reason the Andrew Wilkie agreement [to introduce mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines] was torn up was that the government was assaulted by the pokies lobbyists and Tony Abbott let them stew. I think the federal Liberals are moving in the wrong direction due to fear of that same lobby.”

• For support and information about suicide prevention contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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