Australians have always loved to have a bet.
In fact, Aussies were playing the traditional gambling game of Two-Up as early as 1798, and by the 1850s, the two-coin flipping game was a staple of the goldfields and spread across the country during the gold rush period.
The love affair with this game still continues today, with Two-Up becoming a beloved staple of many Anzac Day celebrations.
Methods of gambling have since evolved, and Australians now have more ways to wager their money than ever before.
Horse racing, online gambling, lotteries, casinos, and pokie venues are available all across the country, and sports betting agencies and gambling companies currently sponsor the top three sports in the country (AFL, NRL, Cricket) and bombard their audiences with gambling odds and advertising at every opportunity that they get.
New figures show that Australians are losing more money than any other country through gambling, and statistics from late last year show that as a nation we gamble $209 billion dollars per year through all of our available gaming avenues.
Gambling, like many of society’s vices, can result in different outcomes for different people, and gaming activities that can turn out to be life destroying addictions for some people, are often nothing more than an occasional bit of fun for others.
The romanticising of gambling in Australian culture has made us associate gambling with many positive images.
The well-dressed gentleman in a striking new suit, the stunning woman in a designer dress with an extravagant hat, champagne, strawberries and celebrations all play a big part of our nation’s overall idea of what gambling is.
Yet there is one image that many of us have seen countless times that rarely receives any attention or examination, and that is the image of an elderly person sitting at a pokie machine slowly but surely filling the coffers at a casino or local gaming hotel.
And while the bright lights and noises of the pokie machines seem like elderly Australians first choice when it comes to gambling, some would be surprised to know that Lotto is by far the most prevalent gambling avenue, with more than half of the people over the age of 65 in Victoria choosing this method of wager as their chance to win big.
According to a spokesperson from Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, only 20% of the elderly Australians who took part in their study identified themselves as non-gamblers and Australians who are 65 and over are actually had the highest participation rates in a number of different types of gambling.
And the most recent studies done on gambling in the state of Victoria are said to mirror trends across the country as a whole.
According to statistics, 23.46% of elderly Australians play the pokies, compared to only 16.74% of the general adult population, and a whopping 63.5% of people over the age of 65 played the lotto, compared to 46.9% of the general adult population.
Unsurprisingly, elderly Australians also had the highest percentage of both Bingo and Keno players when compared to the rest of the adult population, but bet far less on horse racing and sports than the rest of the country.
While there is nothing necessarily wrong with elderly people choosing to gamble, the reasoning behind their compulsions reveals other social issues that are far more important to the plight of elderly people.
According to a spokesperson for the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, that part of the reasoning for the elderly populations gambling habits comes down to social isolation.
Sadly, many elderly Australians lack the type of meaningful social interactions that the rest of the population take for granted. As people age their social circles can become smaller due to mobility and transportation issues, or the simple fact that many friends from their age group may have passed away or be experiencing health problems.
The pressures of the current day working world also make it less likely for families to take the time to visit or interact with their elderly family members, and unlike many countries from around the world, Australians are less likely to have elderly relatives living with them.
Elderly people whose spouses have died, or who have recently retired, often try to fill the void left behind with gambling as a means to pass free time and attain some mental stimulation.
While elderly Australians should have the right to enjoy gambling just as much as any other group of adults, it’s extremely unfortunate that one of the driving factors behind their penchant for gambling comes out of an internal desperation for interaction.
Gaming venues understand the financial benefits of catering to an elderly clientele and many offer a number of incentives to make the experience more enticing for elderly patrons.
Cheap meals for the elderly, free entertainment that is geared towards the age group, and free shuttle bus transportation are just some of the ploys being utilised by gaming establishments around the country with the hope of bringing in more elderly people
Social events like bingo are also classed as gambling, but the interactive nature and limitations with wagering make these types of games less sinister in appearance and are looked upon as more of a social gathering than a place where people are going to lose their life savings.
A spokesperson for the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation outlined a number of practical tips to lower the risk of problem gambling, and these include setting money limits and time limits for all gambling occasions, keeping track of spending, and taking regular breaks.
Elderly Australian are also encouraged to view gambling as entertainment to enjoy, rather than something to use an escape.
An while there are many elderly Australians who are able to do that, as long as we have elderly people who continue to feel excluded and isolated from the rest of society, I think that the high percentage of gamblers aged 65 and over will continue to increase as Australia’s population continues to age.
Any time that you don’t take the opportunity to reach out to an elderly loved one, you are actually betting that they will be fine without you. And unfortunately for some, this is not always the case.
Now is the time to go ‘all in’ with your time and effort.
If you or someone you know is concerned about their gambling, support is available, including phone support, online chat, and in-person counselling. Gambler’s Help offers free, confidential support 24/7 on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblershelp.com.au.
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