The fine line between casual and addicted

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Playing pokies is practically a national pastime here in Australia. While an incredible 80% of adults in Australia gamble, pokies games are by far where most of their energies go. And although the statistics at first glance don’t seem that astonishing – with 4% of adults playing pokies weekly and up to 30% on an annual basis – the feeling changes when we take into account the fact that over 60% of the national gambling spend is on pokies.

This makes sense when you think about how widespread pokies machines are across the country. Nowadays they seem to be everywhere, making an appearance in hotel lobbies, pubs, and other entertainment venues, not to mention all those casinos. Add to that all the online gambling sites and it’s no wonder we’re playing so often. Plus, of course, pokies are fun, so who can blame us for that?

But gambling in recent years has become what is considered a public health issue, and a serious one at that. Some official estimates have it that up to 1% of the local population has a gambling problem, and up to 2% more are at risk for developing such issues. And while no one certainly starts gambling thinking they’ll develop an addiction, it happens to the best of us – teachers, doctors, construction workers, gardeners, and lawyers alike. In fact, there’s no real personality type prone to this problem.

The challenge lies in keeping our pokies play casual (it’s a fun hobby after all). In addition, we need to keep ourselves aware of the potential for going overboard. This means spotting the signs of a brewing addiction and taking actions to address any hint of a problem as it arises.

Casual pokies play – The fun factor

For most of us, playing pokies can be a nice way to spend a couple of hours every now and then. And why not? There are many absolutely legitimate reasons why you’d want to enjoy a few spins on a pokies machine. For example:

• You’re looking to have a little brainless fun – This is perhaps a harsh way of stating the truth, but sometimes we want a hobby that requires very little of us. Sure you can watch television, but perhaps you want something slightly more active, but not quite as active say as going for a run. Playing pokies is a good compromise. It gives you something to do, keeping your hands and head busy without a whole lot of effort, which is exactly what we all want at times.
• You love betting – Some people simply love placing wagers. There’s a thrill in trying your luck and seeing how it pans out. Pokies are essentially an easy way to make bets whenever you want. Just pop your coins into the machine at the casino, or press the arrows on an online pokies game, and you can put your love of gambling to good use.
• You’re hoping for a big win – Likely you’re a reasonable person. You know how it goes; you win some, you lose some. That being said, you’ve got your fingers crossed and your hopes on standby, because heck, somebody’s got to win that jackpot and it might as well be you! So long as you’re realistic about the odds, this is a healthy enough attitude for most of us.
• You love the thrill – Packed with fast moving graphics and rousing sound effects, pokies machines were born to stimulate. Some people just love the action and noise built-in. Each spin gets their adrenaline going and keeps them on the edge of their seat. So if the sensory overload is your thing, then it’s understandable why you’d love pokies play.

Signs of a pokies addiction

Overall, even if you’re playing pokies every day, if you’re doing so in control then it may well be okay. But note, we said control. This is the key. You should only be getting what you’ve budgeted and not letting time spent at the pokies overtake the rest of your life.

If you’re wondering if you’ve got a problem, the answer is likely yes (why else would you be asking?). But there could be more to it than that. To help determine what’s going on and whether your casual pokies play has migrated to the addiction arena, we suggest examining a few things in terms of your gambling habits and attitude. For a good sense, start by asking yourself questions like these:

• Are you spending more money than you can afford to lose on slots?
• Do you play pokies every day?
• Do you use money meant for paying bills or buying other things your household needs at the machines?
• Can you control how long you play?
• Have you found yourself throwing good money after bad, chasing a win on a machine on which you’ve already lost?
• Do you find you have a strong affinity for one particular game, actually believing it’s “the one”?
• Have you ever lied to family members or a spouse about how much you win or lose?
• Do you find yourself thinking about pokies even when you’re not playing?
• Has your boss, co-worker or loved one mentioned they think you have a problem?
• Are pokies getting in the way of the rest of your life?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions we’ve listed it can be a sign of a problem on its own. If you find many of these behaviors familiar, then it’s almost certain that you are at least developing a problem, in which case we definitely suggest getting in control and if necessary, getting help.

7 things to do keep your pokies gambling under control

The best way to beat any problem is to prevent it from ever rearing its ugly head. While avoidance may be the only solution for some, there are ways to keep playing and having fun. To help guide yourself towards healthy, casual play, it’s important to always keep your gambling under control. If you stay aware of how you’re playing, when you’re playing, and why, this shouldn’t be difficult. So pay attention and keep alert, while keeping these five pokies control tips in mind.

1. Give yourself a budget – Or as some might say, don’t gamble money you cannot afford to lose. That amount is up to you, and your lifestyle. For some, it can be $20 a week. Others are happy to spend that in a day on a hobby they love. Of course, if you’re married and/or have children to support, they should be taken into account when you set your pokies budget. And remember, once you’ve spent the money set aside for pokies, that’s it. No cheating allowed on this front, no matter what.

2. Create realistic expectations – Yes, you can win money gambling. But you shouldn’t be gambling with making money as an outright expectation or goal. Know that you will likely lose; be happy if it turns out that you win. The point is to have fun, more than anything, which is what you’re essentially paying for. This is the right way to look at gambling, that is, as a form of entertainment.

3. Set time limits – You wouldn’t rent a tennis court for six hours, or stay in the pool the entire day. The first because it would be both expensive and tiring, and the latter because you’d get wrinkled up and cold. Every activity has its time and its place, so you need to know when gambling’s right for you, and for how long. For example, when you sit down to play set yourself a time limit of say an hour after work, or maybe two hours at a time if you prefer to play on a Sunday. That’s it. The time you’ve allotted, the hour of the day, and the day of the week are all set in stone. Whether you’re on a winning streak or want to recoup losses, you should never gamble for longer than intended.

4. Keep track of your pokies play – Most online casinos have a function that will allow you to see your gambling history. While you may think you remember what you’ve done and how much you’ve bet, it’s a good idea to have a look now and then to see where you really stand. In addition, you could keep a diary or ledger, noting how much time you spent in any given week playing pokies, plus the amount of money you’ve deposited, bet, won and/or lost (these are all different things).

5. Talk about your gambling – If you like gambling, you shouldn’t be ashamed. It’s a legal pastime after all. So instead of hiding it, talk about it like you would anything else. If you played golf or ran marathons you’d likely tell people, right? So whether you win or lose, make sure you let people know what you’re doing. It’s great for legitimizing your hobby and practicing sharing your activities before a potential problem arises.

6. Take up other hobbies – As much as you may love pokies, it’s important to lead a balanced lifestyle. And part of that is having a number of hobbies that speak to different aspects of yourself. For example, while pokies are good for a bit of adrenaline, you also need to exercise your body and mind. So think about where else you can spend your free time, whether it’s speed walking, swimming, bridge, books, or cricket you enjoy. Other hobbies not only cut down on your time spent playing pokies, but they also make your life more enjoyable and complete.

7. Don’t drink and play – True, many casinos have complimentary drinks going around. And there’s a reason for this. When you drink you can easily lose track of time and money, which can cause you to stray from the budgets you set. So while pokies may not require a lot of thought, it’s important to remember they do demand a clear head when you’re looking to stay in control. That means if you want a beer, it’s only after you’re done spinning the reels. While you’re playing, non-alcoholic beverages like coffee, juice or a fizzy drink will have to do.

Places you can get help if you’re gambling too much

If you find you are gambling more than you want (or think is healthy for your mind and soul), there are places you can go to get help. The fact that you’ve acknowledged you have a problem, is, of course, the first most important step to recovery. Next comes confiding in someone. You may want to tell a close family member or friend who you trust, so they can give you the support you need during this process. If you have a pastor or other spiritual advisor you can count on, you may want to confide in them as well.

If you have an immediate problem, you can always call the National Gambling Helpline for free, to get confidential support. Available 24/7, the professionally trained team can help you address what’s going on at the moment any hour of the day, and guide you to more long-term options as well.

Another route you may choose is to visit the Gambling Help Online website. This is an excellent resource both for educational and helps purposes. In fact, even if you don’t have a problem, it’s worth a visit to understand a bit more about gambling addiction as a whole. If you do, however, want to chat, just click the onsite directions to access instant online gambling help. The site also has exact information about gambling help programs and organizations throughout each geographic area of Australia, so again, really worth a look.


There is playing pokies and then there is playing pokies. For many, this fast-paced game of chance is exactly what the doctor ordered – a nice way to spend a few dollars and have a little fun. This is the realm of casual pokies play. However, for a number of Australians, unfortunately, this fun pastime becomes an obsession, leading to addiction issues. The big differences between the two – casual play and addiction – lies in the frequency you play, how much you spend, how in control you are, and if pokies are having an actual impact on the rest of your life.

To stay safe, and keep your pokies play in line with what one would consider a healthy pastime, stay educated and aware. Always watch for how you’re playing and why. And if you feel you need help, don’t feel ashamed to ask. Remember, you are not alone. So go ahead and reach out to the people and organizations you trust. Excellent resources are available around the clock, no matter where you live.

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