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Why are women more at risk from poker machines?

Image: Woman playing a poker machine
Image: Woman playing a poker machine

By Margie Law

Margie is a senior policy analyst at Anglicare Tasmania’s Social Action and Research Centre. She has been researching and advocating on gambling policy for 20 years.

Why are women more vulnerable than men to poker machines?

Well part of the answer seems to be that going in to venues where there are other people but those people don’t talk to each other seems to suit some women. Research has found that women are more likely to gamble in ways that are comparatively isolated, that require low or no levels of social interaction.

So part of women’s vulnerability is linked to how poker machine venues are designed. They are accessible and they are supervised, making people who might in other situations feel vulnerable to violence feel safe (eg people with disabilities, women).

Research also tells us that we are likely to be motivated to gamble as an escape from problems. People with poker machine addictions repeatedly say it’s not about chasing wins, as everyone seems to think, they say they use machines to escape. They talk about the relief of going ‘in to the zone’ where they feel numbed and distant from their problems.

So people are more vulnerable if they are looking for relief from stress. In that moment when they are playing the poker machines, they find that relief. And when the problems are really big ones, the relief they get going ‘into the zone’ is even greater. It makes sense then that as the stresses associated with the addiction increase, people try to zone out more.

And finally, there also seems to be a link between poker machines and family violence – research has found a significant correlation between rates of poker machine density and police-recorded domestic violence. And we also know that more than half the people receiving problem gambling treatment have recent experience of domestic violence. So for some women, this is the stress they are trying to escape.

We’re told poker machines are an ‘entertainment industry’ but there’s not much that’s entertaining about these stories.

 Here are the stories Tasmanian women have told me:


“I have lost so much. I am in $80,000 worth of debt and I am nearly retiring age. I just kept going down.”

“I am forever stressing, getting really worried, asking where is this or that coming from to pay the bills.”

“I worry all the time, and you aren’t eating properly, you don’t sleep properly.”

“We have to go without things, especially going for food vouchers at City Mission. I have even stolen things like nappies or formula but I have been caught by the police and I have been to jail and now I am on a suspended sentence if I get caught again.”


In March the Liberal Government is planning to bring the legislation to Parliament for the new 20-year pokies licenses. This move will extend the licences from beyond just the Federal Group, making it extremely hard for any future Parliament to address the numbers of pokies in Tasmania. Whether or not they can do so will probably depend on our Legislative Council.

Want to read more?

Here is an article explaining that areas with high poker machine density have higher rates of domestic violence.