Let’s focus on humanity not winnings

WITH the racing season in full swing and Melbourne Cup in the hot seat of our minds, we unknowingly welcome the normalisation of Race Day gambling.

Mother-of-six and former gambling addict Kate Seselja met with me recently to talk about some truths when it comes to Race Day.

Let’s focus on humanity not winningsLast year, the Melbourne Cup race collected $1.5 billion from bets between August and Race Day, and betting systems were processing up to 3000 transactions a second during peak time.

Gambling is a cultural part of the Cup experience, where between two and three million Australians are said to tune in on the first Tuesday of November.

Kate tells of her introduction to gambling as a child while attending school fetes.

Where other kids could have just one go at the lucky envelope game and move on, she was hooked, handing over all her dollars for a stab at a small prize.

What started as a childhood game ended up as a 12-year gambling addiction.

It’s essential to understand the neuropathways behind gambling addiction, which uses a similar mechanism to heavy drug addiction.

The reward system is a group of brain connections linking areas of memory, movement, pleasure and motivation.

When we undertake a number of activities (like eating good food, taking particular drugs or gambling), a shot of dopamine is released in the reward system that feels good and reinforces the behaviour.

The brain changes as addiction develops and we get less reward as time goes on.

This intensifies the hunt for the feeling, despite repercussions.

“It was this vicious cycle training my brain to need that reward, I wasn’t even consciously aware of it,” Kate said.

Kate’s gambling story has led her to found the HOPE project, promoting a sustainably mentally healthy life.

After spending 12 years playing pokies, Kate now says “the biggest issue with gambling is that it’s so widely accepted but such a taboo thing to talk about”.

Kate and the HOPE project work against the taboo and stigma of promoting recovery from addiction.

It may seem unfair to point the finger at such a well-loved cultural tradition but, for some, the races can be a dangerous time and we as a community need to be aware. Sweeps are undertaken in school classrooms and while there’s no harm in the game, it can be the start of something for susceptible kids.

Kate’s advice was that children need to be noticed, and helped to understand what they’re experiencing in the rush of adrenaline and strong pull to the competition.

This advice is applicable anywhere. Kate needed someone to notice her behaviour and reaction to these things as a child.

It can make all the difference sitting down with someone (a child or adult) who seems to get sucked in and just check in with them.

Something to remember about Cup Day especially, says HOPE founder, is that the odds for winning are hugely inflated compared to real life.

“The odds are 1.20 rather than 12.00 on race day. This can instil the thought, ‘oh my gosh, I’m good at this’.
“The races are the gambling industry’s opportunity to produce new gamblers.”

When I asked Kate how to tackle the races (not wanting to give up the fun completely), she gave excellent advice.

“I loved last year with the female jockey that won… I want to hear the stories of success, the personal triumphs.”

Michelle Payne, first female jockey to win the Cup, was indeed an incredible success. Her story was motivating on many levels, including the character of her strapper brother Stevie who has Down Syndrome.

Let’s let the stories be our focus – celebrating humanity rather than winnings, and keeping the hype but shifting the focus.

If you or someone close is experiencing the hold of gambling, contact the gambling hotline (1800 858 858) or talk to a counsellor.