How do you stop gambling before it becomes a dangerous addiction that could ruin your life? By being honest and seeking help, according to gambling behavior experts.
This advice comes too late for a North Queensland woman who was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison after defrauding her employer of almost a million dollars to play a gambling app on her mobile phone.
Tammy Maree Buckley had already spent two and a half years in prison on remand for her crimes before being sentenced in Mackay District Court on Thursday February 3.
Buckley’s sentence comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced ‘gaming disorder’ as a new condition in the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases.
This was approved by the 72nd World Health Assembly in 2019 to come into effect on January 1, 2022.
Professor Matthew Rockloff, director of the Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory at Central Queensland University, said his team’s work was instrumental in the WHO’s recognition of gambling as a disease.
“It’s not that you have no control over your behavior, but it certainly creates an environment of altered control.”
A complex fraud revealed
The District Court last week heard Buckley, of Mackay, commit 202 fraudulent transactions in a year and spend the huge amount of money on a gambling app on his phone.
Buckley was 45 when she got a job as an administrative assistant at a paint store in Paget in 2018.
Prosecutor Samantha O’Rourke told the court that shortly after Buckley started working for All Jack and Paint, she opened a second bank account.
“His methods included replacing his own bank details with creditors, processing bogus business expense transactions and deleting entries from the accounting software to hide his crime,” she said.
“At the end of the month, when the accounts were reconciled, she also deleted the fraudulent entries.
“Pursuing the feeling of winning”
Alarmingly, Buckley was spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars a day on the gambling app.
However, her attorney, Matt Heelan, told the court that she couldn’t actually make any money from the app.
“The game simulates the gaming experience…it’s a poker machine,” he said.
“The player buys chips [with real money] and with these tokens you can play the game and earn more tokens.
Professor Rockloff said that while Australians were the most prolific gamblers in the world, only a small percentage had “pathological” or “disordered” gambling problems.
“People don’t know how much they are spending anymore and they are spending beyond their means,” he said.
“We don’t see a lot of casino-type gambling on mobile devices.
“It makes no sense to spend so much time and money on an activity with no return.”
Professor Rockloff said the attraction was in the feeling players felt when they won.
“Rewards don’t have to be monetary,” he said.
Amnesia claim questioned
Buckley claims she doesn’t remember spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on her mobile gaming app.
Two days after her deceptions were discovered, Buckley went to the hospital and told staff she didn’t remember anything after 2016.
Mr Heelan argued that his client had since been diagnosed with dissociated amnesia due to prior trauma.
However, Judge Julie Dick told the court that a psychologist’s report indicated they were not entirely convinced that she could not remember her crimes.
Judge Dick said Buckley was very stupid to steal so much money to play a game.
“I always condemn people who say they made a mistake… fraud is another class of cases.
“You have to think about it and plan for it, and then perpetrate it.”
And, according to the evidence, Buckley has done it more than 200 times.
“Sometimes people get addicted to games like this and it’s partly to block out traumatic experiences they’ve had in their past,” Judge Dick said.
Professor Rockloff said such an addiction could be a “dissociative experience”.
“It allows you to not think about the problems in your life, or maybe the childhood traumas you’ve had in the past.
“Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution.”
“It’s better to be honest”
In Queensland, the treatment is available free of charge. The gambling service at Mackay is run by Relationships Australia Queensland.
“Face-to-face treatment is free with a psychologist but you can also go to Gamblers Anonymous,” Professor Rockloff said.
“The best thing people can do is be honest.
CQU’s research found that once people abstain from gambling and get the habit under control, their gambling solution problems go away “remarkably quickly”.
However, combine fraud, addiction and amnesia and it’s a problem that won’t be solved quickly.
Due to the time already served, Buckley was eligible to apply for parole when his sentence was handed down last week.
It is unclear if she has applied for parole at this point.