Domestic violence victims are among those being seriously harmed by poker machine addiction in Tasmania.

Speaking in Burnie today, Anglicare and the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania highlighted the links between trauma and poker machine addiction.

“Often people who’ve experienced abuse or other trauma find that poker machines offer a way to ‘zone out’,” said Anglicare Community Services Worker, Sue Hayman. “People tell us they had no intention of becoming addicted. They were just looking for a way to relax or escape for a while”.

Poker machines are designed to use the brain’s reward mechanism to release dopamine – which provides temporary relief from stress and anxiety. Dopamine delivers a sense of euphoria and is highly addictive.

“Addiction is often a gradual thing,” said Ms Hayman. “People start playing more often, betting more money – and eventually it wreaks havoc in their lives”.

Ms Hayman said easily-accessible local venues were viewed as a haven. “Women in particular have commented that they felt safe in a poker machine venue, surrounded by people but with no pressure to interact with anyone”.

Claire Milligan from the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania said the service had seen countless cases of Tasmanians harmed by poker machine addiction. “Some have lost the family home, others have committed crimes to try to hide the fact that they’ve lost so much money,” she said. “We have also assisted many women whose partners had gambled away the family income”.

“We’ve seen families torn apart and financially ruined by poker machines,” she said. “These are stories of stigma, shame and desperation. Pokies destroy lives and destroy families”.

Anglicare and the WLST said freeing local communities of poker machines would reduce preventable harm to traumatised Tasmanians. “Taking poker machines out of hotels and clubs would have a clear, positive effect in our state, particularly for women and families,” said Ms Milligan.

An Australian research study has shown more than half of the people receiving treatment for a poker machine addiction had experienced family violence.

Burnie has 110 poker machines which took more than $7 million from the local community last financial year.