Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Australia owns twenty per cent

of the world's "pokie" machines - "fruit" machines if you live in the United Kingdom or, I think "slot machines" in the United States. They do not bear fruit and you are likely to fall into a slot if you use them - but people still do.
They are a highly addictive form of gambling, perhaps the most addictive there is. To play them requires absolutely no skill and the "reward" (result) is almost instantaneous. Any psychologist will tell you that will encourage the player to keep playing. They were deliberately designed that way. Why else would anyone keep pushing a button in order to lose money? Oh yes, there is the hope that you "might win the big one".
All the casinos have poker machines and there is at least one casino in every state. Half the poker machines are in New South Wales but, apart from the casino, Western Australia does not - as far as I am aware - have any.
In Australia the laws which regulate gambling and, in particular, the use of poker machines vary from state to state but the machines themselves bring in more revenue than all other forms of gambling combined.
Governments - both state and federal - are addicted to this money. It is one reason why trying to reform the poker machine culture is so difficult. The ALP (Australian Labor Party) is also addicted. They receive "donations" from "clubs" owned by "workers". These are thinly disguised clubs indirectly owned by the union movement. Other political parties receive less revenue from gambling but they do benefit. Football "clubs" depend on the revenue from poker machines. The RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) depends on them.
Much direct and indirect employment depends on gambling. It is seen as a form of taxation - taken from those prepared to pay it.
That some people are unable to stop, can and do lose everything they own is seen as a problem but it is seen as less of a problem - or someone else's problem - than the financial and political cost of calling a halt to gambling
For a long time my state, South Australia, did not have pokie machines. Day bus trips used to be arranged across the border to Wentworth in New South Wales so that people could "play the pokies". It kept the problem in our state fairly much under control. There is a limit to what you can lose in a day.
I know of a mother (on the pension) and her two sons (both on unemployment benefit) who go to their local pokies venue each day. There they are relieved of almost all their meagre income. They live in a rented property in poor repair. It is filthy dirty. The stove is piled high with old newspapers and magazines. They have no washing machine and rarely visit the laundromat.
Those who know them well say that things were not good before the pokies - but they are a lot worse now. They regularly get food from social welfare groups. One of the sons has this down to a fine art.
Their story is repeated over and over again. The social welfare organisations which have tried to help despair. Nothing is going to change them - except perhaps a mandatory limit on what they can actually spend on the pokies.
There is an answer to the pokies problem. It will not be an answer to the problem of gambling but it would help. We need to gradually reduce the number of poker machines which are available. We need to wean individuals and the government off their dependence on them. Going cold turkey would have a devastating financial effect and, in the current economic climate, it would be unwise to risk the employment of so many people. Gradual reduction and a more diverse and flexible approach to employment in other areas would still see people employed.
I know there would still be a problem with "problem" gamblers and I know there is still a problem with internet gambling, unless the government chooses to block the sites.
The problem however is that all this would be hard work. It would require the cooperation of people who currently benefit from gambling. It is not going to happen. Australia owns too many pokie machines.


Frances said...

I was surprised that you mentioned the ALP as being particularly addicted to poker machines, Cat: I would have thought it bipartisan.
By the way, I do not support any particular party: just ideas.

I hope that you are suggesting that the LNP, not being addicted, would, in power, be likely to bring in some kind of legislation to curb their evil? Yes? No? Should it be left to personal will?

catdownunder said...

I did mention that other parties also receive revenue from them Frances - although I think parties like the Greens, Family First etc claim not to. However the ALP receives far more as a party (as opposed to a government) than any other group.
As I understand it the Coalition was prepared to support mandatory pre-commitment but the ALP was under great pressure not to do this - especially in marginal seats where they could lose votes.
That would, I have been told, have got through. The "trial" in the ACT is however designed to fail. The ALP stands to benefit by a considerable sum and will, naturally, use it as ammunition against the Opposition when it does.

Anonymous said...

Cat is correct. I think it would be reasonable to say that ALL governments are addicted to the income from poker machines but the ALP is also heavily reliant on it as a party - along with the funds it receives from the union movement. They do not want to lose the goodwill of the pubs and clubs.
The numbers were there for mandatory pre-commitment but it would be risking seats the ALP still believes it can win at the next Federal election. That is why they made some quite ridiculous claims about the expense etc. It is politics at its worst I'm afraid. Chris