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Lose the Pokies. An Open Letter to the Legislative Assembly

By Chris Endrey - 28 October 2013 35

poker machines

‘If clubs fail, the economic and social contribution they make will also disappear and at the expense of the broader community’

– ClubsACT

Hahahaha. Nope.

Dear ACT Legislative Assembly,

Do we really need pokies in the ACT? It seems cruel to still need to rake over this in 2013, but life’s not all marriage equality and light rail.  Annually, we’re downing around $180m through the bandits, $13m of which goes to ‘community causes’ – mostly sport. After expenses, the clubs get enough for around 333 Sky Whales. Given the raging eye-spasms so many suffered over just one fabulous Sky Whale, I think it’s prudent to talk about what we’re really getting for all this society-defining economic activity.

As ClubsACT love to remind us in the comments section of RiotACT, there are some essential community services funded directly from gaming revenue. However, let’s not sugarcoat it. These benefits come directly from people who’ve lost money gambling in a system that guarantees they will lose.

The proliferation of pokies and the elegance with which they obfuscate their primary function totally obliterates any idea that the free will of gamers is any safeguard against problem gambling. Cigarette companies are forbidden from even branding their products, so powerful is the enticement. With pokies, we’re literally letting the machines sing for, play with, and ultimately bribe potential problem gamblers, potential mental health illness sufferers, potential suicide victims.

The incredible lure of the machines sees more people gambling at the Ainslie Football Club on a weekday than cheering for the footy team they’re funding on the weekend. More people gambling at the Tradies Club than attending ALP branch meetings. These examples go to the the huge irony of it all. While there are some direct community benefits, the machines represent a distortion that ultimately punishes those communities that are unable or unwilling to suckle from the neon teat.

The Tuggeranong Hawks learned the hard way that no pokies means no first grade team. Pokies-free bars, restaurants, sports teams – not to mention musicians, artists, theatre-makers etc. – are forever fundamentally less competitive for patrons/revenue/public spaces than venues whose chief product is, essentially, nothing.

What would the Canberra Musicians Club do with the $25m the Vikings make annually? It’s a ridiculous thought, but no less ridiculous for mine than giving the equivalent power to a rugby club. If community groups don’t have sufficient public support to survive the free market or compete for public funding, it’s a fair indicator there isn’t much of a community they’re servicing.

C’mon Labor– the federal party has rejected tobacco money. You own the plantation on this one. Divest and rebuild trust with the non-clubs community.

Let’s go Liberals – this is the government’s Achilles heel. ACT Labor own 500-odd machines. In 1800s-speak that’s like owning 20,000 slaves. I’m not sure what you guys think of abolition, but let’s let it stand as a separate issue.

Mayor King-Maker Shane – I’m not lobbying you, you don’t have the numbers.

The large part of our society that continues to be built around pokies represents a distortion of incentives that, for all the riches reaped, ultimately leaves our community a far poorer place to live in. Get rid of them already.

If nothing else, Queanbeyan will thank us for the boost to their coffers.

Hopefully yours,

xx Chris xx

P.S. Thanks for the marriage equality.

[Image by Threthny (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

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35 Responses to
Lose the Pokies. An Open Letter to the Legislative Assembly
qedbynature 8:12 am 29 Oct 13

Think of the innocent bystanders likely to be caught in the battle for the moral high ground! The lilac rinse mob who have a flutter while waiting for the next bingo, the tired overworked brickies labourer who has just popped in for a quiet ale and spin on the way home to his loving wife and family, the frazzled frantic manager who is seeking refuge from the corporate shitstorm. Where would they go? And the CLUBS, standing as one under the great southern cross, how on earth would they continue to make a serious dollar? All those people they employ to assist in their other socially productive feature, selling alcoholic drugs, what would they do if the clubs stopping collecting their poker machine taxes?

No. It is just too hard. Too many uncaring quietly conforming innocents would be hurt if their emotional and psychological walking sticks were suddenly wrenched away and there would be a major disruption to the local alcohol fueled economy. Political parties would suffer!

The status quo must prevail. We owe it to the system. Long may it reign over us.

joingler 8:44 pm 28 Oct 13

I admire the letter from the OP. And I agree that pokies need a serious overhaul. But I think he/she is severely underestimating the benefit of clubs to the community.
The vast majority of those clubs rely on a free venue to meet. And the Southern Cross Club provides such a venue. These various social clubs have a benefit in that people who would otherwise be stuck at home by themselves (and many of them would be) meet in a place where they can find an interest and meet others who share that interest. These people would most likely not meet in any other circumstance. I know that the Southern Cross Club is not the only club that provides such a service.

I am fully aware that these clubs should not be funded by problem gamblers. Which leads me to say that I am against banning of poker machines. This is because people who would usually go to the club to go to the pokies will simply move to using poker machines on the internet which is even worse as there is no one to monitor them.

What there should be is a drastic reduction in amount of pokies. If there are say a maximum of 10-15 pokies in each club (instead of over 50 at some at the moment), the amount of people using them will decrease. Simple supply/demand. If someone turns up to their local club to go to the pokies but all are full, they are more likely to hang around at the club to wait for one to become free. While waiting they can benefit from a socialising with others over a game of pool, watching the game on TV or a social club (see link above). If they know that there going to be no pokies free, then it is highly probable they will turn to online gambling which is just shifting the problem.

As some harvyk1 said (1st reply), we need to remove poker machines from being the focal point about clubs and get back to clubs being a social meeting place. I strongly believe clubs are part of the solation for the amount of isolated people in this world.

Disclaimer: I do not work or have any affiliation with the Southern Cross Club other than attending one of the social groups listed on that page. I have also had gambling problems in the past, but this was not due to pokies, due to sports betting online (a whole new issue)

lostinbias 8:00 pm 28 Oct 13

So what becomes of my occasional cheeky slap on the pokies? Would I have to go to NSW to do that?

AstralPlane 7:26 pm 28 Oct 13

I think the Polo ditched their pokies 5 or so years ago. Along with the CMC they’ve shown you can thrive without them.

LSWCHP 6:33 pm 28 Oct 13

I always approach “open letters” with a heavy heart, because they are always…always…pompous diatribes produced by tedious bores.

Until Now!

That’s the best open letter I’ve ever read by a long shot, and what’s more, I agree with everything in it. There’s a new experience every day on RiotAct! 🙂

Onya Chris. Stick it to ’em.

harvyk1 5:15 pm 28 Oct 13

gazket said :

people loose thousands, Millions, even Billions gambling on the stock exchange every day, there’s no difference.

The stock market isn’t committed to returning only 87%* of your initial investment. In fact the stock market is a good way of increasing your wealth over time. The people who lose out tend to be the ones who try for risky short term gains.

* – I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere around 87%.

Jim Jones 4:36 pm 28 Oct 13

gazket said :

people loose thousands, Millions, even Billions gambling on the stock exchange every day, there’s no difference.

You can’t tell the difference between the stock market and poker machines?

gazket 3:51 pm 28 Oct 13

nice to know 1 pokie is worth .025 of a human slave.

“The incredible lure of the machines”
If you get sucked into thinking a poker machine is your friend well that’s your fault for being week and stupid.

people loose thousands, Millions, even Billions gambling on the stock exchange every day, there’s no difference.

thebrownstreak69 3:49 pm 28 Oct 13

Other than taking money from already financially vulnerable people, the pokies serve no real purpose.\

Get rid of the lot.

Grail 3:41 pm 28 Oct 13

Here’s the Greens policy, showing you don’t really need to lobby them regardless of your irrelevant opinion about the numbers:

Ghettosmurf87 3:39 pm 28 Oct 13

Felix the Cat said :

While I agree in principal and not being a pokie player myself, won’t people just go elsewhere to gamble their money such as online or TAB?

Not really.

The pokies attract people who aren’t really “gamblers” as such, as they are highly accessible and require little to no thought to play.

While plenty of people also lose their life-savings on punting (dogs, trots, sport) and these people are often also found using pokies, I would suggest that they are a quite different crowd to those who only gamble exclusively on the pokies.

It saddens me to see the seniors down at the Ainslie Footy Club/Tradies/Yowani Gold Club who sit at a pokie for hours on end frittering away their pension. It’s like they are seeking the feedback from the flashing lights and noises of the pokie, possibly because they feel neglected by their relatives who never communicate with them anymore.

If the clubs got rid of the pokies and instead held actual community events/gigs/etc and provide facilities that encouraged social interaction, rather than drawing people into being mindless zombies in front of a pokie screen, then perhaps these people might once again feel like they are part of the community, though I fear such times are gone.

Felix the Cat 3:15 pm 28 Oct 13

While I agree in principal and not being a pokie player myself, won’t people just go elsewhere to gamble their money such as online or TAB?

NoniDoll 2:25 pm 28 Oct 13

The Whitlams’ “Blow Up The Pokies” was written for Andy Lewis, their former bass player. He later committed suicide. Lewis also played with The Plunderers and The Gadflys. He was from Canberra.

Not really a contribution to the debate; just a a couple of kind-of relevant facts I thought I’d share.

pierce 2:25 pm 28 Oct 13

I really like the idea of an ACT air force made up of 333 Skywhales.

harvyk1 1:50 pm 28 Oct 13

I’m not apposed to pokies in clubs, and every so often when I’m at a club and drinking a beer I’ll think nothing of throwing a couple of spare dollars into a machine. What I do have an objection to however is the removal of pool tables, lounge area’s and other non gambling entertainment to make space for more machines, in effect building mini casino’s under the guise of a “community” organisation.

What I would like to see is a maximum percentage of “gaming” space which is allowed for pokies. For example a club may have no more than 10% of it’s space dedicated to the machines.

I’d also like to see the machines be moved to a room away from general seating. Again it’s not stopping people who like to put a few dollars into the machines, but it’s no longer the focal point of going to the local club.

Just my 2c.

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