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Pokies. What's to lose if we get rid of them?

Victorian MPs should spend some time in a pokies joint and see the machines' corrosive influence, writes Catherine Deveny.

HERE'S a question for you. How would it harm our society if we eradicated gambling, and, in particular, poker machines? It wouldn't. What would we lose? Nothing. If we banned pokies, people would find other things to do and the Government would find other things to tax.

And if the pokie addicts missed the feeling of losing money, they could just flush half their pension money or their pay cheque down the toilet every week. How can we live with ourselves and support a Government that is raking in $1 billion in toxic revenue from pokies? I can't understand how we've let this happen. It's dirty money. And it stinks.

An article in The Sunday Age, "Pokies scourge creates new criminal class" outlined yet again how poker machines are causing law-abiding citizens to turn to crime to feed gambling addiction. I was sickened for the thousandth time to be reminded of how people's lives and families are being ripped apart by these evil, mindless, addictive one-finger bandits.

I woke today to a beautiful, glittery Melbourne day. The air was sweet and the sky was blue, I popped on a nice frock, fixed my hair, dropped the kids off at school and drove in to Crown Casino.

A mate said: "I work near Crown and see all the pensioners pile out of the tram on my way to work."

"On your way to work? What time does Crown open?"

He looked at me as if I were an idiot. "It's open 24 hours a day."

As I drove into the car park, I was asked to pay for my parking up front. The cold, stark reality of this great monstrosity of greed and broken dreams is that some people, maybe many people, don't have the cash to pay for their parking when they leave. Let alone their mortgage, groceries, petrol, bills, car payments or child care.

As I write this I am sitting in front of a poker machine called Cash Express. There are others, indeed 2500 others. I look around at the faces of the people on the other machines. No one looks happy. Pokies do not bring joy. How bad are these people's lives and how fractured are their souls if sitting in front of a poker machine on a beautiful day at 10am is an escape?

What would these people be doing if they didn't have access to the pokies? Watching telly? Lying in bed? Flicking through a mag? Would any of those pastimes be more valuable? Maybe not, but at least they're cheaper. None of these people around me punching the pokies has walked in here today expecting to be a loser. Despite knowing that these machines are programmed to make losers of them, they each feel as if they're the lucky one. They are mesmerised by the pretty lights, the dark ,windowless room and the electronic music. Their basic instincts have been manipulated by thousands of dollars of interior design, flashing lights and electronic music researched and proven to separate people at their weakest from their money. Their faces don't look happy, beautiful or wealthy. Just sad.

Gambling is theft and deception. It's manipulative, corrosive and it diminishes us all. How are the social misery and catastrophic outcomes that poker machines create worth the bucks they pull in? I challenge the Victorian Government to take an excursion to a pokies joint and spend a couple of hours watching the faces, finding out about the lives behind the faces and then explain to me how any amount of money is worth that kind of cynical revenue raising. Politicians are elected for their brains, education, imagination and experience, so how is raising revenue through pokies the best we can do?

Why don't they just cut out the middleman and tax stupid people, gullible people, sad people, tragic people, addictive people and broken people? Because that is exactly what they're doing. The other day I drove past a pub and a sign next to the entrance to the gaming room read, "Everyone's a winner!" No, they're not. A friend told me about one of her students who works at a suburban pokies venue. A man won $5000 and gave her and another girl $100 each. When he left later that evening the girls had more money than he did.

Judge Roland Williams said he didn't see "any real civilised justification for (poker machines) other than a means of indirectly taxing the people who are too stupid to work out what they are doing". I'm with him. I have trouble reconciling my strong sense of civil liberty with the overwhelming feeling that all poker machines should be piled up and detonated. We humans are weak and some people need to be protected from themselves. We're pleasure-seeking machines programmed to a certain level and type of risk that gambling exploits. We think "It won't happen to me", despite the fact that sometimes it does.

Book Catherine for your next conference, panel or think tank

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Reader Comments (5)

Catherine: please don't interpret this as in support of poker machines. Personally I'd like to see them all detonated as much as you would, if that would ease the problem on more than a temporary basis. But the addiction is gambling, not just to the pokies, which are simply the easiest and most brain-dead way of gambling. You're right about the hypnotic attraction, but think of the forces stacked up against doing what you suggest:

the Clubs
the patrons
the gamblers, problem and non-problem ones
the politicians fearful of losing votes
the you-know-who above all of those who control it and a host of other enterprises.

This isn't a reason to give up on it - great that you have put it out there. All I'm saying is that gamblers will find alternatives, or the alternatives will quickly find them.

I have no clear answers, but I am certain that blowing the infernal machines up - which won't happen! - is just scratching the surface. Part of the solution, seeing that a goodly proportion of the problem gamblers may well be clustered round the things, has to be genuine intervention being exerted by authorities at that point. It's damage mitigation, not problem solution.

That's the hard bit. Look at how poorly 'intervention' has gone in other quarters. It's not about the gamblers, really, though we must remember they have an illness, and are not evil people. It's about the really innocent victims - their families.

The cost of this damage is borne by us - the taxpayers. The profits are gained by those who are just as you and so many others have described them. You want 'evil'? Look no further. They're the ones fighting for the addicts' money.

Denis Wright

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Wright

"But the addiction is gambling, not just to the pokies, which are simply the easiest and most brain-dead way of gambling."

Incorrect. It is often posited that getting rid of pokies will just shift gamblers elsewhere, but it ain't so. Most people who are addicted to poker machines are addicted to poker machines, and don't usually even participate in other forms of gambling.

Poker machines have their own look, feel, style and culture and are specifically designed to be addictive in and of themselves. There are thousands of people addicted to these machines who have never bet on a horse race, played a hand of cards or even purchased a lottery ticket in their lives.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Before crown casino opened, there were no Vietnamese women imprisoned in Victoria. There are currently 54.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Jane: but the pokies have always been available to them, so where's the evidence they won't look for alternative forms when/if they disappear? That seems too simple an explanation to me without being put to the real test. I understand what you're saying, and I see the attraction of environment, but I don't see any research that has put pokies beyond reach of addicts for any length of time before they will modify their comfort zone to an alternative - or opportunities for them to simulate this environment aren't devised for them. I'd need to see how this could have been properly tested in a real-life situation.

If what you say is true, then blow them up! Only, for the other reasons I've stated, you don't have a hope in hell of doing that. There's too much at stake for the parasites sucking their blood. Regardless of any other consideration, that's the real sticking point.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Wright

Dear Catherine,
I've been campaigning against gambling for 15 years, especially Poker Machines. They are evil because the emitted sound & image colour, cover the primary spectrum of the diffused white light & also carry the wave length of diffused sound. Do Ra Me Fa So, La, Te, Do.
Then we may raise or lower the vibration to the next octave.
Including taste & colour virtually all senses are unconsciously occupied & satisfied whilst this unsuspecting / unwitting player remains utterly mesmerised to their play, & then begins to chase their losses till they suddenly are shocked by an empty credit card.
Fat Cat NRL commentators & officials went out into the football communities advocating poker machine gambling under the facade that that Clubs contribute to the community. This is a blatant deliberately dishonest extortion of the facts.
Lots to do yet to tear the peoples bones back from the highly infectious disease of gambling.

April 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPH Duck

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