Pokies: joyless, nasty, and on the way out?

This post gives a shout out to hotel owners who are ditching their pokies to create a more family-friendly atmosphere.

And to executives of registered clubs who are resisting pressure to make gambling the heart and sole of the business plan for registered clubs: see here and here.

Let’s be honest: pokies (also known as electronic gaming machines) are joyless, nasty, tacky machines that fleece their users and isolate them from others, feeding addiction and fuelling feelings of self-hatred and despair by those caught up in their web.

As Graham, a gambling addict, says in Welcome to Clubland, Kate Roberts’ compelling PhD investigation of poker-machine gambling in NSW clubs (University of Wollongong, 2021):

…when you’re broke, you spend the rest of your time in depression.  Your work slips, you lose interest in everything other than the thing that’s controlling you. (p 165)

NSW has nearly 87,000 pokies, one for every 94 people (see p 57). Gambling losses include direct financial losses, as well as the distress and psychological impacts of large gambling losses and the impact of gambling addiction on relationships, children and family welfare (see here).

The United States has its gun madness. Australia’s blind spot is its gambling policies, which empower businesses to feed off the addiction and, in due course, the misery of others: see here, and here.

No gambling technology demonstrates this as clearly as pokies – which are engineered for addiction and, in NSW, basically everywhere – a leading revenue source for pubs and clubs.

Industry associations that spruik pokies and gambling are, in public health terms, a vector for harm, little different, really, to the tobacco industry, which also has a documented history of placing its own economic enrichment above all else.

And then there’s the links with organised crime. In FY2021, $95 billion was gambled through electronic gaming machines in NSW.  The Inquiry into Money Laundering via Electronic Gaming Machines in Hotels and Clubs, carried out by the NSW Crime Commission and the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority NSW, found that laundering of proceeds of crimes through pokies was “widespread and significant”, likely totalling billions of dollars.

But could their luck be running out?

NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet has promised, if re-elected, a cashless gaming environment for pokies with a number of inbuilt protections including mandatory self-imposed gambling limits, and a prohibition on using a credit card to fill up a cashless gambling card.

This is a vastly better way of responding to evidence that criminal syndicates are washing their dirty money through NSW Clubs than the timid announcement of the ALP Opposition that it will extend a 500-machine cashless gaming trial.

It’s regrettable when public health becomes politicised, but who neutered the ALP Opposition on this issue?

As the Premier said, “The time for trials is over, the time for delivery is now”.

Not before time, both political parties will also ban political donations from pubs and clubs.






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