Sep 262011

I haven’t written anything on the Great Poker Machine Debate up until now. To me, it’s a no-brainer, to coin an Americanism.

Gambling, like alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse, even speeding on the roads for some, is an addiction. Addictions afflict some worse than others and for most of us, not at all. To my mind, thumbing coins or sliding notes into a machine in the forlorn hope of the machine quadrupling my return isn’t gambling. It’s simply wasting money, and time. Even the most addicted poker machine addict will freely admit to the knowledge that these so-called ‘poker’ machines operate on mathematical algorithms purposely written to ensure the only returns worth having go to the owners of the machine. Still, we pathetic human beings tend to live in hope, even as we resign ourselves to despair.
And it’s not just problem gamblers – those so hopelessly addicted to the hope of a massive return for a minor outlay – who are addicted to these machines. Principally, it’s clubs and hotels within our society that are equally, if not more addicted to the income of the machines, as the users of them are to pouring their money into them. Gone are the days when the blue-rinse set would pack onto buses heading for Tweed Heads for a day of pension-popping into slots. These days the ubiquitous machines are in every licensed venue and even some unlicensed to serve alcohol. And isn’t that the irony? These same clubs & pubs are restrained from selling alcohol to intoxicated persons and minors. No-one raises a hue & cry about the pissed patron not being able to pass out, inebriated and chunderous because he/she couldn’t get the drink to send them over the edge. Everyone decries the service of alcohol to minors, yet the sober-as-a-judge, wage slave, gambling addict can pump this weeks wages and credit card limit into a computer, punching buttons endlessly until the money runs out, and no-one complains. Why is that? Is it because said penniless, addicted wage slave won’t be obnoxious to anyone, spew on the people around them or otherwise become a public nuisance? Precisely so. The problem gambler is virtually anonymous. Walk into any RSL, footy club or hotel and pick out from the slot machine users the problem gambler. An impossible task.
Now, we restrict people from driving under the influence of alcohol, frown on anyone who wishes to smoke tobacco and have speed limits on roads to protect the general populace from the idiot element in our society. Why then, do we allow those with the secretly obscured habit of funnelling every last cent they own into a mindless slot machine to continue to harm themselves and those upon whom their addiction visits misery to continue to do so? Quite simply, because the affliction is invisible to those willing to have it so. Problem gamblers don’t bother me, because I don’t know any. I’ve not put more than a ten cent coin into a poker machine in 20 years. The activity holds zero attraction to me, but I do realise there are those to whom the challenge of beating the odds, which aren’t odds at all, but purpose written computer programs with known outcomes weighed heavily against the user, is too much to resist. For the betterment of society as a whole – and I refer to everyday society, man & woman in the street – I see nothing at all untoward with a mandatory pre-commitment to the use of a high input gambling machine if it’s going to (a) protect those suffering from this addiction; and (b) aid in the removal from society of the burden gambling addiction creates.
So the clubs and pubs would need to expend money. So what? That’s part of the risk of doing business in a regulated society. Regulations determine how long a pub can remain open. How fast we may drive on a given piece of road. Where we can or can’t smoke tobacco. What we can or cannot carry on board an aircraft. I see no rational reason to regulate how much money a person can pour into a metal box that is purpose designed to ensure we never get it back. This debate is about people. It’s not about KPMG studies – which we all know are driven to deliver a known outcome. It’s about the society we live in. As a species, we need to move away from this selfishness aimed at me, me, me and protect the vulnerable from themselves. Clubs & pubs are not all about jobs, or community beneficence. Clubs & pubs are about making money for the owners and operators. How did clubs & pubs get along before poker machines? Just fine thanks very much. No-one is claiming that poker machines should be outlawed, just as no-one is making alcohol illegal or smoking a corporal offense. Poker machines will continue to exist, just as clubs and oubs will continue to exist. Studies which claim job losses in the thousands are smoke and mirrors because there is no benchmark upon which they’re based. They’re simply numbers, statistics, and stats can be manipulated to say just about anything.
Bring on the legislation, I say. Bring it on, get it passed and let’s move on to more and better management of our society and those who live within it. Frankly, I see alcohol as a far, far greater threat to societal stability and on a grander scale, than any problem gambling epidemic, but if placing restrictions on how much dough can be pumped into some types of slot machines is going to assuage a known problem to some degree, then I say it’s okay by me. All the out-of-context, erroneously conflated op-eds, like this one which deliberately set out to baffle with bullshit & spout a pseudo libertarian line simply miss the point of the entire argument.

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