Poker machines have been in the news lately. Just last month in Tasmania, the gaming industry was accused of underhanded tactics, including online harassment and clandestine campaign donations, to undermine an anti-gambling campaign.
More recently, Nick Xenophon, whose career is defined by anti-pokies crusades, led SA-BEST in Saturday’s election in South Australia. They won 14 per cent of the vote - which admittedly doesn’t mean much in South Australia, a state infamous for gerrymandering that has repeatedly propelled the losing party to victory.
MORE OPINION FROM TOM DAVIS
After moving from a hardline no-pokies stance to a more moderate platform: SA-BEST wanted to reduce pokies numbers from 12,000 to 8,000, cap each spin at $1, halve the machines in establishments with more than ten, remove nearby EFTPOS access, and ban political donations from the gaming industry.
I say “wanted” because, despite a 14 per cent total, SA-BEST failed to win even a single seat.
There are about 200,000 machines in Australia, or 2.6 per cent of all gaming machines on earth. That’s one for every 114 people, and all this despite Australians making up only 0.3 per cent of the world population. Per capita, Australia has five times the poker machines of the US, which is just a little bit insane when you think about it.
Why the focus on pokies?
Pokies are a particular concern, as a disproportionately high number (75 per cent) of all Australia’s gambling addictions are attributable to them.
There is virtually no federal regulation of the gaming industry, because, for some unfathomable reason, gambling regulations are not the responsibility of the federal government, but the states, which means that laws and regulations are often irresponsibly lax.
Each state has its own independent gaming authority, which means huge disparity in regulation from state to state. For example, while there are only 30,000 machines allowed in Victoria and 12,000 in South Australia, Queensland is mandated up to 50,000, and this is just a drop in the ocean compared to NSW.
Not only has the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing mandated an astronomical 105,000 machines, but regulations are almost nonexistent - we have the lowest RTP (85 per cent), no limit on game frequency, no maximum bet or win cap in casinos (which allow 24-hour gambling), and machines accept everything up to and including $100 bills.
Poker machines are fine-tuned by years of research and iteration to be as addictive as possible. The same holds true for any game, but when money’s involved, even something as innocuous as a game becomes predatory.
Is the solution right in front of us?
Maybe poker machines ought to look plain and boring; maybe they should have plain lettering telling you the odds, how much you stand to lose, and the real consequences of gambling addiction. People who want to gamble shouldn’t be stopped, but a predatory industry, bolstered by a powerless federal government and uncoordinated state governments petrified of regulation, shouldn’t just be allowed to do what it wants.
- IF YOU NEED HELP: www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au