My name is Lainie and I enjoy the pokies
I don’t have any huge vested interest, but I do enjoy a $20 flutter with Mum every couple of months. So what is all this fuss about pokies reform?
Will punters like me be affected? Will proposed changes really help the nation’s 95,000 pokie-playing problem gamblers (and a million other Aussies affected by the ripple)? And will the deal struck between the Gillard Government and Independent Andrew Wilkie decimate our pubs and clubs – indeed our way of life?
Number 1: The changes will have ZERO impact on the average recreational player. Most of us (88 per cent) spend less than $1 per button push. The mandatory pre-commitment cards proposed as part of these new reforms relate only to “high-intensity” betting of more than $1 per spin.
For most of us there’ll be no card, no fuss.
Number 2: Will pre-commitment help problem gamblers? Opponents say no, because addicts will always find other avenues (ie online) to squander their cash.
I agree to a point. But you can lose $1200 AN HOUR on pokie machines in Australia. Surely by restricting losses to $120 per hour (as proposed) we’ll cut the risk of players losing so much that they become caught up in the desperate game of chasing their losses.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who “predicts” the Opposition will repeal mandatory pre-commitment reforms, says a better option is increased counselling. SA Senator Nick Xenophon likens this to “getting rid of speed limits on our roads, but funding the funerals really well”.
The social cost of problem gambling in Australia is already $4.7 billion a year. How bad does it have to get before we really tackle the cause instead of dealing with the after-effects? Besides, there is some evidence that these reforms will help.
In 2008-09, the SA Government ran a voluntary pre-commitment trial involving 268 patrons in six venues.
Limits were simply added to their loyalty card (many of us recreational players have one already), with conditions including daily spending caps and playing times and a 24-hour cooling-off period for any limit increases.
True, it wasn’t mandatory so didn’t have a huge take-up of players, nor was it aimed at curbing problem gambling habits. But it still revealed an average spending cut of 32 per cent.
So to Number 3 – will it decimate pubs and clubs and hurt jobs?
There are about 200,000 poker machines nationally and Clubs Australia says it will cost between $3000 and $25,000 per machine ($3 billion total) to introduce the new technology.
Anti-pokies campaigners say it’s more like $1000 per machine. (Last year in Victoria, the configuration of every poker machine was changed to reduce the maximum bet per spin from $10 to $5 – there was no hoo-ha about massive costs and disruptions.)
Let’s split the difference, though, and calculate an average cost of $10,000 (tax-deductable) to change and/or replace every machine.
In SA we have 12,000 machines, putting the industry outlay at $120m. In 2010-11South Aussie pokie punters lost more than six times that amount: $745m.
How about job losses? A 2005 report by the SA Centre for Economic Studies found that 3.2 jobs are created for every $1 million of gambling income. By comparison, for liquor/beverages it’s 8.3 jobs and for food/meals it’s 20.2 jobs.
Less cash lost on pokies = more to spend dining out = more jobs.
Look, you can’t blame Clubs Australia and vested interests for screaming blue murder. They’ve got a lot to lose.
Pubs and clubs do good things for their communities – just like lots of other local businesses who sponsor sporting and special-interest groups. But despite what the industry would have us believe, pokie venues aren’t all run for altruistic purposes (a Sydney Morning Herald investigation found the biggest NSW clubs donate just 2.7 per cent of earnings back to communities).
And the fact is that 40 per cent of their $11.9 billion industry is fed by desperate Aussies with a gambling addiction. Change is inevitable.
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