It must be awkward when your role requires that you take a public position on a major issue, and the two points you're using to support your argument contradict each other. This is the difficult position that Clubs Australia boss Anthony Ball finds himself in. Breaking it down, the two core points he is making are these:
- Pre-Commitment technology won't work as problem gamblers will set high levels to get around the limit. Or go online.
- Some clubs will go broke because of the revenue losses.
So which is it? Will it work? Will it fail? I have a cake here Anthony, would you like to eat it too?
To be fair, he does suggest the revenue impact will be caused in part by the casual poker machine user (victim), those who he suggests are unwilling, or unlikely, to want the hassle of having to pre-commit to a spending limit and obtain the card. Fair point, he's probably right. I've never played a poker machine in my life, but if I did, I don't think I would be bothered getting a card. However, in making this point, Ball quite conveniently neglects to mention that the low-intensity machines are exempt from pre-commitment cards. So whilst there will obviously be some impact on revenue from the casuals, there is no evidence to support that the business model of clubs will collapse as a result of this loss of revenue. So people like me are free to play a low-intensity machine until our hearts content, or until we realise poker machines are scams. Whichever comes first.
Clubs Australia and Anthony Ball find themselves with a fascinating dilemma. If they argue convincingly that the technology will fail, then there is minimal impact to revenue, but there will be a (nominal) cost to retool the machines. If they argue convincingly that the technology will cause them to go broke, they are essentially agreeing that the plan will work. But they can't have it both ways.
40% of revenue from poker machines comes from 1% of the population. Clearly problem gamblers. We know that problem gamblers suffer from 'white-line fever': whilst they're playing the machines they are in a trance-like state and feel they are one game away from changing their fortunes. The environment where poker machines live are designed to facilitate this - bright flashing lights, loud music, pretty colours, no clocks. It's escapism for vulnerable people. What makes this approach so insidious is that in the cold hard light of day, we know many of these people have the capacity to make quite different decisions about their limits. Asking problem gamblers to place a 'stop-loss' on their money prior to entering the poker machine area is smart. Smart for the player that is. Bad for profits. And the clubs know this.
But let's play devils advocate. Even if some clubs folded as a result of this legislation, is that necessarily a bad thing? If your business model is based on deriving revenue from some of the most vulnerable and fragile members of our society, then perhaps you might want to restructure the business.
But hang on what's that you say Anthony? It will impact the money you give back to the local community you say? Mmmm fair point. Would that be the money you have ripped out of families who can ill-afford it? Mums who can't put groceries on the table for the kids because Dad was playing the pokies? Kids who can't play soccer on the weekend because a parent lost the rent money on poker machines? Family units that break down due to one parents addiction to these blood diamonds?
Yeah Anthony Ball it happens. It happens a lot. And you can't bury your head in the sand and hide behind a cover of altruism. Donating money to a soccer club won't cover a broken families rent.
The measure of any decent society is surely how it treats its most vulnerable people.
In Australia, there's much to be done in the areas of disabled care, mental illness, children's welfare, battered wives, unemployment and yes in gambling. There's nothing inherently wrong with gambling, but there is something wrong with shamelessly targeting and taking advantage of a vulnerable group in society, and that's what poker machines do. There's much to be done in all these areas, and it won't happen overnight. But what we need to do is start. Start somewhere. Just do something as the legendary Hawthorn footy coach in the 70s told his team at half-time in the 1975 VFL grand final.
Whether we understand why or not, let's accept that for some people poker machines are an addiction. They are a scourge on our society. We now have the opportunity to do something about them that is meaningful. If, as Clubs Australia would have us believe, some clubs will be put out of business by this move, then that is the price to pay for compassion. Profiteering from peoples vulnerabilities is not a business model we should endorse.
Let's do something.
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