When I was growing up, my father decided to take the risky step of buying his own small business – hiring plants out to businesses wanting to introduce a bit of nature into their environments. It was a good business – he was earning a pay level in just two days of work each week what it took me 6 years of full time teaching to earn.
There was one blight on this business as far both of us was concerned – he had plants in a very large, very prosperous club in Sydney’s Hills District since the time he bought the business almost to the time he sold it. It was a tricky location for him, because the staff liked to move plants around when they were in the way – often into cupboards, cigarettes were stubbed into them by careless patrons – causing plants to die fairly regularly. Worse still, Dad would tell stories of people sitting there in the morning he went to the club, sitting there, mindlessly pumping money into the poker machines. Ironically, it was that money that was helping to fund my university education.
I was glad when they finally replaced Dad’s plants with artificial ones. So was Dad, ultimately.
The other early memory I have of poker machines was when Panthers was opened and we went in soon afterwards – after all, they sponsored the Penrith Eisteddfod, with which my family was involved, with free meals for officials and various prizes. When people asked mum about what it was like, she answered “Hell. Everywhere you go, you look down at these people in a pit, pulling their arms down and staring at a screen.” And it’s true – even today.
Poker Machines are one of the biggest blights on the state of NSW, not only for what they tell us about the priorities of the state, but also about the way we sugarcoat the nasty truth of their impact. It amazes my partner, who came from Victoria, to see not only so many pokies in pubs but to see them brazenly on show, as you can see from Hoxton Park Rd in Liverpool – the “outdoor pokies” of the Liverpool Catholic Club. In Victoria, the clubs with poker machines are dingy, small and generally uninviting, Not like ours, with the cheap food and cheap beer, fuelled by the income drained from people’s pockets.
The worst part for me about these pokie palaces is the way they have managed to insinuate themselves into their various communities, making them seem indispensable. They fund local sporting teams, schools and various other community organisations, making the clubs seem generous and friendly, when the fact remains that they are not. They must make a donation to the community and the reality is that the clubs would be nowhere without the massive pokie revenues gained from people from all walks of life, many of whom have mild to serious gambling addictions. Hence, their strident opposition to the idea of setting precommitment limits. in opposing this plan, these clubs are showing that they want local people to lose all sense of reality and plunge their money into machines that don’t pay back money.
It seems from the early days of this proposal that it is doomed to failure. NSW is the main reason why it will fail. Our State Government is addicted to pokie revenues – it is part of Bob Carr’s rotten legacy to this state that we saw a massive increase in poker machines under his watch, as well as Michael Egan’s glee in trying to take more and more money from them – rather than doing the socially responsible thing and cutting the number of machines. Barry O’Farrell, in tweeting on Friday the 27th about the Clubs NSW awards for best clubs, shows his support for the presence of these clubs and their cancer- like presence in our towns and cities. Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott would know all too well that country sporting teams and competitions would collapse if the poker machine revenues dropped – helping to cause a collapse in their support.
One of the most absurd line in all this is the one said “that it won’t work” to cut problem gambling. If this was the case, why are clubs spending so much money and lobbying energy on stopping it? They are because they know problem gamblers keep their revenues flowing – the small time, social gambler would be happy to set a limit and walk away – many currently do that anyway.
I am ashamed of the grip poker machines have on this state – revolted by the sound you hear at most pubs and clubs here. They remind me of a culture where people believe you deserve something for nothing – that gambling will deliver money you didn’t work for. If we are truly to be an enlightened, mature society, they should be gone completely. Or at least, controlled so that not many of us are lured in by their false promises.