The hefty costs of Australia's gambling culture

Bright colours, spinning numbers and catchy scores: welcome to the world of poker machines. 

For those who’ve never entered a pub, club or casino, the story of poker machines – the  ‘pokies’ – follows the same narrative across the country. 

Men and women, young and old, transfixed on a screen, balanced on a stool and waiting for a winning combination that could change their life.

Walking past the gaming machines and their players, it looks more like a low-budget ‘80s sci-fi spin off about a detrimental future you know has already begun.  

You don’t have to be an expert in psychology to appreciate the allure of gaming machines: the delight of the unexpected; a sudden wind of luck blowing your way.

To kill off the poker machines is like saying you want to get rid of raffles, lotteries and lucky dips.

But statistics tally the real account of what pokies cost us, and it’s far more than the few dollars we might drop in; and even more than the weekly pay cheque some consume.

A push by the NSW Greens party for transparency of information surrounding machines, the number of venues and profit is a bid for a more targeted public discussion.

There is no denying that these figures should be made more accessible, more frequently, to the public. 

But it would be shortsighted to suggest this increase of statistics may result in a correlation of fewer gaming machines, or fewer venues housing these machines. 

It’s a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Gambling and poker machines are part of a multi-million dollar industry that holds a large stake in the economy and culture of both regional and larger cities; larger than either would like to admit.

Despite its adverse effects on behavioural addiction, even leading to crime, peak bodies in the state do distribute the profits made – but mostly via grants, and it is a small fraction in comparison with what the industry makes altogether.

In reality, there are many state projects that could be assisted: schools, hospitals, road works; all could benefit from the lucrative winnings of the industry. 

But because these figures are not readily publicised, it is easy for accountability to fall through the cracks.

So to the State Government we say that we are ready, ready to see how much is really made – and ready to see where it all goes.


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