We introduced baby Hayden to my family over dinner in a pub in Adelaide, the Grand North on Grand Junction Road. With seven young children it was a raucous affair - fortunately there were almost no other customers dining there. This is not to say that the pub didn't have patrons: we frequently saw elderly people in wheelchairs slowly cross the pub to get into the pokies room, where they would spend hours upon hours staring at a machine and dribbling their pension into it. Gambling is a major issue in Australia. It is estimated that 40% of all revenue on pokies come from these "problem gamblers", who are being sucked dry by the Pokies now ubiquitous in Australian pubs. "Personal responsibility" you cry - well that is just being naive. The Pokies Industry has spent decades of research developing the most addictive games possible, with short spin times and massive maximum bet sizes, all designed to ramp up the expenditure rate on the 1% of Australians who have a gambling addiction. With billions to spend on research and development and teams of psychology experts tweaking every aspect of the games to encourage addictive behaviour, the vulnerable in society simply don't stand a chance. The modern machines are so efficient at provoking addictive behaviour that 15% of all regular players become problem gamblers.
Controlling the exponential growth in Pokies has been brewing politically for at least 15 years, when Nick Xenophon made it to the South Australian parliament in 1997 on a "No Pokies" platform. Now, with the Gillard Labor party and independents Xenophon and Wilkie in parliament, a critical mass has formed to actually do something about problem gambling. An independent committee recommended mandatory pre-commitment as a way to allow problem gamblers to control themselves. It still allows everyone to waste as much money as they want on the Pokies, but it stops the spur-of-the-moment "I'll win big if I just keep going long enough" type of spending that problem gamblers get up to. In fact, what it does is allows problem gamblers to assert their "personal responsibility" before they stand in front of the hateful machines. More can be done, but this would be a big step in stopping these vampiric machines sucking the life out of their "customers".
With the research suggesting that mandatory pre-commitment will actually work, the big beneficiaries from problem gambling have come out in force against it. Australian pubs, once providers of a social atmosphere and cheap meals, have now become simple Pokies Halls, deriving most of their profits from gambling. To be honest, they should admit that they are running on the broken lives of the problem gamblers, but obviously this is not a winning strategy to gain public support. Instead, pubs like the Grand North are littered with Party Political signs saying that it is “un-Australian” to help problem gamblers control their addiction. Personally, I’ll boycott any of these pubs just for using the term “un-Australian”. It suggests that there is some archetypical Aussie somewhere, probably in rural Queensland, that we can all measure ourselves up against to assess our Australianness, like John Howard wanting Bradman’s batting average to be on the Australian citizenship test. And if there is one group of people I don’t want defining “Australian” for me, it is the type of leech who lives off exploiting the pensioners I saw in the Grand North, with an oxygen tank strapped to their wheelchair and a dead look on their face as they fed the insatiable appetite of the Pokies.