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Blow Up The Pokies
April 14, 2011 7:37 PM   Subscribe

"In life you often look around for someone or something to compare yourself favourably with. The games dealers and supervisors in a casino whose souls are troubled can look to the poker machines and say, well at least we provide entertainment (we’re in the hospitality industry, don’t you know!). But in reality, that was just bullshit we told ourselves. The machines blinked and made music while they took the money; we smiled and chatted aimlessly while we took it." Former casino worker Greg Jericho has written an exhaustive article about the human and economic costs of poker machines. It comes in the middle of an anti-pokies campaign by Independent Senator Nick Xenophon that is being bitterly opposed by the Australian Hotels Association.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (47 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
For anyone wondering about the "Blow Up The Pokies" title it's in reference to the anti-gambling song of the same name by The Whitlams.
posted by Talez at 7:50 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also for any non-Australians wondering - 'Hotels' in this context refers to pubs.

And the hotels aren't exactly playing this one clean.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:51 PM on April 14, 2011


I have deeply personal, private reasons for opposing pokies, so I can't be objective on this issue. On the other hand, they sorta keep a few live music venues operating (while killing most others).

I support more government regulation on them. They just suck in your money, and give nothing in return. I suppose that's true of almost all gambling though. Pokies are just more... naked about it.
Seems like even YouTube commentators aren't buying the AHL's line of bullshit.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:57 PM on April 14, 2011


See also the counterpunch ad by political activism organisation GetUp!, which is running today in Australian newspapers to combat the AHA's $20 million dollar ad campaign against poker machine reform. The ad is based on this particular demonstration of why poker machines are evil.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:59 PM on April 14, 2011


It's un-Australian!
posted by unliteral at 8:04 PM on April 14, 2011


I read this earlier today on Greg's blog and it changed the way I felt about the Xenophon and Wilkes proposal. Before I read it, my thought process was, "hell, if players are stupid enough to blow the rent money on the pokies, they should have to take responsibility for their own actions". After reading it, I decided that someone has to assume responsibility for problem gamblers who won't, or rather can't, act responsibly.

I know a few pokie addicts. Very few of them have assets of any value, or a life worth living for that matter. I watched one (from a distance) put her entire monthly mortgage repayment through the machines and walk away empty-handed. She ended up thankfully self-banning herself from the local pubs and clubs. That doesn't rule out internet gambling though.

I'm not a fan of 'nanny state' rules and regulations, but I'm even more against families suffering because mum or dad spend their entire paycheck (or social security payment) chasing that elusive win.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:04 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was an illegal poker machine, around the corner by the Men's room, in a bar around here. You put real money in, and your winnings were printed out as a receipt, to be redeemed at the bar. I guy I knew got frustrated, so he pulled the plug in and out of the wall a bunch of times, and it spit out an astronomical receipt. They would only pay up to their maximum, but it was like 5 grand, and he took most of that in trade. Then he got hit by a car crossing the street drunk.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:16 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh dear. I've just watched the "Mike & Bruce" ad. On behalf of the majority of our population I'd like to point out that about 99% of us are not like that.

I only know one human Bruce, and if you called him Brucey he would knock you arse over head.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:18 PM on April 14, 2011


I only know one human Bruce, and if you called him Brucey he would knock you arse over head.

There are lots of streets in Melbourne named 'Batman' so maybe all the Bruces live there.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:20 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vile and terrible things. Put gum in them wherever you can, friends.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:30 PM on April 14, 2011


According to crikey, "Mike" in teh atrocious ad, is in fact Geoff Forrests, AKA Tug Dumbly. Which suggests he's either desperate or a hypocrite (I don't believe the "cab rank" rule applies to actors).
posted by wilful at 8:53 PM on April 14, 2011


ooops, missed this link in the above under "crikey" (though I'm not sure, it may be behind a paywall).

me personally, I've never lsot a cent to pokies machines, can't see the attraction, don't think i know anyone who's lost more than $50 on them.

But I used to live in Footscray, and if the statistics are to be believed, they suck tens of millions out of the most disadvantaged areas in Australia every year.

Woolworths, BTW, together with ALH/Bruce Mathieson, own a very large slab of the pokies dollar.
posted by wilful at 8:57 PM on April 14, 2011


I went into the Melbourne casino a few times.

The first time, they asked me to leave; apparently they didn't like what my cleated bicycling shoes were doing to their polished flooring.

The second time, I paid more attention to the people playing the pokies. There were lots of them, just sitting there feeding in the coins and pressing the buttons. Every now and again, a machine would dump a bunch of coins into the payout tray. It struck me that payouts didn't seem to make the players happy; they just kept looking kind of blank, and they would grab the coins from the tray and line them up in their fists and just keep on feeding them back into the slots.

Then I noticed a little change-making machine stuck on a pillar, and it occurred to me that I should be able to play that machine happily for half an hour at no expense whatsoever. So grabbed a coin from my pocket, stuffed it in the slot, pressed the button and voila! Out rattled my change into the tray.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do: trying not to look happy, I took the coins from the tray, fed them straight back into the slot and pressed the button again. Another win!

This was exciting! I was in the casino! I was playing a machine! I wasn't losing! And I lost my head. I reached into my pocket for more coins and fed all of them into the slot: $3.80 worth in total. Pressed the button, and the machine gave back $3 in dollar coins.

The house always wins.
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 PM on April 14, 2011 [32 favorites]


According to crikey, "Mike" in teh atrocious ad, is in fact Geoff Forrests, AKA Tug Dumbly. Which suggests he's either desperate or a hypocrite (I don't believe the "cab rank" rule applies to actors).

Tug Dumbly? One of the funniest guys in the Sydney poetry scene? Struggling actor and writer? Sometime writing partner of Benito De Fonzo? General good guy?

there's the article

shit... that IS Tug. I just asked him about it on Facebook, but in his defense he pretty lives the 'starving poet' life to the hilt.

I do like how even dressed up in a suit he looks seedy.
here's Tug parodying Nick Cave
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:21 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


We don't have pokies in WA except in the casino. The hotels association keeps trying to bring them in, but I know it'd kill our small but vibrant music scene as all the live venues switch to something where the patrons sit quietly and vacantly instead of having a good time. And I shudder to think what it'd do to country towns and the outer suburbs of Perth.
posted by harriet vane at 9:32 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


shit... that IS Tug. I just asked him about it on Facebook, but in his defense he pretty lives the 'starving poet' life to the hilt.

Boy gotta eat and all, but having done that ad could end up being very bad for his career.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:41 PM on April 14, 2011


Mike - aka Geoff, aka Tug - taking the piss out of Nick Cave?!? Now I hate the ad even more. Uncle Nick is a national treasure (despite him not wanting much to do with us, which is perfectly understandable).

I've been in 3 casinos in my 42 years. I'm not an introvert, I love being dragged out of my comfort zone, but I hated them. The Canberra casino was trashy and bedraggled and scummy, and made me wonder if the patrons all came from caravan/trailer parks (trackie dacks and thongs will give you that impression). Star City in Sydney wasn't much better. The latest casino I visited was in Adelaide, and I begged my friend to leave because of the sensory overload. Too many people, too many bells, too many jangling pokie tunes, too many frantic people elbowing me out of the way to get to the recently-vacated machine.

Awful places, casinos. I'd rather go to the dentist.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 9:46 PM on April 14, 2011



Mike - aka Geoff, aka Tug - taking the piss out of Nick Cave?!? Now I hate the ad even more. Uncle Nick is a national treasure (despite him not wanting much to do with us, which is perfectly understandable).


Hey I've been a fan of Nick since I was 13 and I'm usually not a fan of Aussie humor. But Tug's a good guy, and a funny guy. I wish I could find more videos of his stuff online. here's one of his other monologues

Boy gotta eat and all, but having done that ad could end up being very bad for his career.

What career? This is the first time I've seen him on something that wasn't the Friend In Hand Hotel's stage.

I used to go to Star City and Foxwoods casinos in Connecticut, which were nice. Won't go to any casinos anymore due to, again, personal reasons (though they are opening a new rock venue at Star City). Always depresses me to see pokie addicts at venues I go to, though the Annandale at least keeps them at arms length.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:51 PM on April 14, 2011


Speaking of Star City, they're now sponsoring the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league team to the tune of $860m, despite the owners (inc. Russell Crowe) trying to get rid of pokies from the club rooms back in 2007.
posted by John Shaft at 9:56 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


they've got a pretty good lineup of small local bands too... if i see them will i be supporting the gambling industry?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:04 PM on April 14, 2011


I lived in South Carolina when these things were legal. They really are a scourge. And it wasn't just pubs; they were so profitable that they squeezed them into every vacant corner of every 7-11 and grocery store and pizza joint.

They finally outlawed them years after I moved away, and of course uncovered massive corruption and kickback scams going to helpful government officials.

I have been "addicted" to some arcade games in the '80s, and to a certain pinball machine in college. I love playing cards, remembering hands and figuring odds. I once became so obsessed with an early mac computer version of backgammon that I emailed the programmer, thinking I had found a flaw in the random dice generator (too many double fives, I have proof!). But lord do I hate gambling and the people who get rich at the expense of others misery.
posted by puny human at 10:06 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


We don't have pokies in WA except in the casino. The hotels association keeps trying to bring them in, but I know it'd kill our small but vibrant music scene as all the live venues switch to something where the patrons sit quietly and vacantly instead of having a good time. And I shudder to think what it'd do to country towns and the outer suburbs of Perth.

With you all the way, Harriet. The community and both major political parties have opposed their introduction here since at least the 1974, when the Gambling Royal Commission had this to say:

poker machine playing is a mindless, repetitive and insidious form of gambling which has many undesirable features. It requires no thought, no skill or social contact. The odds are never about winning. Watching people playing the machines over long periods of time, the impressionistic evidence at least is that they are addictive to many people. Historically poker machines have been banned from Western Australia and we consider that, in the public interest, they should stay banned.

I'm immensely grateful for those words, the legal outcome, and the ongoing ban.

But, as a side note, what we do see at Burswood is the casino sending buses to retirement homes to pick up pensioners, giving them insignificant discounts on food and drinks, and then raking in the cash on the pokies. I dunno whether that sort of utterly repugnant and predatory behaviour occurs at larger clubs and casinos over east. If it does, it needs to be stopped there as much as it does here.

We are neither a country nor a people who have traditionally allowed our old and vulnerable to be fucked by large corporations. If anything is un-Australian, it's that sort of bullshit.
posted by Ahab at 10:22 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Poker machines make up about 5% of state revenues don't they?

Are there actual plans for how this money would be obtained if the poker machines go? Stamp duty increases? Increased Federal grant?
posted by sien at 10:29 PM on April 14, 2011



I have been "addicted" to some arcade games in the '80s, and to a certain pinball machine in college. I love playing cards, remembering hands and figuring odds. I once became so obsessed with an early mac computer version of backgammon that I emailed the programmer, thinking I had found a flaw in the random dice generator (too many double fives, I have proof!). But lord do I hate gambling and the people who get rich at the expense of others misery.


THIS. i waste too much money on pinball and if I stopped buying videogames I might be able to afford food. but it's a transaction - I'm giving the pinball machine $2 in exchange for 3 - 5 minutes of fun. I don't keep putting money in in the hopes I'll win something
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:35 PM on April 14, 2011


Small town alberta used to have a bunch of hotels, that would have live music on weekend nights, and the bands were great. They had VLTs come in, which were like pokies--and the bands are gone, aside from all of the other mess, about seeing people put huge cheques in and get nothing, the death of the hotel bar culture in rural alberta was genuinely tragic.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:43 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Overall, gambling will provide the [NSW] Government with $1.602 billion in taxes this year, making up 8.6 per cent of the total revenue.

From a 2009 article. From the Daily Telegraph, an absolute rag but all I have time for right now.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:48 PM on April 14, 2011


Awful places, casinos. I'd rather go to the dentist.

You'll be poorer either way, and at least you'll have cleaner teeth.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:50 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe Forrester did the ads so that he could sabotage the pro-pokies campaign from within by ensuring that they turned out as idiotic and counterproductive as they did.
posted by No-sword at 10:50 PM on April 14, 2011


Awful places, casinos. I'd rather go to the dentist.

You'll be poorer either way, and at least you'll have cleaner teeth.


Exactly. And I'll have had the assistant hold my hand, and the dentist talk to me. Personal interaction is priceless. (And I might even walk out with a free toothbrush or some newfangled flossing widget!)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 10:55 PM on April 14, 2011


Every now and again, a machine would dump a bunch of coins into the payout tray. It struck me that payouts didn't seem to make the players happy; they just kept looking kind of blank

This very phenomenon was discussed in an interview with Natasha Schull in a well-done 60 Minutes segment on gambling addiction. She talks about the continuous flow of reward that connects the player with the machine, and how it is interrupted by jackpots. People actually get upset by the delay created by winning.
posted by phaedon at 11:36 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personal interaction is priceless.

I'm not every problem gambler, but the empty thrill I get from personal interaction is the same empty thrill I get from playing the pokies. It's mentally exhausting and it's irresistable.
posted by doublehappy at 1:32 AM on April 15, 2011


In the late 80s and early 90s Rugby League magazines in the UK were full of talk about Australian leagues clubs and their poker machines. To this day my Dad seems convinced it's the difference between winning a test series and not.
posted by vbfg at 2:26 AM on April 15, 2011


A 2010 report by the Productivity Commission found that in the 2008-09 financial year, gambling taxation made up 10 per cent of own-source tax revenue for the states and territories (that is, excluding local council tax and the GST) [table 2.5].

Victoria is the happy winner at 13 per cent of revenue, and WA at an unAustralian 4 per cent.

Of that 10 per cent, around 55 per cent of that comes from electronic gaming machines in pubs and clubs. Problem gamblers make up around 40 per cent of that 10 per cent, and as the PC Chairman had to say in a recent speech, "this is also consistent with the ‘reality check’ provided by the records of spending by loyalty card members at a large Sydney club – with 0.5 per cent of members accounting for one-half the club’s total gaming revenue, and 2 per cent accounting for nearly 80 per cent."

Despite all of this, I am somewhat skeptical of the ability of a smartcard to deter the most serious of problem gamblers. If you run in to your self-imposed limit for the day, then you ask your friends to borrow their smartcard, or force your spouse and children to get a card and give it to you, or visit the soon-to-boom blackmarket poker machine venue scene.
posted by kithrater at 3:17 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


So for those of us not familiar, how are poker machines different from the regular ol' match-the-fruit "one armed bandit" slot machines? It sounds like they're just slots by another name, but are they different in some way, either in terms of gameplay or regulation? It seems a bit odd if they're allowed in situations where a traditional slot machine wouldn't be, simply because they make it look as though you're playing poker.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2011


I like casinos just fine, but I wouldn't waste a dime on a slot machine or a pokie.

Slot machines used to at least have SOME entertainment value, when they were true "one-armed bandits" with the lever that you'd pull down and let go. The wheels would spin with a heavy chunk-chunk-chunk and there'd be this moment of suspenseful anticipation as you waited for the numbers to settle into a line before you'd see that you'd lost.

Now there are just buttons instead of levers, there's no satisfying physical thrill in pulling a lever, no manual chunk-chunk-chunk, and almost immediately after you push the button the numbers come up. And there's these rows of people mindlessly shoveling the money right in, caught up in a joyless, hypnotic trance. No, thanks.

But I do like casinos, and blackjack is my game. I play with the odds in mind, and enjoy talking with the other players and the dealer and the fact that I can sit there and play for an hour or two and worst case I've only lost about twenty bucks for the entertainment value.

But I don't lose much. As I said, I play with the odds, and if you know when to split or double you can do all right for yourself with blackjack. On our last cruise, I came out fifty bucks ahead the first night I played. Later in the week when we were at sea, I was bored and joined in to play the 'budget round' of bingo, five games for $20. Which was a stupid waste of twenty bucks, and not all that fun, and I was irritated with myself for buying into it, so I went back in the casino and won my twenty bucks back playing blackjack again. And then I was done, and didn't play again.

The thing is, when most people think of 'gambling', they have this dream of winning big on games of chance, and that just doesn't happen. The house always has the advantage, and you'll end up losing more than you can afford trying to make up for your losses. And if you are an addict, steer clear altogether. You'll keep rationalizing: 'my luck has to change sometime, the table is just cold and I can wait it out, you have to spend big to win big'--and then you'll dig yourself into a hole.

But if you just want to have some fun in the casino, stay away from the machines, play the table games (not roulette, unless you just like to see the little ball go round), know the odds going in, stick to the budget you have set yourself and never, ever bet more than you can afford to lose.
posted by misha at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2011


Huh. I just tried to google "pokies" to figure out what the hell you guys are talking about. Apparently it's synonymous with "nip-slip". I'm still not sure what everybody's talking about.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:30 AM on April 15, 2011


Pokie: (Australian slang) A poker machine.
posted by aniola at 3:17 PM on April 15, 2011


Pokie is also listed in the Urban Dictionary.
posted by aniola at 3:19 PM on April 15, 2011


And I said 'poker machine' in the link.
Pokies have enough 'game' in them to let you pretend you're using strategy.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:55 PM on April 15, 2011


If I want to have fun at the casino I take my money straight to the cocktail bar. At least I know I'm getting a fair exchange for something fun.
posted by harriet vane at 8:25 PM on April 15, 2011


It's probably worth clarifying that the term "pokies" is used for "slot machines" in Australia and New Zealand. Most of the "poker" games have been phased out, though you can still find the occasional old machine with bingo or poker. The regulations in New Zealand are much more strict. New venues may only have 9 machines, and they're comprehensively audited. Machines shouldn't be visible from the street, though they often still are, and, in theory, there shouldn't be more than one person per machine in a gaming room (to discourage the social aspect, I guess).
posted by doublehappy at 3:44 AM on April 16, 2011


I'd also like to ask something of those people that comment that it's as simple as "Never bet what you can't afford!", and "Hey, I like a fine wine, but I'd never spend more than $20 on the pokies!", and "I often come out $40 ahead!". Who are those comments for? If they're for gamblers, they're missing the mark.

I've worked in betting agencies, bars, and gaming rooms and I've been to problem gambling identification courses and I've worked on the phones at a gambling helpline. I hate the pokies more than any other form of gambling: They turn your money into an abstraction, they condition you with sounds and lights, and the reels sometimes roll your way - enough to keep you in the game. They're lethal.

I know this. I know it well, in fact. I've paid out millions of dollars and I've counted much more. I've seen people and their families ruined. I've seen a woman lose $9000 chasing a $900 jackpot. I know the harm they can cause and I, like most gamblers, I'm pretty sure, know exactly what I should be doing. I haven't gambled in two years. I'm still neck deep in debt but I'm on the way out of it. I haven't even looked at the racing channel. But if you took me to a room with an Aristocrat Show Me the Money machine and I had cash in my wallet and you could guarantee that my girlfriend and my family would never find out, I wouldn't have cash in my wallet for long, and I'd feel nervous and sick and occasionally euphoric for an afternoon and then I'd leave feeling empty and sad and I'd tell you "No more, never again", and then I'd make a fucking beeline for the nearest ATM.
posted by doublehappy at 4:12 AM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


My cousin has been a gambling addict since he was caught sneaking out of school to use the "fruit machines" (the UK term for Pokies).

He has stood beside me in the pub and put £100 into a machine and then told me he had a great evening. I had a single beer during that 35 to 40 minutes. Then we moved on because another machine in another pub might be better.

I truly feel sorry for him. He went bankrupt a few years ago, and to avoid the legbreakers who wouldn't take no for an answer he emigrated to Spain. Now he installs satellite TV and gambles online. I guess he's going to have fun getting his bankroll back from the Gibraltar-based poker websites.
posted by Hugh Routley at 6:06 AM on April 19, 2011


Tug Dumbly defends himself on his blog
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:41 PM on April 20, 2011


"Sure, at the time I was going through a phase of blowing too much on pokies, but I’ve been pretty much untroubled by them ever since."
After that you'd think he'd have some empathy and understanding of what is being promoted by Clubs Australia and want to have nothing to do with it, but no, he has no choice, he's a "self-unemployed performer with a family" and that makes it alright somehow.

and this:

"as an actor I’m under no more obligation to believe in what I’m plugging in an ad than I would be to condone the behaviour I portrayed in the role of a wife-beater or rapist."
Come off the grass mate! One is real life the other is fiction.
posted by unliteral at 9:13 PM on April 20, 2011


After that you'd think he'd have some empathy and understanding of what is being promoted by Clubs Australia and want to have nothing to do with it, but no, he has no choice, he's a "self-unemployed performer with a family" and that makes it alright somehow.

Why the scare quotes? Tug is, quite literally, a self-unemployed performer with a family.

I'm not defending pokies. I'm not defending the gambling industry. But Tug really does need the money, I think.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:17 PM on April 20, 2011


Where is the scare? I used quote marks because I'm quoting him. Literally.
posted by unliteral at 9:24 PM on April 20, 2011


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