I am disappointed but not surprised by the Souths members decision to restore the Pokies. It was a great moral gesture by Peter Holmes a Court and Russell Crowe and thoroughly consistent with a Club not wanting to prey on its poor, local community. But given that it’s such easy money for a club focussed on how to pay its bills, why would you turn down funds flowing from a perfectly legal avenue?

If the NSW State Government Treasury can surmount all moral objections to reap huge financial rewards why would a football club deny itself? In that lies the challenge. We cannot expect reform from state governments addicted to this revenue nor from football clubs whether AFL or league.

State governments act as both the regulator and the beneficiary. This is a ridiculous conflict of interest and has proved time and again to be Dracula in charge of the Blood bank. The only hope for sanity is from the Federal government (which reaps no income from the pokies). Kevin Rudd is on record as saying “he hates the pokies”.

The moral case is overwhelming. If the alcohol industry was reaping 50% of its profits from alcoholics (another legal industry) then state governments and football clubs would not withstand the community outcry. But our attitude to pokies has always been strangely equivocal. We say ‘but no one is forced to play them’ but do not ask why Australia had 20% of all the world’s high intensity machines.

The 1999 productivity commission found that 42.3 cents in every dollar going through a machine came from problem gamblers. Dr Charles Livingstone in a recent study this year for Monash University found that this had risen to 53 cents coming from people who by definition had no free choice.

Like alcoholics, they are trapped by their addiction and many end up committing crimes to pay their debts, lose their jobs, homes, marriages and some take their lives. This is so easily preventable without demanding a pokies prohibition. We need a slowing down of spin and loss rates, removing ATMS from venues and using smart cards to allow punters to pre set limits on their losses.

Standing in the way of these measures are State governments who reap $4 billion a year with half of that revenue coming from these pokies tragedies. If the Rudd Government acts to wean State Governments off this policy wasteland then not only do we reduce the awful human cost that affects 1 million Australians but football clubs like South, who had the right instincts, can re-engage morally and in a non predatory manner in their local communities.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW