How to end the pokies:

Brian Hopper writes: Re. “Mayne: let’s have a pokies debate on maximum hourly losses” (yesterday, item 4). I now work overseas yet, in another life, I was a banker, managing home loan defaults, many triggered by pokie addictions. So, at the outset let me say, I hate the bloody things!

A number of years ago I wrote to Nick Xenophon’s office with the following (cunning ) plan…

The “addiction” is triggered by the player getting continual reinforcement of being a winner (you get a $1 drop and flashing lights and “happy” sounds) as a reward. You constantly “feel” like a winner. I suggested they reprogram the machines (an easy thing to do) to change the reward sounds to three consecutive descending sounds and cut/reduce the light show.

The interesting thing about this proposal is that it does not cut numbers of machines that is fought so hard by the industry but gets right at the heart of the way the addiction is re-enforced. This is a real and effective fix. The companies have nowhere to go as far as an argument for if they challenged it they would have to do so on the basis of recognising that this reward system is fundamental to the attraction — addiction — and their profitability.

I got a response from Xenophon’s office saying that they were pushing for soundproofing of the pokie areas. So they either completely ignored my point or, more likely, deflected the point I was trying to make to seem as though they were being responsive, while actually doing nothing. An old public service trick and class 101 lesson for their political office worker bees. I responded back, but got nothing, so no surprises there.

There are simple measures that can be deployed to fix this national problem but it needs the same level of cunning that the companies use to sustain their industry. I am with The Whitlams on this; Blow Up the Pokies — they are a national curse.

Paul Bendat writes: Stephen Mayne is correct to raise the concept of hourly losses on $1 machines but his $250 number is off the mark. The Productivity Commission got it right when they said that it should be tied into what a normal person spends on an evening’s entertainment. Unless you’re regularly undertaking the degustation menu with matched wines at Vue Du Monde, highly unlikely that the normal person spends $250 an hour on a night out.

And there’s research for that. A government survey found that problem gamblers would intend to lose no more than about $120 per day even when captured by the pokie environment. Those who just want to have a flutter, about half that; $60.

The Productivity Commission was spot on about hourly loss limits on $1 machines. Stephen … not so much.

Julian Zytnik writes: I have a comment to make on the pokies issue, in particular John Kotsopoulos (yesterday, comments).

Kotsopoulos wrote: “Nowhere have I seen any evidence from [Wilkie] to support his particular approach to this vexing [mandatory pre-commitment] issue.”

I have two words for John: Productivity Commission.

How this elephant in the room can be ignored is beyond me. Their reports on gambling are the product of over a decade of research detailed to the nth degree. The 2010 report is over 1000 pages long, listed over 30 pages of additional references, and considered over 400 submissions. To describe this as a “studied” effort would be some understatement. You can’t even say “agree or disagree with it …” since there are literally hundreds of recommendations to consider.

But one thing is clear — the report supported mandatory pre-commitment, and Wilkie, Xenophon and other leading anti-pokies campaigners have made it their reference point time and again.

People have their different views on this issue, which is fine, but please spare us the standard line of “where is the evidence?”. How much more evidence do we want or need before making a decision?

Keith Thomas writes: John Taylor (yesterday, comments) says “66% are in favour [of mandatory pre-commitment for pokie use], 79% are against …”. But he misses the point: it’s not about what gamblers want, it’s about the sort of society we want — adults and children.

Australia is not America; our national ethos is still less individualistic. We have mandatory seat belts and bicycle helmets not only to protect the wearers, but also to reduce potential trauma for families and to ease the burden on hospital casualty departments. These things count for us.

Our way is more about a fair go for ALL rather than free licence for the powerful to “let ‘er rip!”

The World Bank:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Hey World Bank, unless there’s a Lehman-like collapse this isn’t ’08” (yesterday, item 18). Whilst the World Bank’s call for additional funding, to save us all from an economic Armageddon, might be akin to one of those horror movie moments, the real “Schettino” was under way down the road, where David Cameron was spelling out his vision of “moral markets” as the centrepiece of his new “responsible capitalism” while, at the same time, The Guardian’s Jill Treanor and Patrick Wintour were accusing Goldman Sachs of living in a “parallel universe“, as they gorged themselves on their latest bonus obscenity of $12 billion, an average of $367,000 per employee.

Hardly surprising then, that while the music might be about to stop yet again, so many seem to have simply stopped listening, whilst the rest are too busy doing a “Schettino” to notice.

Peter Fray

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