There has been a global fear amongst fans of pokies (or “slot machines” as they are known outside of Australia) concerning whether these machines will be legal for long. They have existed for a long time and they have been seen to be relatively harmless for much of that time. In the internet age, however, where everyone has access to everything and where everyone knows everyone else’s problems, a lot of stories have spread about gambling addiction, with pokies at the very centre of them. It seems that more people are addicted to these machines than they are to any other form of gambling. That has stirred up political action in many countries and in the land of pokies, where these machines are played and adored more than they are anywhere else, it is inevitable that the onus will be on Australia to set a precedent.
So, with that in mind, will Australia impose any restrictions on these beloved machines?
The Warning Signs
Gambling addiction is becoming a problem in Australia, and it seems that pokies cause more cases of problem gambling than any other form of gambling. Aussies lose more money on these machines than citizens of any other country, and just a few years ago it was recorded that nearly three-quarters of all citizens had gambled over the course of any given year. That might not sound very high to some, but when you learn that that figure is not exclusive to adults, and includes all people living in Australia, then you begin to understand just how big it is.
Recently the National Gambling Reform Act was passed, which tightened the laws and put restrictions on the way that people gambled in this country. Along with this law came the suggestion that similar laws could follow, and at the moment the gamblers of the country are waiting in trepidation for tighter restrictions to come. Still, this does not limit gambling as such, but rather it helps problem gamblers. One of the things that the law introduced, as an example, was the ability for players to register themselves on a slot machine in a casino, setting loss limits and deposit limits, which means that they are forced to limit their play.
Still, those players can always go elsewhere and with online gambling becoming popular, there are fears that it will be impossible to effectively restrict gambling on these machines, and that the only way to truly help would be to ban their use altogether. Is it possible that Australia will ban pokies though?
The Flip Side
Governments operate on money. They do care about their citizens but — to take the views of a cynic — only when they can get something out of it. The issue with pokies is not that they want to do anything to stop them and to help problem gamblers, but that they want to be seen doing something.
Gambling is a very lucrative business, and one that can also be taxed. In 2009 alone it was reported that Australians spent over $12 billion on pokies, a figure that has been climbing every year. You could argue that online pokies are different, that they are untaxable and therefore might face restrictions, but the government don’t want to be seen as being hypocritical, so they won’t ban one without the other. They may make it difficult for online pokies to thrive, therefore directing their citizens to the land-based casinos, and to the pubs, club and hotels where pokies are located, but they won’t ban them altogether.
Problem gambling is not cheap though, and that could cause an issue. There are some that suggest that problem gambling costs the country more than gambling brings in, but even if this is the case, making gambling illegal will not change that. Doing so will only eradicate one big revenue stream, and potentially cause even more problem gambling, as gamblers will turn to illegal gambling dens, to loan sharks and to people who you generally don’t want to get on the wrong side of. You only need to look at the prohibition era in the United States to learn how prohibiting one very common and very widely accessible thing can have the complete opposite effect of what you intended, funnelling all of the money (that would have gone to the government) into organised crime.
It’s not just about tax either, because gambling has a knock-on effect that is generally very good for the economy. For one thing, casinos hire a lot of staff and can rejuvenate an area. They also attract a lot of tourists, giving foreigners a way and a means of spending all of their money. That money goes to paying staff, it goes to paying taxes and it goes to local charities, which all casinos tend to be involved with. In essence, it pays the government and it also pays the local community, which expands as a result.
Pokies also make a lot of money for struggling businesses. Pubs are getting less and less popular, but thanks to pokies they are able to increase profit and keep the doors open. The same goes for small hotels and other such establishments.
Simply put, although restrictions are being placed and gamblers are getting worried, the country needs pokies and it needs gambling, as it would be a lot poorer without it.