04 February 2007

Advertiser takes strong stand against pokies

Yesterday's Advertiser came out with a strong editorial against poker machines: "The pokies gamble has failed SA"

For more than a decade, poker machines in hotels and clubs have been the antithesis of Robin Hood – taking from the poor and giving to the rich. The major losers are people in lower socio-economic areas of the metropolitan area and country districts where, coincidentally, the largest number of poker machine hotels and clubs are concentrated. The winners are a select group of multiple-hotel owners – individuals and corporations – and the State Government.

Gambling Minister Paul Caica must begin a serious program of initially reducing the number of poker machines in hotels, and ultimately phasing them out. If the Government fears that people will flood across state borders to feed their craving to gamble or that bans will trigger compensation claims, then perhaps the Federal Government should take national control of poker machines in the same way it is seeking to control the Murray-Darling river system.


Figures obtained by The Advertiser this week suggest that in the current financial year, South Australians will lose more than $800 million on poker machines. The State Government's tax take is likely to exceed $300 million for the first time, while poker machine operators will pocket almost $500 million. These are shameful, reprehensible figures. In a community which has unacceptable levels of poverty, deprivation and homelessness, they are unconscionable...As a community, we have a clear choice – live with the appalling social and economic damage caused by poker machines, or take radical and perhaps politically painful steps to eliminate them. In the end, there is no choice.

These are strong words, with which it's tempting for me to concur as I don't patronise pokies. However, I'm not in favour of removing all pokies unless it can be proven to me (beyond reasonable doubt) that such a step is necessary to reduce problem gambling. There's also the likelihood that reducing gambling outlets will drive the problem, like others, outside the law and thus create another set of problems and consequent need for resource allocation . I'm old enough to remember the days when SP bookies were common.: they were generally considered to be harmless, but the spotlight in those days was rarely turned upon the consequences of their activities.

Anyway, I'll be interested to see if there's much of a debate on the topic. The winners mentioned in the editorial would be a formidable collective adversary to significant attempt at reform.

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