Gambling addiction is a serious problem and it’s right that addicts are given every assistance to beat their problem. Suggesting only pokies players are victim to it is clearly wrong according to every serious study of gambling and the double standards of some in the media over other forms of gambling where the “losses” are even greater than pokies reveals a silly moral panic over poker machines that needs to stop.
Australians spend $12 billion on pokies a year, an apparently gravely serious matter that is a sign of moral decline, gambling addiction, the gutting of the working class etc., according to some know-alls.
$12 billion certainly sounds like a lot. And – of course – The Age splashes today with shock new revelations about how much and where the loot is lost.
It makes the stunning new discovery that battlers in Dandenong bet more on pokies than toffs from Toorak. Stunningly VEXNEWS can reveal that Toorak has more people losing money to single malt scotch whisky traffickers than prevail in Dandenong. We can also reveal – not for the first time – that people can get addicted to single malt scotch. There is no current push for single malt to be outlawed, rationed or for its drinkers to enter pre-commitment ID card systems were the drinkers would nominate how much they wanted to drink over a year.
Given the hysteria about pokies we thought we should find out how much is lost on the kind of the gambling The Age doesn’t whine about, but actually massively promotes with extensive advertorial, horse racing and greyhounds racing, sports that pretty much only exists because of gambling. During Spring Racing in particular, The Age endlessly promotes the gambling fest. It also makes repeated references to betting on horses, greyhounds and sports including odds and betting turnover and price movements and such. They also accept money from bookies and gambling providers.
Despite it costing punters many billions more than pokies the moral panic brigade who tut-tut about pokies have very little to say about other forms of gambling that are apparently more socially acceptable.
One anti-pokies campaigner, a long-term unemployed former journalist Stephen Mayne distinguished himself during the recent Melbourne by-election by persistently offering bets with people on the outcomes of political events. He apparently always welshes on these bets but that’s a story for another time.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way before pokies. Once militant ‘wowsers’ (particularly in Melbourne for some reason) loudly campaigned against what they say as the spread of insidious gambling on horses. Their narrative, about the impact on working people, the incidence of gambling addiction, the decline of moral standards, was not greatly different from the message of anti-pokies loons now.
Gambling addiction is a dreadful and insidious thing. There are plenty of people who’ve been addicted to betting on horses. Every assistance ought be available to help them out. But suggesting there’s something inherently addictive in pokies gambling or horse racing or sports betting is a nonsense that is completely unsupported by evidence.
And it’s true to say that Australian pokies players are some of the highest taxed gamblers in the world, something that doesn’t hurt operators or venue owners (their profit is the same regardless of tax increases, it comes from how much is returned to players as ‘winnings’). Those really concerned with the impact of pokies on players would be pushing for a reduction in the taxes not for bizarre proposals like ID-cards for pokies players or other measures that will do nothing to address the sad fact that some people will get addicted to things that in moderation are perfectly healthy but in excess can be very damaging.
UPDATE: VEXNEWS did once enjoy a bit of biff between bloggers so it came as a rare treat (we have scared so many away, we seem to have very few to play with these days) to be the subject of a counter-takedown by a gambling addict (and “reformer”) who insisted that we:
■ Are smug; and
■ Incorrectly compared racing etc. turnover with pokies losses and as such were not comparing apples with apples because he says we ought to have compared racing etc. losses with pokies losses.
The first point we make is that this Tom Cummings is a civilian – while not being especially civil – so we will refrain from making a reciprocal smugness claim and stay focused on the issues.
While it’s true that (gross) pokies turnover is a different (obviously much greater) number from (net) pokies losses, it’s also true that comparing (net) gambling losses with pokies losses is also not comparing apples with apples.
That’s because there’s plenty of smart money in horses, greyhounds and sports betting, that is ‘well informed’ money bet by all sorts of people who – if securities laws applied – would be considered to be trading on ‘inside information.’
Gambling addicts – who are supposedly the focus of the concern of the moral panic brigade in gambling – are almost always not in this category. By reason of their addiction, they tend to do everything possible to lose. And they do. Which is our point. All gambling, even Scratchies, can be the catalyst for addiction. So can many other types of behaviour from junk food eating to TV viewing or – dare we say it – internet surfing (no offence to those reading).
There is no smart money in pokies. There are no strategies one can sensibly adopt to “win”. It is – for those who like it and that doesn’t include us – a cheap and harmless form of entertainment for most players. But those who think they can be better informed than other players about ‘hot’ machines or whatever are not familiar with the random programming that underpins them. While some chase jackpots and try to game them, it’s all part of the entertainment and remains very, very random.
The difference is highlighted by MONA founder and professional gambler David Walsh who has recently been defended in the press by Greensparty politicians for not paying tax on his multi-billion dollar gambling enterprise.
As VEXNEWS understands it, Walsh makes his coin from smart money and mathematically clever bets on horse racing and keno.
Does he bet on pokies? No.
Walsh and his syndicate members have made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, it is widely believed.
So Mr Cummings is right that a turnover number is different from a losses number. But he’s not right about comparing the losses numbers in the different types of gambling. He ignores the simple fact that – within Australian gambling markets (other than pokies) – there is a considerable redistribution of money from the dumb (including addicts and mug punters who love it and aren’t harmed by it) to the smart.
And while we would normally defer to a gambling addict’s knowledge of the industry, he does not acknowledge this redistribution or perhaps hadn’t given it thought.
The truth is that our central argument stands regardless of the numbers he cites.
Gambling is a cheap form of entertainment for most players, pokies included.
We’re not opposed to regulation of it. We’re not opposed to restricting it. We’re not opposed to being mindful of the consequences of gaming addiction for addicts and their loved ones.
We will always be opposed to those who denounce the pursuits of working people as villainous while not imposing the same standards of righteousness to the passions of the rich.
That’s what we find most troubling about the pokies debate. While Mr Cummings – as a recovering addict – is no doubt sincere in his passion to clamp down on what ailed him (with the zealousness of the convert perhaps), most of the moral panic brigade are not like him. They are judgmental preachy folk who think they know better than the people of Dandenong about what is legitimate entertainment for them.
In per hour terms, going to the opera is undoubtedly more expensive for most players than hanging out at a local pub, having a drink and a play of the pokies.
And yet The Age – and their ilk – would think Joe Bloggs of Dandy going to the opera would be a very righteous thing indeed. They would not worry that he might not be able to afford it. They would not speculate or worry that its operatic enticements could seduce Mr Bloggs into addiction.
They would smile patronisingly, hoping the savage could be become somewhat more noble or enlightened by the experience.
That’s our beef with those who think they know better than everyone else, with its consequent effect on public policy, nanny-state measures like insisting that pokies players be issued with a federal government-issued ID card that would monitor how much they bet, when, where and refer to a database so that they could be prevented from gambling if they exceeded a certain limit.
That’s the issue of principle that’s up for discussion. It’s a much bigger issue than comparing turnover with losses and accepting that horse racing losses are clearly not the same as pokies losses.
It’s about what kind of society we all choose to live in. And while we can do our best to save people from themselves and minimise harm, we cannot obliterate the risk of gambling addiction without ultimately outlawing gambling completely, and even then that would depend on absolutely effective enforcement. It’s clear enough that that’s the political objective of those who denounce pokies as an evil on a par with chemically addictive tobacco.
Society has its meddlers. They mostly mean well. But what underpins their meddling is a passionate belief that they know best. And that they can make personal judgments about what’s a socially desirable form of entertainment and what’s not.
In their mind, there is culturally good and culturally bad entertainment: Pokies bad, Crown Casino very bad, Zoo Weekly vile, footy tips betting fine, Melbourne Cup Spring Racing good, opera great, Pilates classes best, The Age Epicure section and the Moroccan Soup Kitchen in Fitzroy the apex of human civilisation.
It’s a patronising, elitist view that The Age have championed for decades now and they will presumably still be championing when their last edition rolls off the presses.
If dumb money losses are enough to sustain a moral panic in pokies, they consistently ought to provoke the same concern about horse racing. They certainly used to but the wowsers moved on to a new target. Ignoring the long history of moral panics around gambling means that we are misled into thinking this is all new and a very modern issue. It’s not. It’s the same logic and the same nonsense that led to the Prohibition of alcohol, a weird movement that occurred not that long ago, in the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents.
And while we acknowledge Mr Cummings makes a superficially attractive argument about numbers (while not acknowledging the redistribution of income from dumb to smart), fundamentally he and those like him who think they know best are trying to re-shape the world to suit the tiny minority of people who are prone to addictive behaviours. The Age doesn’t even have that going for them: they’re just a bunch of snobs, hypocrites and know-alls. We will not miss them.