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The first shot fired in the War on Pokies

By Melody Ayres-Griffiths - posted Friday, 10 February 2012

The approval on Friday of the Maryborough Highland Society's application to build a new sports club in the country-Victorian town of Castlemaine was sadly expected by the cynical. The Society's intent is to convert an existing unused state-owned railway shed, on state-owned land, into another revenue-raiser for both themselves, and the state of Victoria. 

It regrettably comes as no surprise that, rather than take into consideration the obvious conflict of interest held by a state government body appointed to determine the merits of an application to, in part, hand that very same state government a tidy pile of money, it was heartily endorsed by the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation. This is despite there being widespread opposition within the small community of 20,000, demonstrated by an extensive petition, rallies, and around six-hundred individual submissions to the commission, each voicing grave concern.

After all, it's just another 'cash-cow', for both the government and the Maryborough Highland Society to hook up to their financial milking machine, and extract whatever currency they can from those most vulnerable residents of the Castlemaine community. However, as frustrating as this unfortunate decision may be to those Castlemainians who fought so hard against it, the larger issue to be examined here is not the trifling one of whether a tripling of poker machines in Castlemaine is a good or bad thing, but rather, should 'not-for-profit' organisations such as the Maryborough Highland Society deserve the right to operate gaming venues in the first place. 


If you're not a charity, why should you be eligible to raise revenue through a social-negative such as gambling? In Canada, my native country, only organisations recognised as being truly charitable can raise revenue through gaming, outside of government, and we're generally only talking about running bingo games and holding raffles, not housing banks of pokie machines on your own premises. Now, before one is inspired to skip to the comments section, and retort by claiming that clubs are also 'charitable' because they provide 'social benefits' to their membership, let me interrupt you by clarifying that in Canada, an organisation is only considered to be charitable if most of its work - and the majority of the revenue it receives and expends - goes toward providing a notable, substantive benefit to the wider community. 

The operative word here is 'wider'. Obviously, clubs in Canada are thus not charitable organisations, and cannot fund themselves through gambling, although as private associations they can still petition others for non-tax deductible contributions and charge whatever they like in dues. This seems sensible: to take away from the larger community, you must give back to the larger community, and clubs largely do not qualify.

So, my question is why are these rules so completely different in Australia? What real benefits are there to the wider community of a small country town in having a bowling club that sports an under-utilised lawn, and an over-sized lounge largely populated by gambling-addicted inebriates?

Despite my best efforts, I can't find any. The truth is, the regulations defining the entire system, from the ridiculous ease at which one can form a 'not-for-profit' association, through to the laughable requirements to gain the right to operate poker machines, to the absurd 'process' of obtaining the apparently largely pre-determined approval needed to deploy those machines to a particular location, are a complete and total farce. It is largely designed to encourage those who are already typically well-off to realise that they need not spend any of their own precious money on their leisure and social activities when they can simply form an organisation whose ultimate purpose is to efficiently siphon cash from those in the wider community who have far less of it, for the sole benefit of those who really do not need it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm more of a libertarian than a leftist in most things, and if the state government wanted to build an Victorian 'Las Vegas' in the desert, I would not loathe and fear it, rather, I'd be more than happy to support such a move, visit such a place, and spend some of my own money there. However, smaller gaming venues operated by Victorian clubs are not generally intended to both entertain as well as exploit. This is unlike large casinos with their artistic performances and varied eateries. Clubs, in this sense, are instead nothing more than insidious, devilish contraptions intentionally designed by the devious to take advantage of those poor souls who are enslaved by an irresistible addiction to gambling.

Problem gamblers are like drunks, when they have a bad experience in one location such as making an inebriated fool out of themselves, they move on elsewhere, returning only when they feel enough time has passed, at which point, they are certain to soon make a fool out of themselves once again. And the cycle continues. It is similar with those addicted to gambling: if they lose badly in one venue, they will be leery to return to it, and either seek out another less emotionally-tainted location, or resist the urge to gamble again until such a time as the injury to their dignity is eventually overridden by their desperate need to feed their addiction.


More available gaming venues means more 'green fields' for problem gamblers to gradually work their way through before they are ultimately forced to stop, either due to destitution, or an overriding sense of personal humiliation, neither of which are particularly beneficial. Indeed, the present Victorian government policy permitting such a wide variety of for-profit businesses and so-called 'not-for-profit' clubs to operate poker machine venues, and with little restriction, only serves to ensure that every last cent is eventually subtracted from the pockets of gambling addicts, and before they run out of places to go where they still feel comfortable with inevitably being thoroughly robbed. 

The Castlemaine incident, although isolated, highlights an obvious need for there to begin consultations on widespread governmental reform regarding just exactly who can place poker machines where, why precisely they are allowed to do so, and what they can do with the revenue they raise. Clubs that exist primarily to benefit their membership at the expense of those 'lesser' residents of their own communities should no longer qualify.

The current system is just plain disgusting, and horribly wrong. It has to change.

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About the Author

Melody Ayres-Griffiths is a lesbian libertarian living in country Victoria, and a contributor to ABC's The Drum.

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