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Pokie. Poker machine addiction in Australia

Updated on December 2, 2012
blow up the pokies.  Cover of music album by the Whitlams
blow up the pokies. Cover of music album by the Whitlams

In the last year the Federal Labor Government has been in negotiations with The Independent Members of Parliament to regulate the poker machine industry to prevent harm to users especially problem gamblers. Independent MP's Nick Zenophon and Andrew Wilkie who have anti-poker machine platform or ticket when they entered Parliament, Have been seeking reforms to reduce the harm caused by Gaming Machines such as pokies..

Around 52 per cent of problem gamblers said they had borrowed money and not paid it back;

about 36 per cent said they had sold property to raise money to bet; a further 43 per cent said they

sometimes went without food to pay for their addiction; and one in four problem gamblers

suffered divorce or separation. At the extreme end, some problem gamblers have stolen large

sums of money from employers, family or friends, and ended up in prison, while others’ despair

has been so great they have committed suicide


The Poker Machine, Gaming machine or fruit-machine or 'one-armed bandit's' as they were once were nicknamed have become widespread throughout all states in Australia. So much so that Australia, now has more Poker machines per-capita, than any country on earth.

Unbeknown to poker machine players is the fact that the odds of winning a jackpot are no better than winning million dollar national lottery prizes. That's right a million or millions to one.

Here in Australia pokies or poker machines are very popular. They revenue raised is enormous and State government collected taxes or duties in the millions every year and they have become essential revenues for State budgets. The poker machine trend started in New South Wales with the Clubs and Pubs like the Returned Services League(RSL) putting in them into their Clubs as a form of 'cheap entertainment' (for the clubs) and as a "cash-cow" for the Clubs themselves. It developed further with the opening in 1973 of Australia's first casino at West Point in Tasmania.

The South Australian Government followed with Adelaide Casino built using the site of the large old railway station in the City. Later Queensland seeing many of their tourists traveling to Tweed heads just over the border of Qld/NSW play poker machines they realised they were missing out on substantial revenue, in the form of poker-machine or Gaming Tax. . By the building of Conrad Jupiter's Resort on the Gold Coast in Queensland in 1987 the Government was able to tap into the market and get useful revenue. Later in 1990 Sydney followed suit with Star City Hotel/Casino opening in Darling Harbour. Of course Western Australia didn't want to miss out neither did the Northern Territory or Canberra in the Capital Territory each building Casinos. We now have saturation, State to State coverage of Casinos in Australia. As a consequence we also now have a record number of problem gamblers...

Casinos exist in large numbers in the United States too. They are far less prevalent in Britain. Perhaps because the Poker machine manufacturer Len Ainsworth is Australian.

"Blow Up the Pokies"

By music group The Whitlam's...

Don’t; don't explain....Lots of little victories take on the pain

It takes so long to earn-You can double up or you can burn,

You can burn And I wish I, wish I knew the right words

To make you feel better, walk out of this place

And Defeat them in your secret battle

Show them you can be your own man again

And I wish I, wish I knew the right words

To blow up the pokies and drag them away

'Cause they're taking the food off your table

So they can say that the trains run on time

Flashing lights, it's a real show

And your wife? I wouldn't go home

The little bundles need care

And you can't be a father there, father there

And I wish I, wish I knew the right words

To make you feel better, walk out of this place

And Defeat them in your secret battle

Show them you can be your own man again; show them you can be your own man again...

And I wish I, wish I knew the right words

To blow up the pokies and drag them away

'Cause they're taking the food off your table

So they can say that the trains run on time

A lyric to the Hit Song Blow up the Pokies by The Whitlam’s the song was a testimonial to Andy Lewis (1967 - February 12, 2000) was the orginal bassist of Australian band The Whitlam's. He left The Whitlam's in the late 1995, and went to Melbourne, Australia to form another band, The Gadfly's. He committed suicide in February 2000, aged 33, battling a gambling addiction.

All States in Australia have Gaming Machines or Poker machines nearly in all the Pubs Clubs and Casinos in Australia and gambling on them has become a very Big Issue. Leading to Bankruptcy suicide, depression & homelessness.

Trouble is as well as the gamblers becoming addicted State Governments have become addicted to the revenue that poker machines generate...

"There's no country in the world that has gambling in clubs and pubs in the way that we do in Australia." Professor Jan Macmillan.

For just over 50 years "the pokies" have been relieving Australian punters of their money. For every dollar spent at the racetrack, $5 is spent on poker machines. And they're not called one-armed bandits for nothing. Australia's 200,000-odd poker machines transfer more than $10 billion dollars each year from the pockets of Australian gamblers to the coffers of pub owners, club managements, and state governments. A jackpot, year after year.

But these profits come at a price. Most research shows that more than a third of the money swallowed by the pokies comes from people who can't control how much they spend. Jonathan Holmes talks to gambling addicts and their families about their experiences with the gaming machines that one counsellor describes as the crack cocaine of gambling.

They explain what its like to be mesmerised in "the zone". One woman recounts how she poured half a million dollars in life savings into the pokies, leaving her with nothing. One man describes how he lost his job, his house and his car, along with the love and trust of his family. Another describes how his mother, in the grip of a gambling addiction, stole more than $2 million from her employer and is now serving a four year jail term.

Problem gambling is not a new phenomenon. The addictive nature of poker machines was openly discussed when they were first legalised in NSW. Yet half a century later the pubs and clubs and governments are still dancing around the issue.

In the last twelve months there has been a push in Federal politics to impose limits on the amount f money a person can lose on the poker machines by introducing a pre-comitment system. A system where by punters or gamblers can pre-comit in the form of an electronic card an amount they are prepared to lose. There is a massive resistance against this by the clubs industry who argue that such a scheme will cost them millions of dollars annually. The proponents of the scheme argue that pr-commitment as one of the effective ways in which problem gambling and all the socially damaging costs can be curtailed.


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    • profile image

      maybeoneday 5 years ago

      The world is really a sad place when governments can tell us what is allowed and what is not based on the revenue they might generate.

      Governemts do not even care about their own people as long as they have enough revenue for their stay in power.

      A world with no balls ......NO ONE CARES anymore


    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 8 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks for your comments for those that have an addiction cold turkey is the only way to go !

    • profile image

      deidre 8 years ago


    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I've found that gambling don't really care if they win or not, they just like "the action." You are a hundred percent right about the poker machines, Barry. It's virtually impossible to win on them, yet people keep pouring coins into them (or "playing" credits.) All the jai alai frontons in Connecticut have been closed down, but when they were going strong you couldn't help noticing that a large number of patrons were elderly. They were there for the gamblers' "high," and secretly hoping to win "the jackpot" so they could leave a fortune to their grandchildren.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 9 years ago from Queensland Australia

      abosultely they work on the psychologically proven learning technique of variable positive re-eforcement theory

    • creatingleverage profile image

      creatingleverage 9 years ago from Ireland

      Good hub, Barry.

      It has been said that pokermachines are the "crack cocaine" of the gambling world.

      They are a plague.