Much of the current debate surrounding poker machine reform in Australia is ill-informed and fails to hit the realities of the problem – and I refer to both sides in the ongoing battle over mandatory pre-commitment.
I received an opinion piece from Scott Eager late last week that I think begins to explain some of the core problems that exist ‘on the ground’. So, I’m going to sit back this week, and leave you in the hands of Scott…
I’m a nobody, an everyday guy. I’m a roofer in the day and a boxing coach at night. I’m also an ex-poker machine addict. I used to be one of the people this government is supposedly trying to help. I’m talking about poker machine reform of course. I’m talking about the government trying to do something about the teachers, builders, nurses, pensioners, house wives, white and blue collar workers, anyone you know, who may be secretly but painfully addicted to the cash cow that is the dreaded poker machine.
I rang the David Oldfield show on 2UE last week with a suggestion on how to solve, if not greatly reduce the poker machine addiction epidemic. It’s simple – remove the feature. David told me I was wrong naturally, even though he later admitted he didn’t know what the feature was.
The “feature” – or “free spins” – is the symbols that award you free games if you get three or more. This is the elephant in the room. Chasing features is where our money goes.
Every player sits down with their hard earned cash, hoping to get the feature. Getting it is our “high”. It’s our drug. I have spent hundreds of dollars in a sitting waiting for the feature, sometimes winning only $20 or so for my toil.
How stupid is that? Ask any pokie player and they’ve lived out that scenario over and over again. Never learning their lesson from the last time.
There is a battle going on in the minds of all pokie players in Australia right now. This battle is the hunger for the feature.
So why are they debating the introduction of a costly and problematic pre-commitment card? Why are they talking about a $1 maximum bet, which means you can still blow a week’s wages quite easily in a matter of hours?
Why are they talking about slowing the spins down, which means the player will still blow everything they have, they’ll just take twice as long to do it? Why are they talking about reducing the jackpot, meaning you will still spend just as much money hoping to win it, only to get half as much when you do?
Why don’t politicians look at why pokies are addictive in the first place? No one is addicted until the first time they get the feature, and from there it’s a thirst to keep getting it.
My suggestion is based on experience, anxiety, lost money, lost sleep, guilt, disgust, even tears.
To prove it, I went to all my local pubs and clubs and asked five questions of actual pokie players. I was asked to leave four of these venues by staff. I interviewed 202 players over four days. A lot initially said they only spend the occasional $20 note. Later I would get the truth. Many opened up. I saw the shame, anger, sadness, frustration, sense of loss and disillusionment in their eyes. I felt the same once.
The results were not surprising, but emphatic – 84 per cent agreed that the feature was the most addictive component and the main reason they played; 90 per cent said they regularly felt like they were waiting for the feature during game play; 83 per cent said that removing the feature would make the machines less addictive.
These were actual players, not grandmothers answering a phone survey because they had nothing better to do.
I forwarded my results to Andrew Wilkie’s assistant. I got a response that said my results and suggestions were interesting, “but don’t hold your breath for a response from Andrew as he’s a busy guy”.
I rang Minister Jenny Macklin’s office twice. Her assistant was also interested in my results, but no one got back to me. I tried my local member. No reply. The gambling department of Sydney University? Nothing. What about Senator Nick Xenophon’s office? Nope. I rang back 2UE and they told me their listeners wouldn’t be interested.
I don’t want my children pre-committing to bet a certain amount; I want them to play less addictive machines, or none at all.
The feature is to a poker machine, what caffeine is to coffee. So why are we not removing what is on them to addict you? The caffeine is the feature. Instead the politicians are debating how much milk to put in our coffee, or whether it should be served in a mug or a cup.
Addiction and over-spending on poker machines is at epidemic proportions in Australia.
Open your eyes. You won’t get real figures from a stupid phone survey. Most addicts won’t tell their spouses or loved ones let alone the government.
The answer is with us players. The answer is the removal of the dreaded “feature”.