a step in the right direction

There was a lot of coverage in the media a week or so back about kids games in gambling venues. The style of the games, and their proximity to gaming rooms and poker machines, gave rise to the very real concern that kids who played these games would be “groomed” for the pokies; desensitised to the concept of risking small prizes to win big ones, and accepting of the pokies as a reasonable way to pass the time. That’s not to mention the parents who would leave their kids to play these machines while they spent hours on the pokies.

Now, we’re not talking Space Invaders, PacMan or Galaga here… these were technically skill games, but the prizes on offer included high-value items such as televisions and iPods. Of course, no one just won the big prizes. You had to win small prizes first, and then risk them to go for the big ones. And these machines could be programmed by the operators to only pay out a small percentage of the time… just like poker machines.

Learning how to gamble? You bet!

Senator Xenophon and the Rev. Costello were among the voices calling for these machines to be banned, but another voice has been a long-time vocal opponent of exposing our children to poker machines. Paul Bendat, of pokieact.org and pokiewatch.org, has been campaigning relentlessly to ensure that kids can’t be exposed to, and lured by, poker machines. Amongst other things, Paul has been fighting against these arcade-style games for a long time now, and he’s had a specific focus on the ALH group (a partnership between Woolworths and Bruce Mathieson) that owns and operates almost 20% of the pokie venues in Victoria.

And today, Paul’s had a win. ALH announced today that they would be pulling all high-value-prize kids games from all of their venues. This will happen over the next year, or once existing contracts to operate the games expired.

This is excellent news, but there’s still an element of spin to the situation. The ALH group denies that they’re removing machines because of concerns about grooming kids to gamble; their position is that the machines aren’t popular, and weren’t “adding value” to the venues. Sure. Say what you like, as long as you get rid of them!

Commendable though this is, it’s a shame that it took a private operator to make this kind of decision, while the state government sat on their hands. And there’s still the other 80% of venues that will continue to offer these games if they wish… so there’s a long way to go. But finally, something is being done.

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