Anglicare Tasmania was in the news recently as a result of their idea to remove chairs from gaming rooms, or poker machine venues. The suggestion was contained in their submission to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform’s inquiry into problem gambling prevention & treatment, and it caused a bit of a stir.
The point, as Anglicare Tasmania CEO Chris Jones explained, was to break up the gambling experience. As he said:
“If they want a break, they can sit elsewhere, but they don’t need to take a seat in front of a machine.”
Not surprisingly, Clubs Australia came out swinging. Media boss and spokesman Jeremy Bath cranked the over-reaction dial up to eleven when he responded to the idea with this:
“It’s clear there is an element of the church that has been hijacked by the anti-gambling lobby and whose recommendations are more about physically punishing problem gamblers than helping them.”
I don’t think anyone really believes that removing chairs from gaming rooms is part of some covert plot to “physically punish” poker machine addicts… and besides, from what I’ve seen the industry is already doing a pretty good job of that themselves!
Me? I like the idea. So long as there were stools available that could be brought out, upon request, for those who need them, what’s wrong with it? Heck, I know how easy it is to settle into that chair, lean back and let everything slip away… so if standing up might help, then why not?
But it got me thinking. Good poker machine reform has to be about changing the playing experience. The best and most obvious way of doing that is to change the machines themselves, and I unequivocally believe that this has to happen. But there’s another way of changing the playing experience that can happen right now.
Let’s make gaming rooms food-free, drink-free, alcohol-free zones.
Why not? They’re already smoke-free, much to the disgust of the industry which dragged their heels on THAT one for as long as they could. They still moan about the drop in revenue that happened when smoking bans kicked in… never mind the whole cancer/emphysema thing, or looking after their patrons.
So let’s go one step further. No eating or drinking in gaming rooms. At all. If a poker machine player wants a drink or a bite to eat, then there’s nothing stopping them from walking out of the gaming room and into the bar, bistro or restaurant, and satisfying that need.
This isn’t a new idea, and it’s not an attack on anyone’s rights. Who can honestly say that they would fight for their right to eat hot chips while playing a poker machine? That’s bordering on absurd. And it’s not like there’s any shortage of food or drink in these places… we’re talking about pubs and clubs after all.
It would be more hygienic too. Imagine all those drinks spilt, all those greasy fingers from bowls of chips pressing the buttons… no need for that any more. A more pleasant and mess-free environment for everyone.
And in many ways it’s a merger of the responsible service of alcohol with the responsible service of gambling. No drinking while gambling. Simple, and far easier for staff to understand and implement.
So how about it? Should poker machine rooms become food/drink-free zones? It just may encourage people to take a break from their machines once in a while… a concept everyone, from the counsellors to the advocates to the government to the industry, supports. It may help prevent some people from developing problems with their gambling, while we wait for the fundamental machine reforms to kick in.
And it wouldn’t cost a single dollar to implement.
What do you think?