Let’s talk about pokies

If you’ve ever dropped by a “gaming room” to “play the pokies”, it’s time for a language reboot.

Language is a funny thing. The way we talk about something shapes the way we think about it, and from there, the way we feel about it.

The poker machine industry is intimately aware of this. For decades now they’ve used terms and expressions that are designed to make their product seem harmless, fun… a little light entertainment, nothing more than that.

Which is why you hardly ever hear them talk about “gambling” in connection with poker machines. It’s always “gaming”, which is something else altogether. We have electronic gaming machines, sitting in gaming rooms and gaming lounges, and the people using them are, therefore, playing games.


Only they’re not games. And they’re not playing. It’s time we rebooted the language we use to talk about poker machines, starting with six key points.

1. It’s not a game, it’s a machine.

Poker machines aren’t games. A game is something you participate in, something you can try to win. A poker machine is a computer in a box that flashes coloured lights and plays mindless music. All you can do is press a button, over and over again. You can’t affect the outcome; you can’t win. That’s not a game.

2. You don’t play it, you feed it.

The main thing that a poker machine is designed to do is take your money. That’s it. Your part of the equation is to feed it. Everything else is just a distraction to make you forget that feeding the machine is all you’re doing.

3. You don’t play it, it plays you.

This is the fundamental truth of poker machines. They’ve been designed to make you keep feeding them; they are designer addiction machines. In the words of Allison Keogh, from the Alliance for Gambling Reform: “These machines are not a game of chance. It’s a con. They’ve been designed to get under your skin and into your brain. They’re dangerous, and they’re everywhere. It could happen to anyone.”

We’re learning more all the time about the way these machines do this.
Please head over to Pokies Play You, the Alliance for Gambling Reform’s website, for more about this.


4. It’s not gaming.

“Gaming” is something that happens on a PlayStation, or an X-Box, or even a Nintendo DS. It’s when you play a game. It’s when you have fun. Feeding a poker machine isn’t “gaming”; it’s barely even gambling.

5. It’s not entertainment.

The most common phrase bandied about is that “for most people, poker machines are a source of entertainment”. This is a lie. Walk around a poker machine venue one day and take a look at the people feeding the machines. You won’t see many smiles. You won’t see many people talking to each other. And if anyone notices you watching them, they won’t be pleased.

Poker machines aren’t there for people to be entertained; they’re there to make money. That’s the way it’s always been, going right back to NSW in the 1950s. The only reason poker machines were introduced in Victoria, Queensland and the other states and territories was because their governments were broke and needed the money.

6. It’s not Responsible Gambling.

The catchcry of governments and the poker machine industry alike. Apparently “responsible gambling” is what we should all aspire to; if we would just “gamble responsibly” then all our problems would go away.
But poker machines are the antithesis of responsible gambling. They are designed to take your money, and take it they do. They are designed to keep you coming back, feeding more and more money in, and that’s just what happens.

It’s no surprise that even now, in the middle of Victoria’s “Responsible Gambling Awareness Week” with presentations and displays and events all week, almost all of the focus is on sports betting and online gambling. Hardly anyone wants to talk about poker machines. That’s not surprising; poker machines are, by design, irresponsible.

So yes. Let’s talk about poker machines. But let’s do it right.


1 Response

  1. Franky says:

    I love a punt but dont touch those things. Just ban them. The increased postive social externalities will more than offset the lost gambling tax take.. Talking of the punt though there should be legislated max amounts that the bookies % can be. 120% max maybe at all times.. No excuse the computer can take care of it, if they take a big bet and wind something in all others automatically go out, longest odds first maybe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *