Regular visitors to cyenne.com would have noticed that I occasionally move things around a little, looking for the best way to present the site and everything it contains. Sometimes I move things, or reorganise them (like my About Me pages); and sometimes I add things. One recent addition was my pokies spending tally, over there on the right in big red text.
Currently, Australia loses an average of $12 billion a year on the pokies. That’s not how much people gamble; that’s how much they lose. This represents two thirds of all the money lost in all forms of gambling in Australia every year, and is split between the pubs, the clubs, the machine owners (which is Tattersalls and Tabcorp, at least until 2012) and the government. While clubs and some pubs give a percentage of their take back to the community (although cheap beer at the local RSL is not the kind of community benefit I’d expect) and the government now funnels much of their pokie revenue back into helping problem gamblers, none of this can disguise the fact that the money is being sucked out of the Australian community in the first place.
To be honest, I’ve never understood how anyone can swallow the concept of “We’ll put in pokies, make $5 million a year, and donate $100,000 back into the community annually”. What’s more, they always say this with a straight face; can it be that they actually believe it?
But I digress. When I crunched the figures and learned that, based on a starting point of $12 billion, Australia loses $33 million a day on the pokies, I started mentioning this on Twitter. I have a fairly active Twitter account (cyenne40) and I talk a lot there about problem gambling. I received a number of replies and reactions, mostly stunned and appalled, and it was then that I decided to keep a running tally of Australia’s poker machine losses.
That was on October 24. Starting the next day, I began to Tweet a running total, day by day. “In the past 6 days Australia has lost $200 million on the pokies.” Things like that. I also added the tally to my blog, making it nice and obvious, and again I’ve had some great feedback on this.
It’s amazing how breaking down massive figures into manageable chunks can hit people so strongly. I’ve equated my running pokie-loss tally to weekly grocery bills and nurses wages, and received a number of replies each time. I think this strongly suggests that poker machines and the problems they cause are still largely a mystery to many Australians; they don’t believe they’re affected, so it’s Someone Else’s Problem. But couch it in a fashion that hits home, and suddenly it’s far more personal.
So why am I writing about this now? Well, today is day 15 of my pokies spending tally, and today Australia hit a milestone. Half a billion dollars lost, in only 15 days. It’s not a statistic that deserves to be celebrated, but I do believe it needs to be recognised. I think people should be aware of how much money the pokies are taking out of their pockets every day.
You see, it’s not just pokie players who are affected by this. The money drained away by the pokies has an impact on every man, woman and child in the country. It affects taxation, both in the amount collected and the way it is spent. It means insolvency, hardship and bankruptcy, which has a knock-on effect on our banks and lending institutions, which in turn is passed on to the customers. It means family breakdown and domestic strife, which impacts on our police, our hospitals, our courts and our social support agencies… not to mention ourselves. And it means political power and media influence for the few groups lucky enough to benefit from this flow of ill-gotten pokie gold, which in turn influences the stories our papers run and the news we see on TV.
It’s time that “unconcerned, unaffected Australia” woke up and realised that the consequences of problem gambling are all around them, and by turning away, they are condoning the harm being done. Sadly, their silence speaks volumes. It’s about time we made some noise.