I nearly had to drop Burswood Casino into my Sneaky Bastards file today. I still might.
There’s an article in today’s issue of The West Australian about the pokies at Burswood. Apparently WA authorities believe that their pokies should not be covered by the Wilkie-Gillard pre-commitment agreement. Their reason? That they’re not actually pokies.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. The accepted official term for pokies in Australia is electronic gaming machines, or EGMs. EGMs are legal in pubs, clubs and casinos in every state of Australia bar one, and that’s Western Australia.
In WA, EGMs are restricted to Burswood Casino; the rest of the state has no gaming machines. The Burswood EGMs are quite lucrative, but it’s true that they’re not pokies in the classic sense. Pokies are reel-based games, with absolutely no skill involved in playing. The Burswood EGMs on the other hand are not reel-based games, but are instead video versions of keno, poker, and a range of other classic gambling games such as dice and dominoes.
This is the key point. WA authorities claim that because their machines are EGMs and not pokies, they should not be subject to the new pre-commitment laws being developed. The difference is that the Burswood EGMs require players to make choices, much as the manual forms of poker, keno, etc do. There’s some skill involved, and the need for player interaction beyond the simple pushing of a button.
I will concede that they have a point, and that it may be incorrect to lump all of Australia’s pokies and gaming machines under the single “EGM” banner. And I’m happy to concede that Burswood’s machines are not pokies. But at the same time, they cannot be treated purely as conventional forms of gambling.
Take poker, for example. Conventionally a poker player would play against other people, real life people, with a human dealer and actual playing cards. Much of the skill involved in poker revolves around your ability to bluff, and read, your opponents.
But video poker? It’s just you against the computer. No bluff, no analysis, no dealer, no cards, no chips. It’s all electronic, and it’s completely isolated. Playing video poker is as isolating and impersonal as playing the pokies.
Additionally, there’s no way of telling if a video poker machine is playing by the rules. You can’t ask to inspect the cards to make sure they’re all there. You can’t talk to the dealer. It’s all hidden in the programming. Sure, if a machine is proven to be rigged then the repercussions are severe… but how do you, as a player, know?
And lastly, being an isolated, electronic form of gambling (just as the pokies are), there is the potential to slip into the “zone” that pokie addicts often speak about. There’s something about electronic gambling that can have a powerful impact on the subconscious mind; it’s one of the reasons that pokies can be so dangerous, and video poker machines (and the like) can have the same effect.
It’s interesting that it appears to be the WA government that is making this claim; it’s the Department of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, as well as Gaming Minister Terry Waldron, that believe that Burswood’s machines should be exempt. The casino hasn’t said anything. Sounds suspiciously like revenue protection to me.
In the end, while it may be true that reel-based pokies are more addictive and more harmful than Burswood’s machines, the fact remains that both have enormous potential to cause harm. And accordingly, both should be subject to mandatory pre-commitment legislation. It may be that the rules for Burswood’s machines are a little different, but we need them in place nevertheless.