Forty million dollars.
Roll that figure around in your head for a moment. Can you grasp it? It’s a hell of a sum. Far more than any Victorian poker machine venue (apart from Crown, of course) makes in a year, and close to half of what NSW super-clubs-group Panthers earns from their pokies annually.
But Australians lose that much on poker machines every 29 hours. And no, I’m not talking about turnover; that’s actual monetary losses. That’s the 10% (roughly) that poker machines keep across the nation.
There would be few communities out there, few charities or health groups or junior sporting associations or counselling services that couldn’t put $40 million to good use. That kind of money could go an awfully long way.
But it won’t.
That’s because the $40 million I’m talking about is the new war chest that Australia’s combined poker machine industries have earmarked to bring down the government. The Australian Financial Review has reported today that Australia’s casinos have joined the clubs and pubs in their campaign against poker machine reforms. Together, they have committed $40 million not just to fighting the reforms, but to waging a campaign of destabilisation against the Labor party nationwide. Their stated intention is to ensure not only that Labor MPs across the country lose their seats, but that the Gillard government falls in the process.
Correct me if I’m wrong… but that doesn’t sound like concern for local communities or junior sports. That doesn’t sound at all like concern for addicted gamblers and their families. That’s because it isn’t… it’s the reaction of an industry that has grown used to getting its own way and reaping the benefits.
It’s a temper tantrum, being thrown on a scale not seen before in this country, by spoilt children who’ve had it too good for too long.
Back when the clubs and pubs first joined forces to fight the proposed reforms, they committed $10 million to the fight. That quickly doubled to $20 million. Then, when the absurdly ridiculous “It’s Un-Australian” campaign rolled out, the public backlash and waves of derisive laughter forced the clubs to back down… supposedly. As recently as last week, it was being reported that only $2 million had been spent on the campaigns so far.
That’s about to change. The casinos are entering the battlefield, bringing the likes of James Packer with them, and the money that will be spent on this fight has officially reached obscene levels.
They’re not spending this kind of money to protect the people. Not on your life. This is about preserving their place in the food chain. Australia’s 200,000 poker machines suck more than $12 billion out of our pockets every year, in our clubs, our pubs and our casinos. And even if you don’t play, you’re still paying the cost; poker machine addiction costs Australian taxpayers billions of dollars more every year in counselling and support services.
No, this campaign is focussed on waging a war on two fronts. First, the industry wants the reforms stopped. They have been prepared to say and do anything, even spread blatant lies and misinformation, to achieve this goal, and they’re not going to stop now. And second, they want the government gone, to be replaced by a political party that they feel is more likely to let them continue on their merry way.
The indicators were there, when Clubs NSW struck an arrangement with Barry O’Farrell before the last NSW election. The MOU between Clubs NSW and the NSW Coalition pledged fewer gambling controls for clubs, and no new restrictions. That’s the shape of things to come if they get their way.
The clubs/pubs/casinos alliance couldn’t care less about the rights of the “average Australian”. They rely on average Australians for their livelihood; it’s average Australians that pour the rivers of gold through poker machines, a bare fraction of which makes it back to them as grudgingly-offered community donations and benefits.
These proposed reforms have the industry running scared, especially because they are supported by the general public… and it’s telling that Tony Abbott recently refused to confirm that he would roll back poker machine reforms if the Coalition won government. This is Tony “I’ll roll back the carbon tax” Abbott, remember… but even though he claims to oppose pokies reform, he won’t get rid of it.
If you’re a club member, or a poker machine player, or even if you’re not interested in the pokies at all: don’t be fooled. The gambling industry is investing millions of dollars, not to look after you, but to look after themselves.
They will tell you who to vote for; they will tell you what to think. But remember this:
They have lied about the reforms.
They have lied about the impact.
They have lied about the cost.
And they have lied, constantly and unashamedly, to the very people that keep them in business.
Why on earth are we still listening?