Take a chance on gambling

Oh dear.

So there is no legislation put forward at the moment to restrict people’s access to gambling machines, but there is talk of mandatory measures being introduced.

So, I’m going to ignore clubs Australia involvement in this issue. They are quoting stats that don’t exist and arguing against legislation that hasn’t been introduced. But I do want to look at the AFL for a second.

Andrew Demetriou, has stated publicly that he is not part of a campaign to block any reform.

Of course, he has stated that the reforms will have no effect – despite there being no detail of the proposed reforms as of yet – and he is trying to talk to Wilkie, Xenophon, and the government to help “work” on the reforms.

Jeff Kennett, the man whose greatest achievement as premier of Victoria was to introduce poker machines, and who is now head honcho of Hawthorn football club, is against the reforms.

Eddie McGuire, president of Collingwood, has also been vocally against poker machine reform. McGuire, however, is concerned about problem gambling, having been supportive of allowing problem gamblers to set betting limits and have registrations on sporting bets.

McGuire, who hosts hot seat – the show modelled on “who wants to be a millionaire” that encourages contestants to risk their winnings by placing another bet on wether or not they’ll know the answer to a question – seems to have been somewhat contrary here. However the distinction is quite clear.

McGuire makes no money from gambling on sports events. And the money that AFL supporters – his club members – lose in sports gambling is money that doesn’t go into his pokies.

So Eddie McGuire’s enlightened stance can be directly linked to his desire to take as much money as he can from the poorest sections of society.

Football clubs are built on gambling. Ignoring the sports betting itself for a moment, the number of clubs that have raised money by “chook raffles” in years past is probably close to 100%. And that’s going through every level of the game, down to the local under 12’s team.

But why is it that poker machines are being targeted?

Let’s have a quick look at the productivity reports in 1999 and 2010. The number of severe problem gamblers has remained fairly static. But back in ’99 the majority of Australians did not want to see the number of poker machines increase.

The main form of gambling that leads to problem gambling is poker machines (from both reports).

While there is a tax revenue made from poker machines, this is offset by the cost to the public purse from problem gambling.

The social impact of problem gambling is significant, which leads to follow on costs not factored into the productivity reports.

So from a purely fiscal perspective, limiting problem gambling has a positive effect on the economy. Focusing on the highest form of gambling that leads to problem gambling – poker machines – will have a positive impact.

What will these restrictions mean to clubs that use these for revenue?

Well, for a significant period poker machines, along with many other forms of gambling, was illegal in Victoria. Clubs used to gain income by serving meals, hiring out venues, being a social centre, and supporting live acts. These clubs for the most part survived without the need for poker machines.

AFL originated from VFL – which was a Victorian based league – and flourished to the point that it grew into a national league. VFL didn’t suffer from not having machines at all, and the game was central to the clubs – not the machines.

RSLs and bowling clubs – the regular venues for the older members of society – did not rely on poker machines to keep the clubs running, but instead encouraged a community within themselves. Many of these now have less community involvement, and have introduced poker machines in order to supplement their lost income.

I went to a country hotel about 6 months ago that had a meat raffle on a Friday night. The entry to the raffle was free – ticket given at the door if you got in before 6:30. There were no poker machines, and no TAB outlets.

It was probably the best feeling of community that I have ever felt within a hotel environment. Everyone was having fun, people were talking and introducing themselves to each other, and as a stranger to the town I still felt included.

Conversely, I went to a local RSL around 3 months ago. Any conversation held there was purely perfunctory, and everyone was sitting in a world of their own in front of a poker machine.

My father in law likes to meet strangers. He introduced himself to the people that we were near as they were playing on their machines. For the most part he got ignored or glared at. In one particular instance and individual looked me up and down – sizing up my capacity for physical conflict – before going back to his game.

It was the most threatening and soul destroying feeling.

I rarely get to see a live band playing at a local hotel – in fact none of my local hotels have the capacity for a live band.

I would love to see AFL becoming a sport again, and not solely a money making enterprise. If I wanted footy to thrive, I’d support bans on pokies.

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