Pokies & Porkies

The unedifying spectacle of clubs and pubs going the biff over gaming (aka poker) machines reforms proposed by those brave parliamentarians Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon has been downright ugly. Playing the man and not the ball has been the modus operandi against these two, and scare campaigns run by clubs in marginal Labor-held seats against elected representatives.

Australia’s addiction to so-called ‘pokies’ is strongest in NSW, with half of the country’s 200,000 machines, followed by Queensland and Victoria. Poker machine revenues are about 15% of NSW government’s $1.6b gambling tax take. To say that we are a gambling nation is a serious understatement, with $19b lost in all forms of gambling in 2008-09 in Australia – $1500 per adult. Estimated spend on pokies is $12b.

The uniquely Australian evolution has been to weave gambling, particularly poker machines, into the very fabric of society in those states where they are ubiquitous. Pubs, RSL and sporting clubs of every kind are wedded to their one-armed bandits as prime sources of revenue. Used to support sporting teams and local groups, this dependency is spread seamlessly into the non-gambling population too. With government massively on the pokies tax teat, the push for modest reforms to alleviate ‘problem’ gambling is heroic indeed. And an audience for misleading statements by the clubs and hotels industry is susceptible to easy manipulation.

Truth as the first casualty of war is no exception here. Clubs maintain that proposed mandatory poker machine pre-commitments limits would severely hit their industry and support for local communities, and at the same time, be useless and ineffective. Huh? Even footie commentors were swung into action in the patriotic war against reform. Porkies is a commonly-used euphemism, but in this case the lying and spin are too gross to malign the pork pie again. 

The shortened ‘pokies’ also sounds so much friendlier than poker or gaming machines, with that ring of something banal, harmless and everyday. As we know, language is important, and with this classic Australianism the gambling is understated, and the machine almost humanised. What a shamefully parasitic blight on us all: pokies and porkies, a winning bet? That should be unAustralian!

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