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When is gambling not gambling?
4% of adult Australians play the pokies each week
$6 billion spent on pokies each year
The growing trend in ‘redemption games’ that are now filling children’s games arcades are setting them on the rocky road to gambling.
They are called ‘redemption games’ because young people play for tickets or prizes, including cameras and TVs. They use electronic claws to grasp at a pile of goodies, spin a wheel, or use a button to line up blocks and win.
Many of the games now even mimic poker machines and the increasing popularity of computer games and gaming consoles at home has further fuelled their popularity.
Many arcades are strategically placed in clubs near the pokies where their parents are playing. So while mum and dad are gambling away at the big poker machines (it accounts for almost two thirds of the $19 billion dollars Australians “spend” on gambling each year), the kids are learning how to gamble at the games arcade.
The Productivity Commission’s report into gambling which was published in June highlights the significant social cost of gambling, estimated to be at least $4.7 billion. More than 75% of Australians with gambling problems spend most of their money on poker machines. A survey conducted by the Victorian government found that 6,000 pokie playing Victorians admitted that their gambling had led them to do something against the law.
The Productivity Commission’s report confirmed the view that ”minors should not … be exposed to gambling areas within venues”.
The report also acknowledged that “there is strong evidence that gambling can have adverse health, emotional and financial impacts on many more people than those categorised as ‘problem gamblers’. As is the case in policies addressing harm from alcohol consumption, policy also needs to address these wider impacts”.
Independent Senator, Mr Nick Xenophon thinks these games should be reclassified as gaming machines. He said the federal government should bring in new laws; ”legislation needs to change because these machines are a training ground for pokies. It puts kids at risk.”
”While mum and dad are playing pokies inside, the kids are getting trained on redemption [arcade] games just a few metres away. The connection is insidious and it is totally cynical,” he said.
Activist and founder of PokieAct.org Paul Bendat said all children’s games should be banned from pokies venues. ”I stand for children not being in pokies venues at all because gambling is an adult form of harmful entertainment,” he said.
Mr Bendat believes that there is an Australia wide assault on our children, they are being lured into pokie pubs and exposed to gambling on the poker machines.
One person commented that “I would never let my children near pokies as I’ve seen what they can do families. After many years of seeing my husband’s nieces and nephews around pokies, they now also think nothing of sinking a few hundred (dollars) when we go out for lunch at a club”.
These sentiments are echoed by Charles Livingstone, an electronic gaming expert at Monash University, who feels that the arcade games both indoctrinate kids into gambling while making them feel it is a normal part of life, and lure them with their parents into the pokie venues.
Dr Livingstone said Australia had ”one of the world’s most liberal gambling regulatory regimes”, which had led to a significant increase in the number of pubs and gaming venues offering children’s activities in recent years. A University of Adelaide study released last year surveyed more than 2,500 teenagers and found pathological gamblers were significantly more likely to play video and arcade games.
David Curry, a spokesman for Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, said “we operate family venues with a variety of entertainment opportunities for children included within that,” he seemed unable to appreciate that games had the potential to teach children to gamble, or encourage them to gamble as they grew older.
It seems the government has a dilemma on its hands. The problem is that the Productivity Commission’s recommendations are trying to reduce the harm associated with gambling, while preserving its benefits.
This seems to be a contradiction of terms. How can something which has proven to be both addictive and harmful to the individual have any ‘benefits’? perhaps the government is referring to financial ‘benefits’ which the clubs no doubt enjoy or the revenue collected by the government which is certainly a benefit the government would not like to forego.
Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.