The sound of a Champaign bottle popping its cork, the clink of saluted glasses and the sound of cheering and applause emit from the machine just before a musical rift signifies a winning roll. An encouraging sentence pops up during the serenade exclaiming ‘you’re a winner.’ The number of credits won rolls up in a blur of rushing numbers. Other patrons stop to look on with interest. A feeling of success momentarily washes over me as I press the button for another spin. Clunk, clunk, clunk…brrrrrrring; three bookies tote bags bursting with money appear on the reels and the machine regales the room with another musical rift signifying a special free games feature. The machine racks up twenty seven dollars worth of won credits. Again, patrons stop to watch the spectacle.
I pressed the start feature button to begin the fifteen free games. After several unsuccessful rolls, the machine sounded another loud brrrrrring. Three more tote bags yield another set of fifteen free games within the first set of free games. What luck! Excitement mounted inside me. I now had twenty three free spins and thirty five dollars worth of won credits. I pressed the start feature button again with excitement looking around the room with triumph at the jealous patrons craning their necks to see. My husband stood behind me to watch the thrilling moment. The machine sang and applauded merrily as it payed out credits for rows of symbols. Ladies wearing fashionable hats salute us with champagne flutes. I was excited and bursting with happiness at the prospect of having a decent win on a poker machine for a change. The feature continued to spin and gave me 10-1 odds on two horse head symbols. The machine regaled, the credits rose and the onlookers gathered.
Owned by Aristocrat, the Spring Carnival poker machine replicates a day of betting at the horse races. This colourful machine features 9, 10, J, Q and K card symbols as well as ladies, horses heads and tote bags. The tote bag is a scatter symbol and also presents a fifteen free games feature when three or more appear on the reels. Most poker machines follow a similar set of playing rules using different graphics, images and gaming themes.
Brrrrrring, the machine sounds again after several more rolls, adding another set of fifteen games to the already existing free spins tally. My husband stands with a look of pleasure on his face; his face aglow with the bright fluorescent light emitting from the machine. Several patrons edged closer to get a glimpse of the spectacle and share in the exhilaration. I was so excited that I could hardly sit still. I was starting to cheer, bouncing up and down in my seat. The free spins tally now read thirty seven and the credits won numbers were climbing towards sixty dollars. I pressed the start feature button again. Brrrrrring, the machine peals as corks pop, glasses clink, crowds cheer and music plays. The credits rolled ever increasingly higher in a blur of hurrying numbers. The feeling was delightful; like a dream come true.
Former problem gambler turned gambling reform activist and Drum TV journalist, Tom Cummings says ‘poker machines have a return-to-player percentage of anywhere between 85 per cent and 90 per cent, depending on where you live and what kind of establishment you’re playing in. The rule is that the poker machine has to return 90 per cent of money gambled… not money inserted. And there’s a huge difference.’
‘Those who defend poker machines often point to the high rate of return as one of the reasons that pokies are just “good, clean fun” for most people. The reality is that every poker machine can meet this “rate of return” requirement while still leaving the gambler broke,’ Tom said.
A strange sound broke through our heady haze of winning ecstasy like an emergency siren breaking through the fog of early morning sleep; beep bop…beep bop…beep bop… The screen went blank, the regaling melody stopped and the free games tally disappeared but the won credits numbers were still rolling up. I still had three dollars of my original five dollars credit to play. I called the attendant. She slapped the side of the machine and it responded with another alarming beep bop…beep bop…beep bop. I looked back at the screen and the scrolling winnings had disappeared. I looked at my residual credits and it now read fifty cents. A feeling of panic and dismay washed over me as I complained about the loss of my original three dollars credit. This money had nothing to do with the winnings from the free games features. It was my money still yet to be gambolled. My husband stood quietly watching. The other patrons slowly disperse, going back to their own machines. The attendant says ‘I will have to ring head office.’ I wait patiently for her return staring at the machine with disbelief. The attendant returns momentarily, speaking to someone on a cordless phone. She opens the machine, puts her hand inside, flicks a switch and closes the door again.
Problem sorted right? Wrong! The machine automatically reset to the first set of fifteen free games and the twenty seven dollars of won credits that went with it. However, the residual credit bar still read fifty cents. I was taken aback. What happened to the over sixty dollars of won credits, the almost thirty free spins and the three dollars of my original money that I still had left to play with? I tried to explain to the attendant that this was not right and the machine owed me two dollars fifty. She argued the point, and spoke to me like I was trying to cheat the house. My husband started to become angry about the situation demanding that the establishment give back our original playing money that was now missing. The attendant ran away and hid in the cashier’s office. We played the games out that were now left on the machine and walked away with thirty dollars of winnings.
We broke even that day last year but I still felt I had been ripped off by a poker machine; shame on the gaming industry. I felt cheated and violated. It was legal daylight robbery. It was not the loss of a poultry two dollars fifty that upset me; it was the ethics and morals of the whole situation. I was left wondering how many other people get ripped off like this during the course of a normal poker machines gaming day?
Colloquially termed, ‘one armed bandits’, poker machines take around ten billion dollars a year, from players, and funnel it into hotel owners, club and casino managements and state governments coffers. The catch phrase of the gambler is ‘you have to be in it to win it’. A Productivity Commission Report on Gambling during 2010 found that in 2009, approximately six hundred thousand Australian adults were ‘in it to win it’, spending around nineteen billion dollars on the entertaining past time. According to Uniting Care Australia’s Uniting for Change Organisation, hundreds of thousands of people have problems with gambling.
A flashy new Casino has been promised for Sydney in the next few years.
According to the Relationships Australia Counselling Organisation, people who gamble are influenced by a number of factors. ‘Gamblers often think they can guess when the next payout or win will occur, but of course this is impossible to do. Financial stress, boredom and depression can also be influential factors,’ the websites states.
Independent Senator for South Australia and advocate for pokie reform Nick Xenaphon believes that the poker machine industry is based on exploitation. As a result, ‘poker machines lead to at least 400 suicides annually and poker machines are the second highest cause of crime in the community after the illicit drug trade,’ he said.
As I stalked out the door of the establishment I took one last look at the machine that had affronted me so. Several of the patrons who had witnessed the fiasco were now rushing toward the machine to place their bets. Their expectant and hopeful faces illuminated in the enchanting glow emitted from the machine.
According to the PokieWatch Organisation, ‘the largest Australian operator of poker machines is Woolworths Limited/Safeway and its associated companies.’ Coles/Wesfarmers were described as another close contender.
A Gaming Technologies Association (GTA) fact sheet describes. ‘Australia had 2.4 percent of the worlds gaming machines’ in 2008. That equates to around 33,000 machines Australia wide. An article in the Age newspaper states this number has increased by about 15,000 between 2008 and 2010. According to the World Count of Gaming Machines, ‘NSW has by far the most machines of any state, with 97,103, Queensland is second with 47,318 followed by Victoria with 29,262.’ That equates to 173, 683 machines for these three states alone. That is far more than the 33,000 machines Australia wide as described by the GTA. An ABC Four Corners program estimated that in 2007 there were 200,000 gaming machines in Australia.
On the 18th April 2013, Australia’s consumer affairs television program Today Tonight aired a story about another individual who experienced a similar problem. The pensioner clocked up a win of 1.3Million dollars which his local sporting and recreation club refused to pay claiming the machine had malfunctioned. A very short time in which to appeal the decision that the pensioner was unaware of legally clinched the clubs right to refuse payment.
Poker Machines are not the only form of gambolling in Australia. There is also a massive scratch and win tickets industry, Lotto sweepstakes played every day of the week and a pub or club bingo style of gambolling called Keno with a game running every few minutes. Even some highly reputable charity agencies use gambolling to raise money for charity from the sales of raffle tickets offering houses, boats, cars and cash prizes. There are also puzzle magazines that make money from Australia’s love for punting by offering household goods and prize money in exchange for raffle entries.
Even local schools delve into the revenue raising practice, offering Christmas or Easter hampers and other prizes in exchange for raffle tickets sold to parents, extended family and local communities by primary school children. The law states that one must be 18 years of age to gambol in Australia, yet we teach our children to gambol at a very young age in schools.
Where do we as a society draw the line?
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*38.6% of Australian adults play the pokies
*In 2003/2004 gamblers lost $16.21 billion ($9.1 billion on pokies)
*It is estimated that there are over 300,000 problem gamblers
*The average payout percentage of pokies is 90.89%
*Average chance of winning the jackpot playing 1 line is 1 in 50,000,000
*Average chance of winning the jackpot playing 20 lines is 1 in 2,500,000
*The highest jackpot you can win in a pub is $10,000
*The average player loses $380 dollars every year
*The average problem gambler loses $12,000 each year