Kudos to Russell Crowe today, co-owner of the South Sydney Football Club. He has requested that the club – currently undergoing a refurbishment – re-open in 2008 without poker machines. This will cost the club millions in gaming revenue. His partner, Peter Holmes a Court has said:
“We believe it’s the responsible thing to do.There’s such a social cost that comes with poker machines. Many successful clubs exist in the world without them.”
It would be nice if other clubs in Sydney followed suit ,but the fact is that most clubs raise up to 80% of their revenue through gaming; and a large chunk of that is added to the state and federal government coffers. The other very alarming fact is that more than a third of the money swallowed by the pokies comes from people who cannot control how much they spend.
I have seen evidence of the latter fact up close – it is not pretty. Sonia, a woman I worked with about five years ago, a teacher in an inner city school, developed a gambling addiction after her husband left her. When she finished work she went to the club, drank cheap, watered-down beer and played the pokies. As is often the case with gambling, in the beginning she won more than she lost, so she achieved a sense of empowerment. But this was short-lived. In an attempt to further fill the void she gambled more and more, eventually blowing more than $800 per week on the poker machines. She became furtive, secretive, she drank a lot, she stole money from her family; she had trouble interacting socially. Her children pushed her to see a counsellor but she couldn’t stop. She lost her job and refused all contact with her friends and family.
Last week I ran into Sonia’s daughter and asked her what had become of her Mum. She told me she didn’t know if her mother was alive or dead. “Even if she is alive, I don’t want to see her,” she said. “It causes me too much grief.”
I hope that Russell Crowe’s push to rid his club of poker machines is a watershed moment, that it has a domino effect for clubs and pubs all over Sydney. Sadly, I doubt it. The government won’t introduce any controls because it will rid them of a fat little cash cow, no matter how many stories like Sonia’s it hears. St. Augustine said gambling was a tool of the devil. I think it’s the tool of the government.