I know traditional stories about money on Melbourne Cup Day focus on how much dosh we waste on betting, the more productive purposes on which these funds could be spent and the havoc problem gambling poses for many families. Heard it all before.
I actually don’t have a problem with gambling – in two senses. Each Christmas when my family rents a holiday house we buy scratchies every day in the hope we’ll win enough to buy the house we rent. It’s so exciting – we genuinely believe that we have a chance to win. And the outlay isn’t great – $10 for five $2 scratchies initially and this usually produces at least one or two winners, proceeds from which are reinvested in scratchies. In fact I still have a winning ticket left over from last time I’m going to cash in when we’re next there.
One day last Christmas my brother and I went in to the newsagency for our morning ritual only to be told an old lady had just won $20,000 on a scratchie that morning. We couldn’t believe it – we wuz robbed – that ticket should have been ours! We consoled ourselves by saying the old lady probably needed the money more than we did.
The point of this experience is the entertainment value attached. In my view we get a lot more out of buying the scratchies than just their face value. We get the hope and dream of buying our own beachside pad and the thrill every morning that this could be our lucky day. It’s the same with the Melbourne Cup. It’s not about how much you win or lose, it’s about the experience of wearing a fancy hat, watching powerful, beautiful thoroughbreds, sharing an event with your colleagues in the office sweep and pausing collectively as Australians for a little over three minutes for the race that stops a nation. It’s quite moving, really.
The link between gambling and its entertainment value is something well understood by big casino towns like Las Vegas. Yes, you’re likely to lose your shirt on the roulette tables. But that’s not why you go there. I have a mate in Las Vegas for the first time at the moment. All his friends have loved his Facebook posts, which have nothing to do with gambling. They are about the thrill of being in Vegas.
He writes “Holy balls Batman this hotel is amazing, I’m moving in…I swear this building is so big…when they said ‘you’re on the 60th floor’ we looked at each other like, what? I said the first 30 must be underground. No they’re not it’s huge and OMG it’s so full on.” You really get the sense that even though the whole point of the town is gambling, it’s so much more than that.
It’s a lesson the poker machine industry in Australia needs to wake up to. I’m not surprised the industry is beset by problem gambling issues – because only the truly desperate would want to spend time in those dingy little poker machine parlours hidden away in pubs. Who wants to spend time in a stinky, depressing room filled with machines emitting tinny, annoying music?
Why can’t they make poker machines people actually want to play? Incorporate a comfortable chair with the machine, tone down the flashing lights, get Jasper Conran in to design the experience? Then people other than habitual gamblers might want to play these machines.
It was actually a discussion with an associate that gave me the idea for this post. In his view the industry is far too insular and blinkered. The poker machine companies are so busy reacting to and defending their position in the face of problem gambling they’ve lost sight of the potential to provide a glamorous, entertaining experience.
If the industry was more front-footed and those in the sector worked more closely together a more palatable environment could be created, which would attract a wider audience than just compulsive gamblers. Plus, if the industry worked hard at attracting non-problematic gamblers to spend money on their machines they wouldn’t have to target gambling addicts so hard and they could therefore work toward finding genuine solutions for the issue of gambling addiction and give addicts real support.
I’ll get off my high horse now. If you think you have a problem with gambling contact Gamblers Anonymous in NSW on 02 9628 5065 or in Victoria on 03 9696 6108. If you don’t, post a comment and let me know whether you’d be inclined to frequent an establishment with poker machines if it looked uber-chic rather than brothel-esque.