Life Doesn’t Have to Be A Gamble


I don’t consider myself a wowser but have to admit to disquiet about where we are heading as a nation regarding gambling after a recent report ranks Australia among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

In the past, I’ve smiled at the jokes about Australians having a public holiday for a horse race when the Melbourne Cup is discussed.

I’ve bet on the Cup, bought Tattslotto and raffle tickets, and once when visiting my sister in Albury, even put a complimentary $2.00 in 5cent coins through a machine at their local League Club in an attempt to ‘join in the fun’.

That evening I had to beg my sister to take over my machine because I got bored – each time I thought I’d finished feeding the coins I’d win just enough to keep going! I honestly can’t see the attraction of pokie machines, yet poker machines still account for more than half of all gambling losses in Australia.

Here is an article from our local paper this month:

pokies news item.png

The trend is similar in other cities, where disadvantaged suburbs are delivering the biggest returns to the operators of pokies venues.

On a Monday morning, as we sit writing our stories in the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House there is a steady stream of punters going into gamble at the hotel across the Nepean Highway, now named Mordy HQ, although previously called the Kingston Club.

View from the Window

Mairi Neil

The grey monolith of the Kingston Club dominates the streetscape
Seen through the green curtain of trembling palms, the bleakness softens.
Green and yellow flapping fronds a distraction from concrete geometry.
The garden bed of emerald bushes comforts the dull red leaves of the coprosma
dying under the weight of winter. Tiny shoots peek from the tanbark,
promising spring. I imagine white lilies and yellow daffodils dancing.
Still secreted beneath the soil, other seeds prepare for Mother Nature’s show,
Trained to perfection they absorb today’s bright sunshine.A rainbow line of cars gleam, duco washed and polished by weekend rain.
Last night’s downpour, a cleansing river whisking dusty debris, and leaf litter
Into the drains, to be carried to the sea and discharged into the bay
Fired like a cannonball from the stormwater pipe at Mentone.
A woman walks by, head bowed, hands thrust in jacket pockets.
A mother wheels a stroller down the ramp, her smiling toddler eager to play.
Pens scratch as we listen to meditative music of winter sounds in the writing class
Outside sunshine and serenity belies drumrolls of thunder and crashing cymbals.Beyond the window, I imagine the sea. A calm mirror today, wavelets daintily
Tripping to the foreshore. Dog walkers stroll, children shovel sand and laugh
Beachcombers search for abandoned treasure after hundreds of weekend visitors
Tourists, high-spirited revellers, and locals caught in metal detectors’ sweep.
The gamblers and lonely misfits in the grey monolith hope for luck too
Not by the blue sea, nor breathing fresh air, or soaking in the warmth of the sun.
Caught in the magnetic attraction of gaming machines they do not see
Dappled sunshine dancing on the window pane, or the palm trees tremble.


Pakenham view.jpg

Australia is ranked among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

Dr Piers Howe, a cognitive scientist at the University of Melbourne, believes Australians are among the heaviest punters on the planet on a per capita basis and are probably the biggest.

Our nation’s gambling addiction has deepened with average net losses borne by each adult member of the population climbing to $1242 in 2015.

New national data published by the Queensland government this month shows that total net losses rose 7.7 per cent to $22.73 billion in the 12 months to the end of June last year, driven by massive growth in online sports betting and casino gaming.

New South Wales is the country’s biggest consumer market for gambling, with average losses per head of population rising more than $100 to $1517.

Victoria was the second-highest gambling state with per capita losses rising by around $85 to $1250, although gamblers burnt cash at a slower rate than their NSW counterparts.



The biggest beneficiaries from our national fixation are big ASX-listed gaming and casino operators and the state governments.

  • James Packer’s listed casino business, Crown Resorts, raked in a net profit of more than $400 million for the year to the end of June, on the back of solid returns from flagship casinos in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
  • Packer also owns the local operations of online sports gaming provider Betfair, which is benefitting from the digital gambling boom.
  • Woolworths is another big winner through its hotel joint venture with national pokies king, Bruce Mathieson.

“It’s easy to look at the release of these figures today as just statistics but let’s not forget that every dollar of ‘gambling expenditure’ comes from a real person and much of this from problem gamblers.”

Tasmanian independent MP Senator Andrew Wilkie

Crowning Glory
Mairi Neil

A glittering palace to mankind’s ingenuity
Or a concrete prison to addiction?
A private playground for the rich list,
Convenient bank for money launderers,
Or harmless escapism to chase Lady Luck?
The foyer a curiosity for snap-happy tourists,
Their wondrous delight as cameras flash
And children stare at magic ceilings
While colourful water fountains dance
To Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Verdi…

Beyond smooth marble surfaces,
Polished wood and gleaming brass,
The alluring world of gaming machines hums.
Amid baize Roulette and Black Jack tables
Serviced by smiling seductive croupiers,
Homes are lost, marriages disintegrate,
Unfettered,the leviathan shatters youthful dreams.
In private rooms high rollers
Win what they can afford to lose…

This is a place for saviours to seek sinners.
Priests have intoned ‘the poor are always with us’
As cries of ‘Bingo’ echo in church halls and
School fetes spin wheels to fund libraries.
Government coffers bulge and the
Community Benefit Tax manipulated ––
Everyone celebrates Cup Day and
Glue-stick legs and arms clamp onto the
2,500 metal machines hidden behind glitzy walls…

The cry of a child in the carpark
Bounces off Commodores and shiny Volvos;
Smothered between Land Rovers and limousines,
Jaded Mazdas, new Toyotas, ancient Fords.
Trembling hands swipe plastic cards ignoring
Mobile phone vibrations and merry ringtones
Self-control buried behind pale faces.
Glazed eyes focus with burning intensity
On spinning numbers and gaudy symbols;
Dry lips pray for luck
To a God abandoned long ago…

Security guards turf tipsy losers
Onto Southbank’s smooth walkways.
At the mercy of loutish thugs they
Stumble home to suburbia, seeking courage to
Face frantic family or exhaust-fumed garage  –
Perhaps Gamblers’ Anonymous?
The Yarra River reflects Melbourne’s progress
But at night this River Styx absorbs
The tears of the disadvantaged and
Washes away the writing on the wall.

Each night the news is full of refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, jobless… and although maths has never been my forte you don’t have to be Einstein to work out how much better off society would be if we could get the nation’s addiction under control. If the casino and hotel owners thought of people before profits, and if social programs worked to entice people away from self-destructive behaviour.

A lot of ifs and buts in that dream…


“As gambling becomes more popular it has less of a social stigma and it might be that social norms around gambling have made it more acceptable.”

I guess what we need to do is change behaviour and in some cases cultural norms. As usual, this must start in childhood – children learn what they live! Here is a modern nursery rhyme from my book of Nutty Nursery Rhymes:

Little Miss Honey
Lost all her money
Down at Crown Casino
She found being broke
Wasn’t a joke
Oh, how her tears did flow!

Little Miss Honey
Went to the bank
To ask for a housing loan
The bank manager said, ‘No,
To the Casino don’t go,
Gambling we won’t condone!’

In this episode of Not for Podcast, by Pro Bono Australia news, special contributor Rachel Alembakis, founder and publisher of The Sustainability Report, follows a group of responsible investors, consumer rights advocates and financial counsellors who are campaigning to get the major banks to cut the credit. Online gambling is under the microscope and discredited.



9 thoughts on “Life Doesn’t Have to Be A Gamble

  1. Although it’s Kennett who’s remembered for the grand opening of Crown Casino, It’s a sad memorial to Joan Kirner that it was her government that legalised the poker machine industry and legislated for a casino in Victoria. Would it have happened anyway? Almost certainly. But it’s her name that’s stained by it.


    1. Yep – not Labor’s finest decision. The destruction to our social fabric of the proliferation of ways to gamble is a worry – particularly when sporting bodies and big events are linked to betting and young kids have mobile phones – instant disaster. No need to walk to the corner betting shop now just sit at home and press the buttons. But as usual, we aren’t addressing the social issues of inequity, loneliness, depression et al that leads people to put their whole superannuation payout through a machine like someone I knew:(


      1. Ouch, that is awful. It’s such a stupid self-inflicted wound on our society, isn’t it? I used to like a day at the races, but I only ever took $20 with me and if I didn’t win anything we didn’t have afternoon tea! But at least with horses there’s a social aspect, I had a great time with my friends every time we went which was really nothing to do with the racing. But gambling alone in a pokie hall, or even worse at home alone, that’s soul-destroying.


        1. I know lots of people who limit what they are prepared to lose and have fun at gaming venues, however, addiction is just that – an illness difficult to get a handle on but what I think we can do as a society is to stop making it so easy for people to get addicted. Unfortunately, the government gets a lot of revenue from the betting industry – will be interesting if the new Senate makes a difference, particularly the Xenophon Party!


        2. Yes, I think Mr X is great at grandstanding, but I might have been tempted to vote for him myself if there had been candidates here in Victoria. Julia Gillard did herself no credit when she reneged on the deal she had with Andrew Wilkie, he’s another hero too, standing up for the millions going down the drain in our poorest state, Tasmania.


        3. Andrew Wilkie is a bit of a hero to me, Lisa. I met him in Mornington when the Southern Women’s Action Network invited him after he blew the whistle about the Iraq war and Little Johnny’s lies. I agree, it was shameful that Julia abandoned her integrity but that seems to be politics. Andrew Wilkie is a very decent caring man and when I see him on the telly I think how much he has aged – then I look in the mirror!


  2. Hi Mairi,

    I see gambling as a tragic line up of fools:

    Up at the local, mounted screens flash the stats about horses or dogs that are running in some other colourful location. Elsewhere in the suburbs or country towns, a majority of men will stand holding their beers with the same, strange, sense of hope. This bizarre, parochial lottery appeals more because of its visual and auditory excitement. As horses or dogs get released from their gates or boxes, a silent tension soon breaks into sounds and voices get louder as the race progresses. Closer to the finish line some punters verge upon screaming “ccmmmonn, git up, git up ya mongrel, gggoo, aaahhh ffu..cckk, or yoouuuu beauty.” Others sit or stand with an angry scowl or depressed, scrunched up faces. The boring and offensive reality of these endeavours, this raucous national past time, is that only a select few with shrewd knowledge or connections ( often criminal ) can make a profit, yet alone a living.

    Meanwhile, around the corner in a dimly lit room, the repetitive jingles and flashing lights of an even greater loss, flicker in a trance of fake prosperity. These weary eyed punters sit in some sort of hopeful stupor. Some appear angry and hungry but most have the word victim written on their faces. Alcohol assists the yearning for instant prosperity and it seems punters and alcoholics often blend together. They sit there seduced by a simple computer program that occasionally spills a few coins, thus they spend way more than they win. A minority do get lucky while others may lose their business, their home, their friends, or perhaps even part of their soul to this expensive pattern of denial. In the line up of fools, money is handed over without thought, and the barman serves just a few more beers than he does lost bets.


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