Jack Tame: Gaming Reforms Miss Biggest Problem With Slots


Can’t we find a better way to fund community organizations? A way that doesn’t mean our sports clubs and leisure groups rely on New Zealanders to pour their money into slot machines? Picture/file


Once upon a time in Las Vegas for work, staying in an aging casino, and I witnessed something I’ve never forgotten. I went out to film a story around 6 p.m. one night and on my way out I passed a guy sitting two or three places down a long row of slot machines, trying his luck.

Filming was delayed. I got back to my hotel room around 1am. And as I walked through the casino, I looked at the same row of slot machines. The guy was still there.

I had a flight to catch the next morning. I got up. I packed my suitcase. I came down around 8am. You can see where this leads. Same guy. Same clothes. Same device. The same dead eyes as he pressed that button over and over.

I don’t know about pokies. There’s something about them, a little piece of psychological sorcery, that bypasses the human brain. And although here in New Zealand you hope we’re at the stage where no one can sit around and mindlessly spend their money on a slot machine for 14 hours straight, it’s hard to overstate how gambling addiction can be destructive.

The government has announced a review of slot machines and gaming law, as well as some slot machine reforms that will come into effect next year. But the reforms are much weaker than originally proposed. At the moment there will be no reduction in slot jackpots, no ban on free spins and lighter penalties for pub owners who do not follow the rules compared to what has been proposed . Instead, the changes that have been confirmed relate to where slot machines and ATMs can be placed in a pub, and rules on how pub owners must check and deal with problem gamblers. It’s not nothing, but it’s not a profound change either.

Some problem gamer advocates expressed disappointment, but I must admit I was a little surprised to read the comments from the president of the Gaming Machine Association. Peter Dengate-Thrush told Stuff that even his organization felt the changes did not go far enough, that the Minister had missed an opportunity and that facial recognition software to identify problem gamblers should be introduced across New York. -Zealand.

For me though, there is a fundamental problem with slots in New Zealand that has yet to be resolved. And so far, hardly anyone wants to touch it.

Under our law, a minimum of 40% of slot proceeds must be donated to the community in the form of charitable grants. We are always reminded when a sports club or dance group has been supported by a grant from a charitable gaming trust. A lot of people don’t give it much thought – a charitable grant sounds good!

But I see it differently. The end does not justify the means. The community funding structure is a very clever way to excuse, normalize, and even subtly promote extremely harmful anti-social behavior.

Can’t we find a better way to fund community organizations? A way that doesn’t mean that our sports clubs and leisure groups rely on New Zealanders investing their money in slot machines to survive? Money doesn’t grow on trees but we rob Peter to pay Paul.

What’s the point of supporting a community with a charity grant if you have to damage another community in order to get the money in the first place?

These government reforms are a start, but if you really want to fix the problem, follow the money. The whole structure has to change.

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