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The right to squander

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It has been said that Australians will bet on two flies crawling up a wall.

Some probably do. Others certainly bet on numbered cane toads or cockroaches completing a radial track from the centre to the circumference of a twenty-foot diameter circle scribed in the dirt.

They buy lottery tickets by the squillions every week.
The TAB (national betting agency) shops are like bright lights attracting those who choose to fritter away their lives and financial resources with eyes glued to the big screens watching bunches of horses transporting miniature humans dressed in pretty-coloured silk clothes around a track that brings them back to almost the same point at which they started.

So what is wrong with betting?

When I was a little boy there was a voice somewhere in my head that always warned me of impending stupidity whenever I was about to engage in it.  Many times I ignored that voice and reaped the consequences, but in doing so I slowly learned the perils of ignoring common sense and gut instinct.
I am inclined to believe that almost everyone comes equipped with this instinctive survival warning alarm.

As I grew up into a young man, my alarm certainly went off at the prospect of habitual gambling, inhaling cigarette smoke into my lungs, becoming paralytically drunk, dressing in orange and donating my life savings to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and placing my bare arms across all eight  spark plug caps on an idling V8 car engine.

Inga too certainly possesses an inbuilt inadvisability warning system which she unfortunately once ignored.
On a road trip to Victoria when she was eight years old we came across a street carnival in the little country town of Warragul.
Inga was attracted to a stall offering the chance to win very large fluffy toys in exchange for risking a month’s worth of her hard-earned pocket money.

She handed over her money and lost.

As her Dad it was hard for me to watch the disappointment on her face, but I believe that on that day she gained something far more valuable than a fluffy toy.
She might have lost her money, but she won back respect for her own inner voice of judgement, reason and wisdom. To my knowledge she has never had the urge to gamble during the 21 years since that day which remains permanently etched in both our memories.

So, under what circumstances do Governments, State and Federal, have the right, as they are presently doing, to interfere in behaviours involving such personal choices?
(Limiting gambling on poker machines, restricting hotel and club opening hours, encouraging responsible alcohol consumption and legislating plain packaging for cigarettes etc.)

I would argue that they have every right to do so when the behaviour of individuals no longer simply constitutes harmless personal fun, but instead has consequences which adversely affect the broader community.
To NOT do so would be an abrogation of responsible governance on behalf of the majority of citizens who elected them.

Governments should have a duty of care to intervene promptly and decisively when taxpayers have to continuously fund the financial income, rehabilitation and repair of those who have by choice, in ignoring their own innate sensibilities, lost their capacity of self-reliance, and when gangs of child thugs are roaming the streets of Cairns at night stealing, pillaging and terrorising law-abiding citizens while the absentee parents of the offenders are busy shoving money into poker machines in clubs and boozing away the family finances in parks and pubs.

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

20 responses »

  1. Quite often I have people wearing ragged clothing, with rotting teeth, and driving decrepit cars ask me the directions to one of the (too) many local casinos … and I always think, “Can’t you figure out you have a better use for that money?”

    The state lottery commission used to use children in their ads, telling people that buying lottery tickets supported education. This state finally passed a law that those too young to legally buy lottery tickets are also too young to advertise the sales of them.

    • Thanks for your story GOM. The clubs and pubs in Australia are kicking up a huge fuss about the new regulations, ( almost as much fuss as the tobacco industry is about having to sell cigarettes in drab green packs with graphic health warnings) but they have progressively brought the situation upon themselves. The hoteliers jackpot was to own a pub with an automatic teller machine right next to a row of poker machines. Hopefully that will become a thing of the past.

      For many years the State of Victoria banned poker machines altogether, and people had to drive 4 hours into New South Wales to throw their money away.

  2. Well said, GOF. Show me a person who complains about the so called “nanny state” and I’ll show you a person preoccupied with his/her own interests to the exclusion of the interests of society as a whole.

    • Thanks Snowy. It is no wonder that in Cairns residents are forming vigilante groups to protect themselves, because the “system” is failing to do so.

  3. My Mum used to volunteer at St Vinnie’s and women would come in and get hand outs and then been seen down at the pokies the same day. They can’t help themselves, but someone has too!

    • I was talking recently to the local manager of St Vinnies secondhand furniture outlet. Apparently “disadvantaged” people get vouchers enabling them at Govt expense to furnish their Govt. supplies houses……all sort of OK…..I like a reasonably compassionate society…….but he was despairing at all the abuse he copped constantly from these people because the free furniture “was not good enough quality”.

  4. Quasi-Sister has “opted out” in Missouri and Illinois (we live in MO and IL is right across the river; MO is 180,533 sq km and IL is 149,998 sq km), which usually keeps her gambling in check (opting out is a legal term…something that happens with gambling addicts get themselves in trouble, they cut some kind of deal that means they’re basically on a watch list and are escorted out of casinos; I’m not sure how it works but seems like a lot of work on others to keep addicts straight, really). On our trip across several other states, she stopped at 3 casinos. She only loaded 20 or 40 bucks into a slot each time (I didn’t look that closely; it bores me) but she still “had” to do it 3 times. Slots don’t sounds like a big deal but she has won (and lost) tens of thousands of dollars a night in the old days. So, it can be a big deal. I guess she was like an alcoholic “just having one” in each state, which is sad.

    • Thanks MT for your story and experience. The whole world of gambling is just foreign to me and stories like yours help me understand the compulsion some people have to gamble. I’m not sure if Australia has a system for escorting problem gamblers out of establishments…..but I think there is a voluntary code in place for hoteliers to refuse service to “black-listed” problem drinkers.

  5. This is so interesting GOF, because our town is currently in a desperate battle to stop a casino from taking over a natural park near the base of a mountain and state park. The screams from special interest are that it would create (magic word) jobs and help the economy. The amusing part is that even the head of the Gaming association said he is all for it, just not in his neighborhood. Isn’t that ironic?

    If you look at casinos across the states, sure they benefit some places, just not the place where they’re located. All those towns – Mashantucket, Las Vegas, name any other ones, are crime-ridden slums.

    Gambling itself on a small scale is as you said up to the individual. It is like drinking at home or not wearing a seat belt. It is harmful if done in excess, and hopefully our families set a good example as mine did, they enjoyed those things but openly spoke about the drawbacks and would say out loud once in a while, “I think that’s enough for now”.

    • We have one casino in our city of 150,000 but that is not the main problem for low-income gamblers. Most hotels and clubs…..dozens of them ….have poker machines of all sorts to part people from their money while they are drinking.

      I am left wondering why a casino would want to take over a natural park…..surely not to bulldoze it and build another casino…..but then our world is full of stupidity.

      Your final paragraph touched on the real issue…..examples set at home when we are young. Cairns has gangs of boys and girls as young as 10 wandering around at night belting-up people…..even old-age pensioners. You just have to wonder where the parents and/or guardians are.

  6. If gambling is truly an addiction, then the state has as much duty to regulate access to it, as they would regulate access to heroin for addicts of that. If it’s gonna screw up kids and make society messy, it’s got to be dealt with.

    • Point well made Redscylla, and thank you for visiting. I’m not sure how serious Governments are about regulating gambling considering the revenue it gains from it, but at least they are making a start.

  7. Luckily, I have never caught the gambling bug. One year, I took part in my office football pool and did very well. But that’s about it…

    • I don’t think you’ve missed very much…..Melbourne Cup is Australia’s premier horse racing event when “the nation comes to a halt” and it is even declared a public holiday ……. even non-gamblers are inclined to have a bet on that day.
      I’m still waiting for the inclination to hit me.

  8. I don’t actually remember the incident, but I can definitely tell you it’s had a life long effect.

    All the pubs and clubs down here have signs up in the toilets with gambling helpline numbers and photographs of sad looking wives and children. I believe there was also some law passed where the pokie machines have to display the time somewhere visible on the screen…and I think at some point they tried to to have ATM’s ejected altogether, or at least put a cash out limit on them.

    I dunno, I’m much happier squandering my cash on liquor.

    • Seems I should do a little more research before publishing.

      At least with liquor you get SOMETHING in return for your cash…..thirst-quenching joyfulness and then a hangover. 🙂

  9. I have mixed feelings about regulating gambling, if only because I’m libertarian in moral issues—if it’s not hurting anyone besides the user, why stop him or her from running off the cliff? Also, a confession: I used to be a pretty mean blackjack player back in the day. But once I was responsible for the lives of others, that all stopped. I would sometimes play when I went with friends to the local Native American casino, but my gambling mojo disappeared with marriage and motherhood, I’m afraid. I seldom came out with more than I laid down on the table.

    However, I recently read in our local paper that people playing the state lottery has jumped to five times what it was back in 1995. Apparently hard times drive people to play, even though the odds of winning is akin to those of being struck by lightning seven times. I’ve had bad luck in my time, but never odds that bad, ha! And yet my brother spends as much as $10 buying lottery tickets every Friday. Consider what he might have now if he had placed all that money in savings.

    • I also had a debate with myself about which side of the fence I should stand on, but I was swayed by the fact that (in this town at least) too many children of problem gamblers are being deprived of the necessities of life and therefore Government has the responsibility to intervene.
      Not that I think it will make much difference…..habitual gamblers will probably just go unofficial venues looking for cane toads, cockroaches, or flies crawling up a wall.

  10. The initial reaction from the Pubs had me thinking they were banning gambling. Not even close. The plan is to set a pre-commitment level on machines above 1$ a spin.

    As a person who plays 5 cent machines once in a blue moon, I think it’s hardly too onerous.

    I was especially annoyed at Rugby clubs who purport to be looking after the working class but happily rip into them to support their sport. Apparently the rules will have them only losing what they previously thought they could afford. How 2 faced can the clubs get?

    • I have no idea how pokies work as I’ve never used one, so thanks for your info Pete.

      The reaction of the clubs reminds me of the tobacco industry reaction to plain packaging…..pretending to be concerned that the Govt. wasn’t going to get as much revenue from cigs in the future. Weird.


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