Blow up the pokies: the misery and destruction of Australia’s poker machines

Tim Freedman, the lead singer of the Australian rock band The Whitlams, turns heads when he enters the Coopers lodge in Newtown, in inner Sydney. wearing an originate brown-leather-based jacket over a plain collared shirt, dress pants and leather shoes, he looks more like a instructor than a rock famous person. He has thick eyebrows, brief greying hair, wrinkles below his brown eyes, and a thin band of stubble from ear to ear. As he takes a seat across the desk by means of the entrance window, the bartender nudges his colleague and aspects in our direction.

back within the 1990s, earlier than Freedman become agen judi piala dunia famous, pubs were where he spent most of his time and carried out most of his track. “I basically lived my existence and conducted my profession in pubs,” he says. He remembers there being are living music in several venues in Sydney’s internal west every nighttime.

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Freedman had not ever seen poker machines earlier than they were allowed into pubs in New South Wales in 1997. It didn’t prefer long before he “begun elevating my eyebrows on the quantity people have been putting into them in one afternoon”.

The removal of levels, bars and eating areas to make area for more poker machines – a much more profitable salary source – fuelled Freedman’s situation. “Publicans idea, ‘Oh, this right here’s the golden goose. Throw out the musicians, and fill the place with pokies.’ They concept all their Christmases had come at once. They basically directed their agencies in opposition t them for a couple of years.”

He remembers at one factor there became simplest a handful of spaces within the inner west the place local musicians could play: “And this is imagined to be the track centre of Sydney.”

Freedman knew two people in selected whose lives have been unravelling as a result of poker desktop gambling, two of his closest friends and amicable founding band members Andy Lewis and Steven Plunder. “When i was calling the band up for a sound assess, I’d need to get them off the pokies,” he says. “It turned into a brand new event for me, since it was that I’d have to get them off the pool table.”

In 1996 Plunder died, and a yr later Lewis left the band. Freedman stayed in contact with Lewis, whose gambling problems continued. “After Andy left the band in 1997 I knew that he become having problem getting ahead financially on account of the pokies,” Freedman says. “It turned into aggravating me. So I wrote a track about it – a bit memoir about sitting at a pub down the highway and seeing my friend play the pokies where we used to play tune.”

Freedman released Blow Up the Pokies as a single in 1999. Set at the now-defunct Sandringham inn – a reside-tune venue in Newtown – the music tells the sage of a failing father locked in a “secret combat” with poker machines that have been allowed in the first area so the government may say “the trains run on time”.

With its catchy melody and difficult-hitting lyrics, the track turned into the band’s first primary hit. It peaked at #21 on the charts, and propelled the Whitlams on to a countrywide tour. satirically, most of the packed-out halls they were booked to play have been in massive clubs housing tons of of poker machines. “I felt like a trojan horse,” Freedman says.

but the band’s newfound business success changed into overshadowed through tragedy. A year after Blow Up the Pokies turned into launched, Freedman, while on tour in Canada, heard that Lewis had killed himself. “He in reality labored all week and put his entire pay cheque throughout the pokies on Friday afternoon,” Freedman says. “Then he went back to his office and hung himself.”

hearing the backstory to the song instantly triggers memories of the plain cases of the many playing addicts I even have met. they all know the identical despair, helplessness and self-loathing that drove Lewis to rob his own lifestyles. The tragic reality, besides the fact that children, is that in a way they’re the fortunate ones. There are some distance too many others the accurate determine will on no account be regularly occurring who, like Lewis, easily can’t cope, who discover dwelling with an addiction to poker machines too insufferable to suffer.


Australia’s poker machines are probably the most severe kinds of gambling purchasable on this planet, radically distinctive from the fruit machines provided in pubs in the uk, or the pachinko machines in Japan. They settle for excessive-denomination banknotes apart from in South Australia, the place they still accept only cash, can be loaded up with hundreds of greenbacks in a second, may also be performed as soon as every couple of seconds, present gigantic jackpots achieving into the tens of heaps of greenbacks, and – depending on which Australian state or territory they’re in – allow optimum bets of either $5 to $10 a spin. If performed at their optimum wager and highest velocity, they could with ease eat $600 to $1,200 in an hour.

If performed at their optimum guess and highest speed, poker machines can with no trouble devour $600 to $1.”200 in an hour. picture: Erin JonassonFairfax Media via photos

Australia’s two grocery store giants have a huge stake in poker machines. Woolworths is the majority owner of the Australian amusement and Hospitality community, which owns about four hundred resorts and golf equipment throughout Australia, and about 12.”000 poker machines, making it the greatest operator of poker machines in Australia. Coles’ stake in poker machines is smaller however still massive. Its father or mother company on the time of writing, Wesfarmers, owns 89 resorts and greater than 3,000 poker machines.

The productiveness commission’s 2010 report into the national gambling industry found handiest a minority of Australians – about 25% – play a poker laptop once in any given yr. folks that play poker machines continually – as soon as every week or extra – yarn for only four% of the adult population.

however this low popularity doesn’t correlate to the machines’ profitability. in reality, poker machines are the lifeblood of Australia’s tremendously ecocnomic playing business. Of the $23.6bn gambled in 2015–16 – the highest per capita quantity spent anywhere on earth – $12.1bn, or greater than $600 each and every adult, changed into poured via poker machines in golf equipment and pubs $5.2bn became misplaced in casinos. If existing developments continue, this figure will also be anticipated to grow. It was up from $eleven.5bn in 2014–15 and $11bn in 2013–14.

For context, in 2015–sixteen, $2.9bn of Australia’s total playing losses have been spent on racing, and $920m became spent on activities making a bet.

One final Spin: the vigor and Peril of the Pokies, a book about pokies in Australia by means of Drew Rooke, is out in may also through Scribe. graphic: Scribe

Poker machines are continuously described by using their manufacturers, operators, some politicians and some of the standard public as “entertainment”, corresponding to motion pictures, video games and television shows. here’s a suitable narrative for some who play them; many gamblers I spoke with in playing venues advised me they performed poker machines “for the joy”, “for slightly of enjoyable”, or “to flow the time”. but for others, poker machines are far from entertainment. they’re extra like a destructive drug.

• here is an edited extract from One final Spin: The power and Peril of the Pokies by using Drew Rooke, which is out now in Australia through Scribe

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