You’ll Poke Your Eye Out, Kid – Market Solutions to Gambling Problems

Global Peace and Justice Auckland is currently running a Parasites on Poverty campaign, targeting loan sharks and pokie machines, which themselves target mainly low-income communities with their legal but ethically dubious practices. Both profit from either desperation or addiction in people who can’t afford to pay. GPJA’s complaint is that neither Labour nor National governments have recognised communities’ rights to decide whether or not they want pokies in their neighbourhood.

Gambling addiction is a problem in New Zealand, and GPJA points out that roughly nine out of 10 people with a gambling problem are addicted to pokie machines – as compared with the one in 200 people who have a problem with Keno or Lotto. The machines are also placed in order to target those most likely to be profitable – poorer communities, as the more well-off are more likely to gamble their money in other ways or not at all.

Presumably, many people’s desired solution is to ban pokies, or at least see the Government allowing communities to ban pokies on a region-by-region basis. The latter is preferable to me, as I am more disposed to any decentralisation of power over a central-government blanket ban. But either solution is still turning to the government – central or local – to provide a solution. And the solution is, essentially, “Save us from ourselves. We can’t be trusted with these things in our community.”

Relying on government to solve these problems may see short- or medium-term benefits, but in the long term, it merely increases the community’s dependence on the same system of state authority that upholds the capitalist power structures and relationships that gave rise to the problem in the first place. The money siphoned from a working-class community by gambling is nothing compared to the money siphoned from a working-class community by the larger network of capitalist property ownership and employment structures, yet by successfully demanding paternalism from the Government a community may feel a sense of achievement and gain in banning the tools of the small problem in the name of the tools of the large problem.

I like a bit of mischief, so I see the attraction of proposed direct action against pokie machines, but let me suggest a few alternatives that won’t immediately turn the majority against your cause through the very very very predictable media coverage you’ll get.

  1. Organise instead to boycott any business that hosts pokie machines. Use community networks of unions, churches, sports clubs – any community group – to help people recognise the harm done and refuse en masse to contribute to it. Simultaneously, encourage people via those networks to take their money to businesses that have no pokies. Make hosting pokie machines unprofitable and businesses will stop hosting them. Obviously, it’s a much harder job than short-term direct action, but in the long run, you’ll see actual change – and it will be the communities who made the change, not through top-down statist authority, but through voluntary resistance as a community. Make people see that spending money at a pokie-hosting establishment is like spending money at a slave trader – even if you don’t buy the unethical goods, you’re still giving them the okay.
  2. Buy your own pokie machines, community by community, and ensure that the profits of that gambling goes directly back into that community. Plenty of people buy Lotto tickets because they consider it a kind of voluntary tax that comes with a potential prize – they believe that money will end up somewhere good even if they don’t win it back. Market your pokie machines as the ethical alternative to companies who reap massive profits from the gambling addictions of the poor and harness the power of gambling for the community instead of private profit. Only one quarter of pokie money currently gets given to charity, and the charity may be nowhere near the community the money came from? Hit back with a non-profit pokie organisation that ensures that everything beyond the cost of running them goes back to the community it came from.
  3. Combine the two. Get local businesses to switch from bad pokies to local pokies and give them signage to promote themselves as having jumped on the bandwagon.

The psychological and sociological effects of a community bringing about such a change without calling in the Daddy of top-down power will themselves be positive and far-reaching. A much harder job, but the rewards will be exponentially greater.

Leave a Reply