With Andrew Wilkie fighting the good fight on mandatory pre-commitment and the Greens bobbing up this week with a proposal for a $1 bet limit, Pokie reform is firmly on the Australian political agenda. I’m sure both these policies have merit but it’s worth remembering that neither are breaking new ground.
Having visited a pub-TAB or two in my time I know how destructive the punt can be. More than a decade ago when cash was being pretty short, a few mates and I developed a rule of thumb for betting on the pokies. It’s not really a solution to problem gambling but it does provide a pretty solid framework for good times.
Pub pokies statue 1A
When at the pub with mates, if the change from a given round includes a dollar coin, that dollar should be invested in the nearest $1 machine. One dollar. One spin. No one leaves until all winnings are spent.
It’s a policy platform that arose out of necessity (or poverty, if truth be known) during an afternoon session at the ‘Riv. It was our first year out of home, our first year at uni. A little community of kids from the country had ended up living in a couple of share houses within spitting distance of one another in Hawthorn. The ‘Riv was our local.
It was typical student living at Elmie Street. I was in the sunroom – squeezing a forth person into the house made rent a little more doable – and whether it was Youth Allowance, part-time jobs or cash from our parents, we all lived week to week.
Rent week meant that I had ten bucks left to last the next ten days. We had enough bread, mince, potatoes and 2-minute noodles to survive but even back then ten bucks didn’t go far in the entertainment stakes. Entry to the footy, a movie ticket or a round of beers. Faced with those choices, Toddy (my housemate) and I wandered down to the ‘Riv. We met up with Joz and Shacks. Beers it was. Now this was back in a time when you could get four pots for less than ten bucks so we settled in at the bar for some shits and giggles.
The barman put my change on the bar. I was about to pocket it but got distracted. The pokies will do that. When you have a dollar in your hand, flashing lights, bells and whistles are pretty hard to top. I figured if ten dollars wasn’t going to get me far then a buck sixty was pretty much worthless so I wandered across.
Everybody knows that playing the pokies is a fucking miserable way to pass your time so I didn’t want to waste too much time in there. The dollar machine provided the perfect solution to my problem. It allows you to lose bulk money in minimum time. But when you only have one dollar to lose, that isn’t too big a deal.
I dropped my buck in the slot and pressed go. One dollar. One spin. The screen flashed and the dials span. The first heart dropped and was quickly followed by a second. When the third and final heart dropped the screen lit up and I was treated to my own personal sound and light display.
I got that little rush of elation and the stupid grin that goes with it. In hindsight it was one of those tipping points. It could have been the start of the chase for me. One where every dollar earned, begged, borrowed or stolen is spent in pursuit of the next big collect. Instead, I grabbed a plastic cup and pushed COLLECT. The gold coins flowed one after the other, a hundred and forty of the little bastards. I strutted back into the bar with my crappy blue bucket overflowing with coins. My measly dollar had delivered a $140 collect.
My windfall was met with laughs and high-fives but what followed formed the basis for our subsequent gambling policy. I had walked into the pub with ten dollars expecting to leave with nothing. Already resigned to ten days of poverty I figured there was no point in changing that now. So I ordered a round. Then another. It was quickly followed by a third. A couple of hours later we had spent the lot. It was a cracking afternoon.
Fast forward ten years. Uni is a distant memory but Toddy and I sit in the same bar with another mate, Scooter. It’s Friday arvo and we are catching up for a quiet one. Having proved assurances that I won’t be home late we sit at the bar and get to the thirsty work, shit gags and laughs.
A couple of hours in, Scooter leaves Toddy and I at the bar for an adventure to the little boys room. It wasn’t five minutes before the calls started. Yelling into the phone, he told us to come in to the room next door. His request is quickly forgotten but the persistent fucker kept calling until we both switched our phones off. Ten minutes later, Scoot walked in wearing that same stupid grin I had ten years earlier. He was carrying three buckets full of $1 coins. Our gambling policy had delivered another $340.
Now, common sense says that Scooter should have shouted a couple of rounds, thank his lucky stars and pocket the rest. But common sense is always overruled by the phrase “you know the rules”. Instead, Scooter ducked out to the bottle shop and returned with a slab of Red Bull, which he handed over the bar along with the remainder of his winnings (about $250).
Things deteriorated quickly from there. 2am, Todd had disappeared into the night and I had never drunk more Red Bull in my life. 3am forced the move to vodka soda and I was palming cans of Red Bull off to toothless punters. Around 4:30am the “Get the fuck out of my pub!” call was made. The fifteen-minute stagger home took me 45 minutes.
I tried to sneak into bed but The Boss was not impressed at all. I tried throwing the leg across but she was having none of it. Excess Red Bull makes sleep tough and the world’s worst hangover greeted me the next day. But that was a short-lived pain.
Our “One dollar. One spin.” policy had delivered again. It has many similarities with what Andrew Wilkie and Bobby Brown have on offer. It’s just a little less responsible and a heap more fun. Vote one, Scooter.