Thursday, August 30, 2018

Uncaring Society: Australia’s Pokies Hell

Aussies lost 12 billion dollars a year on evil pokies.
Believe it or not, the shocking twenty percent of all the so-called Pokies (known as Slot Machines in the US) in the whole world are in Australia. The tiny population of 24 million Australians carried the heavy burden of 200,000+ pokies out of the one million+ pokies operating in this world.

Last year alone the horribly pokies-addicted Australians wasted over 12 billion dollars on their pokies. Which was nearly a quarter of all pension payments for older Australians aged 65 and over (estimated 3.8 million Old Aussies received nearly 48 billion dollars a year as cash-pension alone).

Anyone who walk into any local RSL club anytime will find tens and tens of pensioners feeding their meagre pension payments (about 900 A$ a fortnight) into the pokies. The worse are young children (mostly Asian girls and boys) wasting their hard-earned money on pokies in the smoke-filled pubs commonly found at many street corners in Sydney!

A reliable estimate in 2015 placed the problem-gamblers who lost at least 50% of their hard-earned income on pokies at nearly 500,000 in Australia. That was a very conservative number according to the anti-pokies groups as they believe the actual number was more than double that estimate.

Many people believe that 10 to 20 percent of all the suicides in Australia are because of pokies. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. The overall suicide rate in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 in Australia. That was the highest rate in 10-plus years.

The suicide rate in Australia is currently at 15 per 100,000 people which is extremely high for a highly-developed nation. So how did a civilised and highly-developed nation like Australia end up as a pokies hell?

Welfare Of War Vets Were The Original Reason

Tragically 10% of all Aussie adult males were killed fighting at the Western Front in the WW-I (250,000 killed out of four million total population of Australia at that time). The survivors or the Returned-Service-Men came back and started local clubs called RSL (Returned Services League) clubs for their welfare.

For the economic survival of these widespread RSL clubs the respective state governments later allowed them to operate enormously profitable slot machines (pokies) which were banned everywhere else. Later, to be fair to other communities, all other not-for-profit community clubs such as ethnic community clubs and rugby-league clubs were also allowed to operate the pokies.

Basically the clubs with pokies were in every suburb in a large city like Sydney and Melbourne and people used to play pokies as an enjoyable recreation like any other legal gambling such as horseracing and sports-betting.

I still remember I used to go to Ingleburn RSL and put a few coins worth five dollars every time I went there when I was living in Ingleburn in Sydney in early 1990s. It was just innocent fun losing a few bucks playing pokies.

But in 1998, under relentless lobbying and enormous financial pressure in the form of massive political donations from the pubs (the main competitors to the clubs in every suburbs) the respective state governments started allowing the pubs to operate pokies and since then every Australian city has been transformed into a pokies hell on this earth. Now almost every street corner in Sydney has pokies sucking cash out off people’s wallets.

The profits and taxes from the 200,000+ pokies are so huge the gigantic pokies industry (RSL clubs, community clubs, pubs, and pokies-manufacturers) can influence the policies of federal and state governments to their favour. Some believe the pokies industry can even remove a democratically-elected government if they want to.

One horrible display of pokies-industry’s evil power can be openly witnessed in the cigarette-smoke-filled pokies rooms of the pubs and clubs despite anti-smoking lobby’s desperate attempts to basically wipe out smoking-in-public places in Australia.

Pokies Rooms Are The Only Place To Smoke In Public

Australia has a very strict total ban on smoking in public such as schools, restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, airports, and any other enclosed public places. Smoking is not allowed in any public place even inside and near open-bus-stops. But rather strangely, smoking is allowed in a pokies room if the room is connected to or open to outside. Even a window with permanently-open-shutters is enough to classify an enclosed pokies room as an outdoor area and allowed smoking.

The pokies industry knows very well the fact that the smokers entering their pokies room are enticed to put a few dollar notes into the pokies first, even if they were there just to smoke, and very soon sucked into putting all their cash into the evil machines. So the industry fights real hard to allow smoking in their pokies rooms. And they’ve got the corrupt politicians in their pockets.

No wonder the rest of the world is wondering in disbelief that the strict-anti-smoking Australia has rapidly-increasing number of smokers despite the total cigarette-advertising ban, the plain-packaging of cigarette packages, the disgusting-graphic health warnings on each and every cigarette package, and unbelievably-high taxes on cigarette sales.

Is Australian Society Corrupt & Uncaring?

Most Australians and almost all politicians from both left and right seem to believe that adults are responsible for their own actions and completely ignore the worsening problems of pokies-addiction.

There were a couple of federal politicians who claimed to be anti-pokies and campaigned to get elected on that policy of pokies-reform or even pokies-ban. But once they got elected they abandoned their promises and got into the deep pockets of powerful pokies industry. Money was just too much and election campaigns are too expensive to run on public donations alone.

Them fuckwit pollies even helped the Australian Pokies industry by killing their competitors by totally-banning online poker like Poker Star and 888 Poker from Australia just last year. That was unbelievably foolish act directly affecting honest people like me earning a decent living playing skill-based online poker. Bloody fuckwits. 

Australia’s institutions used to be quiet corrupt many years back. Cops and judges and even government ministers were known to be so corrupt the most popular Australian TV series was called UNDERBELLY which exposed a lot of those corruptions.

One reason for those corruptions was illegal pokies dens run by the criminals and, as usual, the liberal-do-gooders pushed to legalize the pokies and end result is the pokies hell Australia has now.

Young Asian Girls Becoming Prostitutes To Feed Pokies

People under 18 years of age are not even supposed to be in a pub let alone play the hard-core gambling-machines like pokies. But one can walk into a pub’s pokies room and find teenage boys and girls at the pokies. Clubs seem not to have that widespread underage gambling problem as most clubs have only one main entrance manned by security guards or staff receptionists.

But pubs have no such security and most poker room have a discrete entrance through which anyone can discreetly enter the poker room direct from the street. Especially the pubs in Sydney’s Chinatown. Many of those Asian gambling pubs are already owned and controlled by Chinese Triads and Korean Yakuzas which are running Asian brothels and so-called massage parlours servicing men looking for massage-with-happy-ending.

Many young Asian girls, mostly underage, working in these places are foreign students studying in small Australian colleges teaching English but widely known as the legal-visa-mills mushrooming all over Sydney and Melbourne. Away from their parents and enjoying real freedom very first time many such girls becoming desperately addicted to the pokies.  

And they end up working in massage parlours first and eventually as prostitutes in the Asian brothels run by Chinese Triads and Korean Yakuzas which are also running the pokies-pubs. A lot of illegal Asian brothels are right next door from the pokies-pubs and the poor girls do not need to walk too far from their works to the pokies. Australia does not have visible sex-trafficking problems as the pokies do the job of fetching Asian girls direct from the pubs into massage-parlours and brothels.

When I was driving cabs at nights a few years back in Sydney I used to pick up and drop a couple of 17-yrs old Korean girls from Pusan, from the Korean brothel in Newtown to their apartment in Chinatown, and they told me their stories once we knew each other well enough. Shocking!

Classified pages in Sydney’s local tabloids are filled with massage-parlour and brothel ads openly advertising the sexual-services of such foreign-student girls from Asian countries like China, Korea, and Thailand.

(What I’ve written above is just a tip of huge iceberg as there are so many sad stories and tragic endings in Australia’s pokies hell. Followings are one newspaper article on the recent suicide of a pokie-addict in Sydney and one newspaper article on smoking-exemption for pokies room in the State of New South Wales where the state-capital-city Sydney is.)

When Gary Van Duinen's mother, Joy Van Duinen, learnt her son hadn't come home one night, she went straight to search for him among the poker machines at Dee Why RSL club. Joy recalls being angry, demanding to speak with “someone in authority” and begging them to ban him when he next turned up because he’d blown hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years.

But by then, it was too late. Police believe Gary had commenced a 13-hour pokie-bender before midday the previous day, taking himself through the Collaroy Services Club and Manly Leagues Club before he twice visited Dee Why RSL. He left the club for the last time shortly before 2am.

The last person to see him alive was a cab driver who dropped him near a patch of suburban bushland near Narrabeen Lakes sometime after 5am on Friday, 1 June 1 2018. His body was found by a search and rescue team six days later. He was 45.

Joy was not the only member of Gary’s family to have begged the Dee Why RSL to intervene to curb his gambling. His wife Sonia says she had twice appealed to a manager at Dee Why to step in, once last December and again in January or February.

“I’m not the carrying on and sobbing type, but I was then,” Sonia recalls. She received the same response as Joy: under the NSW self-exclusion regime, Gary would have to ban himself. In essence, Sonia would have to convince Gary to have himself excluded.

The Dee Why RSL has been a focal point for the Van Duinens, as it is for so many other locals. They ate and drank and met friends there. They saw bands and danced and celebrated family occasions there. They played the pokies there.

Looking back now, Sonia says Gary’s habit exploded two years ago when he had two big wins totaling around $60,000 in the space of a fortnight. He soon lost the money and then set about winning it back. One more big one, he used to think, and he would be able to stop.

A year ago he asked his mum for another substantial loan, which she agreed to on the condition he went to Gamblers Anonymous. She took him to the first meeting herself and then quietly followed him in her car to the second. He did not make the third. “I’m not like those other yobbos,” he told Joy. “You’re exactly like them,” she told him. “You just haven’t lost everything yet.”

By early May this year, Gary’s whole life revolved around the pokies. He even stopped seeing friends who did not gamble. Sonia left him, saying she’d be back when he gave her control of the family’s finances. “I just thought I could shock him into it, the thought of losing his family,” she explains.

He tearfully confided to sister Tracey on May 13 that his marriage had collapsed, he had no money for fuel or groceries, and because he couldn’t pay for materials or wages, he couldn’t work. Friends rallied and Joy paid enough of Gary’s bills for him to get back to work.

He seemed to be getting his life together, and when he agreed to hand over the family’s finances to Sonia, she said she’d move back home. She arranged to do that on Friday June 1. Going through his bank statements, his family discovered that in the lead-up to his death, Gary had spent the deposits paid to him for three jobs on a series of gambling benders. On Thursday the 24th he hit Dee Why RSL, the Star casino and three other venues. Around $60,000 went through his bank accounts in May.

He took his son Jack to dinner with his parents on Monday the 28th, seemingly in fine spirits. The following night he won $6500 at the Parkway Hotel, but according to Jack he gave $2500 away to a stranger playing the machines nearby. By the time he died, there were only debts left.

Joy is left in anger as much as she is in grief. She is angry that the Dee Why RSL club did nothing to help her son stop gambling, but also that it appeared to encourage his habit.

It made him a member of its “Ambassador” program for big spenders, allowing him access to a special car park and red carpet entrance, sidestepping the sign-in process at the front door. He accumulated loyalty points for his heavy gambling expenditures, which he spent on drinks that staff brought to him at the machines.

When he wanted cigarettes a staff member would leave the club to buy him his preferred brand at a nearby shop and deliver them to him at the machine. He was invited to bring friends to an annual slap-up seafood “thank you” dinner for heavy gamblers.

In the wake of her son’s death, Joy spoke with club’s chief executive, Grant Easterby, who has again explained that the only intervention mechanism that exists is self-exclusion. The “perks”, Mr Easterby explained, were just benefits extended to members.

But Joy maintains that while the club may not have a legal responsibility to curb Gary’s gambling it could have done so anyway. “If someone is sitting at same machine for 16 hours do you go over to them and say ‘mate are you OK’, or do you go and get him another drink?”

Mr Easterby said it was not possible for the club to know how much individuals could afford to lose in its machines. Joy asked Mr Easterby if the club could help pay for Gary’s funeral, given his family was left in debt. He declined, instead suggesting local community groups that might be able to help.

“I said no and I hung up. I wanted the club to do it. He had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars there … I suppose I wanted them to say ‘Sorry, maybe we did the wrong thing.’ I wanted them to take some responsibility. But I got nothing. Nothing at all.”

In a statement to the Herald, Mr Easterby said that it was not lawful for the club to ”intervene with or ask gaming patrons to curtail their activity at the request of third parties, even family members. ClubsNSW has in the past advocated for the self-exclusion regime to be extended to include third parties and Dee Why RSL would support that change.” He did not address questions about the claims that staff fetched drinks and cigarettes for gamblers.

A spokesman for ClubsNSW said in a statement that research shows that self-exclusion has proven to be an effective measure for those people who sign up for it, with 74 percent of problem gamblers included in a University of Sydney study reporting they had reduced their gambling and improved their financial situation.

He said ClubsNSW agrees that third parties such as family members should also be able to make an application to have a person banned from a gambling room. “Families are better placed than just about anyone else when it comes to determining whether or not someone has a problem with gambling. They notice the mood changes and erratic behaviour. They should be encouraged to intervene when they think it’s appropriate to do so. While there will inevitably be some vexatious complaints, most family members are well-meaning and would act with the best of intentions,” he said.

A spokesman for Liquor and Gaming NSW said the regulator had launched an investigation into this matter following a formal complaint. “Our investigators attended the club this week to conduct inquiries including interviewing managers and obtaining gaming machine player activity statements,” he said. “The circumstances in this matter are tragic and these are serious allegations that will be thoroughly investigated.”

The Van Duinens were left so angry by the circumstances of Gary’s death that they approached Andrew Wilkie, the Tasmanian MP who has campaigned against the poker machine industry because they wanted to draw public attention to it.

Mr Wilkie says clubs should be required to do more for gambling addicts, and he agrees that third-party exclusion should be introduced. “I appreciate that there are privacy issues, that adults should not be interfered with by other people. But surely there could some sort of temporary ban that clubs could introduce while they checked into the welfare of people like this if family members come forward,” he said.

“This is a terrible story but it is not an unusual one. As people are reading this they should remember that there are hundreds of Gary’s out there in Sydney this week and some will be dead next week, and the industry will not care.”

According to its annual report last year, the Dee Why RSL took in $13.2 million from catering and drinks and gave away $1.9 million in community support. It took $43 million from its poker machines.

HIGH rollers at the Star casino are not the only gamblers to escape new smoking bans in NSW, with the state government confirming outdoor gaming areas in pubs and clubs are also not covered by the law.

The Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, has hailed the new law, which passed Parliament on Tuesday night, as ''ground breaking''. From 7 January 2013, smoking will be banned in outdoor areas such as bus stops, train stations, taxi ranks, swimming pools and within 10 metres of children's play equipment.

From July 2015, pubs and clubs will also be required to enforce a smoking ban in outdoor dining areas. But the Herald has confirmed the ban does not extend to their outdoor gaming areas. Under existing laws banning smoking in indoor areas, clubs and pubs may allow smoking in gaming rooms if at least 25 per cent of the total notional wall and ceiling area is not enclosed.

''If an outdoor gaming area is not enclosed or substantially enclosed [in accordance with the law] smoking remains permitted,'' a ministry spokeswoman said. She said an aspect of the legislation specifying that smoking will be banned within four metres of a pedestrian access point to a licensed premises from July 2015 ''may'' affect some outdoor gaming areas.

''This will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the layout of the venue,'' he said. The NSW chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association, Paul Nicolaou, said his members would work to remain within the law.

Earlier, Mrs Skinner defended the government's decision not to support a Labor amendment to ban smoking at the Star's high-roller room but left the door open for future action. Mrs Skinner said smoking bans have been ''incremental'' in NSW. ''We've moved gradually, step by step, until this point where we have this groundbreaking legislation,'' she said. ''It will keep going.''

Asked if she would eventually like to see smoking bans extended to the high-roller room, Mrs Skinner said: ''Who knows what will happen eventually? We've got to be consistent across the country in terms of bans on things like high-rollers' rooms.''

The Star argues that if high rollers, many of whom visit from Asia, are prevented from smoking while gambling they will take their business to where they are allowed to smoke, such as Crown in Melbourne. If the ban was implemented in NSW it would risk scuttling the vision of James Packer's Crown group for a second casino at Barangaroo to cater exclusively to high rollers.

The amendment initially had the support of the Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile, whose party shares the balance of power in the upper house. But after lobbying from Crown representatives, Reverend Nile was convinced that supporting the amendment risked the government withdrawing the entire bill, meaning the bans on outdoor areas would be lost.

One can't smoke near an open playground but one can smoke in a pokies room, it doesn't make sense at all.