Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation
ABC, 2015

Recently screened by the Australian Broadcasing Corporation, due to licensing issues this wasn't available to view outside of Australia via mainstream media channels. However, it wasn't long before someone obligingly uploaded the full-length version to YouTube (there are several copies there now) and so it's now available to be viewed by anyone with a connection to the 'net. If you've ever played, or felt the urge to play, a slot machine this one is definitely "must-see" vieiwing.

A well made, thoughtful and fairly comprehensive analysis, if I was awarding gongs out of ten for this documentary it'd get a nine from me. The programme makers examine a wide range of factors relating to the spread of the pokies across Oz, and at the begining glibly ask the question "how it is that in just fifty years the pokies have gone from being illegal to being everywhere?". The subject matter includes the spread of the machines and relaxation in the licensing laws, how games are designed and created, the underlying maths, why machine gambling is so addictive and how game designers fan the flames with the clever use of sounds and graphics, the psychological factors in the mix, state reliance on gambling taxation revenues and a review of a political initiative to reduce maximum stakes that failed dismally in the face of a concerted campaign of opposition funded by the casino and hospitality trades. There are also personal stories of some who have suffered from their problem gambling behaviours. Guest interviewees include Natasha Dow Schüll, author of Addiction by Design, and Michael Shackleford the Wizard of Odds.

For me some of the numbers highlighted were thought provoking, and included:

♦ the eye-watering fact that Aussies pump around $12bn a year into the pokies; which works out at an average of over $600 for every single person over the age of 18 in the country,

♦ the RSL Social Club in Fairfield, $33m of the annual $36m turnover was due to machine gaming, and with a c90% RTP this equates to a gross profit of around $10,000 per machine per annum - the club has 332 of them,

♦ the findings of a study that showed "near misses", results which miss a big payout due to one symbol of many being out of alignment, happenend twelve times more frequently than their mathematical expectation - fuel to the fire of assertions that these are deliberately programmed in to keep players playing,

♦ State treasurers relying on gambling taxation revenues for between 5%-8% of the totals they collect each year. I have seen figures for some states in Australia for some years as high as 12%, which means one dollar in every eight collected was from gambling activity,

♦ the estimate that in Australia there are 200,000 people with a gambling problem. This in a country with a population of around 24m, about the same as London and the home counties. Compare this with recent estimate of 350,000 to 400,000 in the UK, a country with a population of close to 60m, although this figure is very elastic and varies significantly depending on which research paper you read.

Interesting that when you consider the spread of the pokies in Australia, it's little different from the more recent spread of FOBT's in the UK. All of the ramifications and social consequences are there, as is the presence of industry lobbyists working to ensure that the regulatory framework isn't tightened up and the cashflow reduced. At the time of writing this review, the Cabinet Office have blocked plans to undertake a review of the provision of FOBTs across the country, which was something the Prime Minister promised two years ago. One could be forgiven for thinking that all of those £££s the industry have been spending on PR have now produced a return, and brought at least some time before the matter is brought up again. I'm sure the recent increase of tax rates on FOBT machine gambling profits (from 20% to 25%, effective April 2015), levied on increased FOBT turnover since the increase was announced in the Chancellor's 2014 budget, had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision of those in the Cabinet Office. Or perhaps the PM's developed a bit of a stress-relieving habit, and regularly pops out to pay a visit to Laddy's in the Victoria Arcade, just a few minutes walk from the House? One just can't help being a bit of a cynic.

As I alluded to earlier, one to watch for everyone from those having an interest in the debate through to casual slots players who, in my humble opinion, should make themselves aware of the addicitive risks of machine gambling and the "techniques" used by game designers to keep the cash rolling in.

You can obtain a DVD copy of Ka-Ching. Pokie Nation here:

November 2015.