Tuesday 24 April 2012

Beating The House

Lucky For Some: Sky Casino and the National-led Government are cutting a deal on pokie machines - but only because we, the voters, continue to tolerate the gambling industry. If we really cared about the harm gambling causes, we'd shut the casions down and smash the pokies to smithereens.

IT’S ONE of the more memorable scenes in Godfather II. As Michael Corleone scrambles to flee Havana, Castro’s revolutionaries invade the Mob’s casinos and begin hurling one-armed bandits (a.k.a pokie machines) on to the street.

The poor have no difficulty in identifying the things that make their lives harder and more miserable: and pokie machines, neighbourhood liquor outlets and loan-sharks are all up there at the top of the list.

It’s why Hone Harawira’s Mana Party is so unequivocal on the issues of gambling, substance abuse (including alcohol and tobacco) and loan-sharking. It’s also why Stephen Joyce is absolutely right when he argues that if Labour and the Greens had the courage of their convictions they would announce that any future government in which they served would simply cancel all current casino licences – even at the cost of thousands of jobs.

There’s a reason why organised crime has always been involved in gambling: it’s because the House never loses. Owning a casino is like owning your very own mint. It’s a licence to print money.

And don’t be fooled by all those James Bond movies, in which gambling is presented as the glamorous pastime of the obscenely wealthy. It’s not. The profits of gambling do not come from the wealthiest, but from the poorest, members of our society.

The gambling industry feeds upon the desperation of those who have run out of options; on the dreams of those condemned to wade through the sewage at the base of our social pyramid. It fastens itself upon those communities foolish enough to offer themselves up as hosts, deposits it deadly seeds, and then, like the creature from Alien, explodes from its incubator in the form of alcoholism, fraud, theft, domestic violence, child neglect and suicide.

These are the true costs of the deal currently being negotiated between the Ministry of Economic Development and Auckland’s Sky City Casino. The latter may not be demanding a monetary subsidy from the Government, but, implicit in its offer is an understanding that we, the taxpayers, will carry the social costs arising from the additional 350-500 extra pokie machines the casino is demanding.

And we, the taxpayers, get this – even if Messrs Key and Joyce do not. We understand that this is not just a normal commercial deal. We know that along with the money, misery is changing hands. Like the slave merchants of old Savannah, we are exchanging gold for human flesh and blood; gold for human suffering. And that is wrong.

And because it’s wrong; because we’re not quite ready to characterise the Government’s actions (which, in a functioning democracy, means our own actions) in such stark and morally unambiguous terms; we (in the form of the Opposition parties) are casting about for some other way to express our outrage at the proposed Sky City deal.

It’s why we’re hearing so much about the “selling of New Zealand law” and how destructive that’s going to be of our legislature’s integrity. Poppycock! To make things happen on the economic development front New Zealand’s Parliament has never hesitated to pass enabling legislation. What, pray tell, was the Clyde Dam Empowering Act (1982) if not enabling legislation? Special bills for special people is an aspect of the Westminster parliamentary tradition that goes all the way back to the Enclosure Acts of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

No, that line of argument will not do. The reason why nearly three-quarters of New Zealanders (according to TV3’s polling) don’t like the Sky City deal is because, deep down, we know that the legalisation of casinos and the introduction of pokie machines (the “crack cocaine” of gambling addiction) was a Faustian bargain that imperilled our very souls.

Because the Devil is nothing if not clever. He sweetened (and continues to sweeten) the deal with honeyed talk of “assisting the community” with the “proceeds” of gambling. He invites us to consider what would become of our philanthropic organisations without the support of Pub Charity? What would become of our sports teams?

“Just imagine,” he says, with furrowed brow and glittering eye, “how much extra tax we’d all have to pay without the pokies!”

And we, feeling that twinge in our hip-pocket nerve, hang our heads and sign on the dotted line of Mephistopheles’s smouldering parchment.

It will take genuine moral courage from the leadership of the Labour Party, and true guts from the Greens, to join with Hone Harawira and Mana in saying that some jobs aren’t worth having. Closing the casinos and banning pokies would be an upending act – a revolutionary decision to send the sewage flowing upwards, for a change.

And the poor would cheer to see the gambling bosses scuttling for the airport in their black limousines. The sound of thousands of shattering pokie machines ringing in their ears.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 April 2012.


Olwyn said...

The house or the bookie has to win overall, because whatever your bet is, the bookie's bet is "something else,"which carries a higher probability than a given individual bet. Even an odds-on favourite has to beat x amount of other horses, for example. But modern pokies don't even leave that much to chance,since wins and losses are predetermined by electronic control.

I generally loathe the 19th century attitude that would leave poor people with the pain of poverty but take away their medication, which is for the most part a self-righteous and hypocritical assertion of cultural power.However, I am right with you on the pokies. They are an out and out evil; pretty lights enticing desperate people to play against a loaded dice.

Anonymous said...

John Key and his business cronies are brewing up a vat of rebellion that will make the derelict states (Holland??)look like pussy cats.

Key can always retire to his home in Hawaii (aka USA). He made his wealth in the USA.

Key fundamentally does not give a shit about this country. He does not need it.

Key is driving an agenda from Wall Street.

So is the National Party.

AFFCO and Talleys know that well enough.

Encouraging pokies and convention centres is so "hands off" "laissez faire" "free market".

Yeah right!

Who picks up the social cost?

This government is so like several dictatorships on this planet.
all it wants to to do is create monuments to its own grandiose visions of itself.

Create the monument! Fuck the social cost and human misery.

Ideology rules! OK!

I would use an identity. but I cannot be bothered wasting my time negotiating your border controls.


jh said...

It would be interesting to have a camera in the casinos. Someone told me the staff were dealing with up a gambler in the toilets of the Christchurch casino. He said it happens often when they hit rock bottom and throw out all their toys. In this case he said they were splashing his face with water. But you know, if you want to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.

guerilla surgeon said...

Why don't the people who run conventions build themselves a center? Why do the public have to subsidise them by building their place of business? Corporate welfare is just as important a subject as how we pay for it.

Anonymous said...

You will see genuine moral courage from the leader of the Labour party when my cat puts out the rubbish and hangs up the washing.

Anonymous said...

To be a consistent winner in any gamble, you don't have to be an expert gambler. You just have to make sure that everyone else is a loser and they stay at the table.

Casinos are consistent winners

How does that feel, SkyCity patrons?

The people who will benefit from you are the convention organisers; And further down the line, the knock-shops and the herpes futures exchanges.

Congratulations to us. We've just met Mammon, a real famous guy. He once won Christ's cloak in a game.


Brendan McNeill said...


I agree with you.

Some people will find opportunities to gamble come what may, and I don't believe we should make gambling between individuals, or the office sweep stake illegal. However, we don't need or want Casino's or large scale State sponsored gambling in this country.

Casino's, the TAB, and Lotto are all opportunities to extract money from those who appear to be otherwise without hope.

I suspect the Government started the TAB in 1950 to generate tax revenue, rather than see it go into the hands of private book makers, and the State's involvement and share of the revenues, have escalated from there.

Mark Wilson said...

Is there nothing that you don't want to control - what a sad fascist world you would create for us. Anything that is not specifically allowed is forbidden.

Anonymous said...

'I generally loathe the 19th century attitude that would leave poor people with the pain of poverty but take away their medication, which is for the most part a self-righteous and hypocritical assertion of cultural power.However, I am right with you on the pokies. They are an out and out evil; pretty lights enticing desperate people to play against a loaded dice.'

What is your take on cigarettes?

Olwyn said...

@Anonymous, April 26, 2.42pm: While I do not think that the harmful effects of cigarettes should be concealed from people, the mania to stop people from smoking is to me yet another assertion of cultural power, along with the mania for bleating about fatness,etc. This is especially so when adequate housing, living wages, etc, are given such a low priority, and treated as beyond our control. We are far too fond of helping people in ways that amount to belittling them, but not in ways that make things easier for them. It is rather like the blaming of gin for the grinding poverty in 19th century England.

I would say the same thing about ordinary forms of gambling, like a bet on the horses or a game of poker, but the pokie machines are more sinister, since in their case the House is not gambling at all, only the players are. And their capacity for taking money is all but infinite: at least with the horses there are only so many races on the card. Someone on the Standard called them "the crack cocaine of gambling" which I think is a good analogy.

Anonymous said...

What I hate about the casinos is that they are always threatening people, at the point of a gun, that they must go to the casino and leave all their money there.
That is reprehensible.
It would be better if people were free to go to the casino if they so wished, but having them forcibly sent there is unspeakable.