Article by Clyde Mooney, Editor PubTIC

Industry has dismissed the ABC’s high-profile “Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation” program as unbalanced and not credible, as the national broadcaster appears guilty of the same accusation it was trying to make.

While research and commentary on gaming and gamblers seems to always support whichever side is funding it, shock-hungry media are happy to adopt any extreme view if it will secure ratings or readers.

Last Sunday’s program on the ABC pushed the point that poker machines are scientifically engineered to trigger pleasure reactions in players, which they are incapable of resisting. They trotted out several cutting-edge psychology experiments (from the 1950s) as proof to this end.

Socially-minded viewers could be excused for thinking the machines are part of an evil plot against individuals to rob them of both their money and will.

Yet while troubling stories of personal battles with addiction and financial ruin prevailed, there was little or no mention of any underlying psychological issues that caused these people to fall prey to addiction – in their cases with gambling and pokies, as opposed to drugs.

The heartbreaking story of former Victorian minister Carolyn Hirsh becoming a problem gambler after finding her daughter hanging dead (by suicide) would certainly have benefited from perspective on how she came to deal with her grief, and overcome her gambling escapism.

Instead, it makes for better television to demonise a legal product and industry as perpetrators of great insight and manipulation into the human mind.

“Every Australian poker machine game is forensically audited by independent testing laboratories and by state and territory regulators before it is approved for use,” said Ross Ferrar, CEO of the Gaming Technologies Association (GTA).

“It is nonsense to suggest that laboratories and regulators don’t take their responsibilities seriously – and equally nonsensical to suggest that licensed poker machine suppliers seek to provide games for any purpose other than entertainment.”

Beyond failing to address the underlying reasons that some people develop gambling problems, the program also chose to not mention the 140,000 jobs created by the industry, or the millions donated by hospitality businesses to community causes that would likely otherwise go unfunded.

“But the biggest omission was that millions of people in Australia and around the world enjoy playing poker machines regularly and do not experience any problems,” continued Ferrar.

“The program was unbalanced and consequently not credible.”

Las Vegas, Nevada, where most of the ‘experts’ featured were located, has had legal poker machines since the 1930s, and holds around 2.3 per cent of the world’s machines.

New South Wales legalised pokies in 1956, and has around half those found in Australia, amounting to around 1.2 per cent of the global count.