Thursday, February 28, 2008

Are Poker Machines Creating Hardcore Criminals?

Apparently they are, at least in Australia. According to the Australian media, people who are addicted to poker machines ("pokies") and who they've labeled "pokie paupers" have become the newest group of hardcore criminals Down Under and are linked to hundreds of serious criminal cases. Well, this is certainly understandable as nearly all addictions in one way or another lead to crime. And I doubt that Australian casinos or casinos anywhere else for that matter are going to pull their pokies. And, not surprisingly, executives affiliated with companies and casinos that manufacture the pokies deny that any rise in crime is a result of these poker machines. You be the judge!

Here's an article on the important matter that is circulating in Australia:


POKER machines are creating a new criminal class — pushing law-abiding Victorians into a life of crime to feed gambling addictions that are tearing families apart while the State Government reaps a $1 billion-a-year tax jackpot.

People with no prior criminal records are being jailed for years after succumbing to pokie addictions and resorting to fraud, theft and embezzlement, often after gambling away their life savings.

In one case, a woman was murdered by a colleague for a shop's takings. The killer then went to the casino and within four hours of the May 2006 killing had lost a third of the money.

Lawyers say the Government must act urgently to address the gambling crisis which saw Victorians lose $2.5 billion last year.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week expressed concern that gambling tax contributed more than $5 billion to the states' and territories' annual revenue.

The State Government is set to announce new 20-year poker machine licences within weeks — a once-in-a-generation chance to reduce the number and accessibility of gaming machines, according to Opposition gaming spokesman Michael O'Brien.

He said the State Government was ignoring "the social cost and the economic cost through the criminal justice system, through the health system, through the social welfare system that gambling addiction creates".

His views are backed by senior lawyers. Bernie Balmer, who represented Kate Jamieson, a former Bendigo Bank loans officer and a mother of two who stole $3.5 million to feed her gambling addiction and is now in jail, says poker machines are white-anting ordinary families.

"Once upon a time you didn't have this offending in court — these are mums who have been dragged away from their kids for four years," he said. "The community have got to support them in jail — husbands become single parents, it's just bullshit."

A Melbourne-based ANZ bank teller who stole $826,000 after gambling away her savings was recently jailed for 4½ years.

Last week, it was alleged in a Victorian parliamentary gambling licence inquiry that a former Tattersalls chief executive had said in 2002 that "he was going to … screw the problem gamblers for as long as he could until he was forced to stop by government legislation".

The political party Family First is trying to fast-track such legislation. It entered a bill in Federal Parliament on Thursday aimed at phasing out pokies from pubs and clubs and limiting them to racetracks and casinos.

Independent senator-elect Nick Xenophon, of South Australia, who will meet with Mr Rudd to discuss how the states should be encouraged to curb their reliance on gambling taxes, said: "The state reaps a huge dividend — this really is blood money in terms of the impact of pokies and the devastation it causes to people."

The Victorian Government took $1.56 billion in gambling taxes last year, $1 billion of which came from pokies.

But it spends less than $27 million a year on addressing problem gambling.

Sue MacGregor, from the Law Institute of Victoria's criminal law section executive, said pokies were the sole reason many people were in legal strife.

In some "tragic cases" women had even lost the right to care for their children, she said.

In December, Judge Roland Williams said he did not see "any real civilised justification for (poker machines) other than a means of indirectly taxing the people who are too stupid to work out what they are doing".

Tabcorp spokesman Bruce Tobin said the levels of problem gambling were falling in Victoria, while Tattersalls' Michael Mangos said "Tatts is not aware of any evidence that there is an increase in the prevalence of problem gambling".

Emma Diffen, a spokeswoman for Gaming Minister Tony Robinson, said the Government had a proud record of "investment and achievement" in supporting problem gamblers.