Gambling: a net benefit?!! 

One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics > Gambling a net benefit?!!
July 12 2003

I recently had the experience of working in a pub whose computer network had been badly corrupted by a virus.  So I had the opportunity to watch a man cash two fifty dollar notes to coins, and feed them into the pokies while I waited for computers to boot, and reboot, as we slowly cleaned up the mess.  In the space of half an hour he came back four more times.   He spent almost my take home pay for the week, and had no return that I could see.  What drives a man to do this?

I noticed a report from Adele Horin in the Sydney Morning Herald web site today. 

Gamblers' losses create more jobs than if they saved 
(July 12 2003)

She reports that "gamblers generate $1 billion a year in economic benefits to NSW, and even areas of problem gambling, such as Fairfield and Liverpool, are beneficiaries. Though individual gamblers on average are worse off than non-gamblers, the money they spend gambling generates more jobs than if they had saved the money or spent it differently."

The study is called The Economic Impact of Gambling, and done by Craig Shepherd and Ian Manning, of the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research. It was released at the Australian Social Policy Conference.

A lot is hidden in this billion dollar 'benefit.'  Gambling's "negative economic impact" is $5.5 billion dollars, based on the "costs incurred by the state's 72,000 "problem" gamblers, and the expenditure foregone in other areas."

So although  gambling has a "positive impact of $6.5 billion on job generation, especially in regional areas," 5.5 billion dollars goes down the drain.  I guess if I have a bit of fun and put five dollars in a poker machine that's one thing... I get fun for my money (apparently.)  But the researcher (Shepherd) says people spend on average! $60 to $70 a week on gambling in the western suburbs of Sydney. In fact, "The study found if fewer people gambled they might save more or spend their money on imported goods, such as household items and clothing. But neither saving nor expenditure on imports would generate as many local jobs as gambling."

Dr Manning said: "Australia's economic boom was built on encouraging people to consume, and gambling was a form of consumption." 

Even this bizarre benefit was not present everywhere.  The benefits of gambling are "unequally distributed."  "Rural areas around Lismore, Bathurst, Orange, Goulburn and Queanbeyan net losers.

Ms Horin points out with exquisite irony that Sydney's moderate gambling eastern suburbs benefit from a flow of share dividends from gambling and related industries... while the higher gambling western suburbs benefit from jobs. 

"The study used Productivity Commission estimates showing about 2 per cent of the population were problem gamblers. "Lest we get carried away with the costs of problem gambling, it is worth remembering that the prohibition of gambling would also give rise to miseries from crime and corruption," it said."  A quick perusal of Google showed me (in three of the first ten hits) estimates that each problem gambler affects 5, 7, or 10-15  other people!  Mid-range, that means this 1 billion dollar benefit is at the expense of 20% of the population!

Excellent journalist that she is, Horin also says "The NSW Council of Social Service director, Gary Moore, said the real costs of problem gambling were hard to estimate. "The evidence from front-line services in mental health, domestic violence and homelessness suggests problem gambling is emerging as a far greater issue than five years ago and the costs may have been underestimated," he said.

What worries me is that we have this sort of conversation at all. How can we call an industry based on the fore-knowledge and wilful design that people will suffer and be entrapped, a benefit?  Gambling winnings are never the result of productive activity. A gambler always wins at the expense of other people losing. Not just the other gambler, but their family, partner and children.  Talking in terms of net benefit robs people of their humanity and turns them into tradeable economic units.  They cease to be people.

My week in the pub was an eye opener.  I saw how physically hard the young people worked to earn a dollar, living in smoke, constantly on the move, and sometimes dealing with drunk and or nasty people.  I got beer down my back crawling under bars while I tracked down cables and connections.  But the real pity was the patrons wasting thousands... for what? Even those diners who went nowhere near the pokies, and sampled only the excellent in-house boutique beer, were subsidised by the pokies.  The publican said to me, "Without the poker machines, we couldn't exist." 

Such is the cost and compromise of life in our society.  The thousands we invoiced to replace two dead computers, clean out the virus, recover the data and re-install the programs,  was paid by some poor buggers who waste my week's pay in half an hour. 


One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics