For a region well known for its disadvantage, the price Shoalhaven pays for its poker machine addiction is breathtaking. Imagine if the $36.7 million in poker machine profits made in six months in the Shoalhaven by clubs and hotels had stayed in the pockets of those feeding the machines.
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It’s safe to assume many individuals and families would be be far better off.
While clubs and pubs do play an important role in the community – employing people, being social hubs and sponsoring local sporting clubs – this must be weighed against the toll exacted by poker machines.
Shoalhaven has the unenviable distinction of being the leader on the South Coast when it comes to pokie profits. Seeing it has the highest number of machines, it hardly comes as a surprise.
Our region has 1388 poker machines in clubs and 237 of them in its hotels.
And our state has the highest number of poker machines in the country. Again, this should hardly be surprising, given NSW’s obsession with gambling in all its forms.
The depth of that obsession was played out starkly in the past fortnight with the outcry over using the Opera House as a billboard for The Everest horse race.
The controversy was multi-layered. There was radio shock jock Alan Jones – himself a considerable player in the horse racing industry – browbeating on air the Opera House chief executive Louise Herron for refusing to allow race branding to be projected onto the sails. There was NSW Premier Gladys Berejklian overruling Ms Herron.
There was Prime Minister Scott Morrison defending using the country’s best known building as a billboard for a horse race.
There was Opposition front-bencher Anthony Albanese saying he couldn’t undertsand the fuss.
And there were the people – whose outrage was loud and clear – who delivered thousands of signatures opposing the use of the Opera House to promote a horse race.
What the controversy managed to do was spark a conversation about gambling, something we clearly need to have, especially when you look out how much we are pumping through poker machines right here in the Shoalhaven.
Those astronomical pokie profits in a region where many struggle to keep up with cost of living pressures are a clear signal we need to wean ourselves off this gambling habit.
We will be better for it.
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