Community pays the price for pokies funds

Posted on 30 Jan 2024

By Denis Moriarty


It's no longer possible to ignore the destructive impact of poker machines on the community, writes Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty.

You don’t want – well, I don’t want – decisions as to the initiation of nuclear war by an American president to be taken lightly or without a full consideration of all the moral issues.

It’s not easy, considering the particular circumstances in which such decisions are likely to be taken, to ensure that this happens.

One proposed fix involved having the nuclear button surgically implanted in the heart of one of the president’s aides. There would be a sharp knife in one of the drawers of the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, and in order to get the button out and thumb it the president would have to messily kill a real live person in the same room.

One extra death, in the broader view, would be a vanishingly small proportion of the billions who would die in a nuclear exchange, but that death might have the effect of bringing to the forefront of a politician’s mind the practical effects of their actions.

Whatever its merits, anyway, this idea never made it into the nuclear playbook (and this was a playbook that included proposals to line up rocket engines across the USA to slow down Earth’s rotation to make Russian missiles miss their targets, so it wasn’t rejected for being too crazy).

It does, however, throw off some other speculations closer to home.

Various football clubs and RSL clubs and member-oriented clubs receive not-for-profit tax breaks on the basis that the surpluses gained from the vigorous exercise of poker machines are spent on the public good – “community development and support”.

As it happens, the public good in this instance is barely distinguishable from the club shifting money from one pocket into another, with a few loose notes provided to the political party overseeing regulation in that state, but for the moment we’ll take them at their word; they want to do good for the community.

Even so, I’m putting forward a modest proposal.

Before giving away any money derived from their poker machines, the executives concerned should have to drive to the nearest shopping centre, find a senior citizen using a walking frame, hit them over the head with a cricket bat and take their wallet. The cash in the wallet would be the lead donation to the community fund.

This little exercise would be, by analogy, a means of bringing to the forefront of an executive’s mind the practical effects of their promotion of gambling. These are hardly in dispute.

As Associate Professor Charles Livingstone, a gambling expert from Monash University, says, “At least half of the money that goes through poker machines comes from people who are essentially addicted to them. For those people, the consequences are shattering.”

"I can’t quite see the point of giving the clubs a tax break on their community development while ignoring their community destruction."

So, what do we do about it?

We could, I suppose, have the clubs’ poker machine profits directed into repairing poker machine harms rather than providing wide-screen TVs and cheaper parmas, but this does seem like the long way round.

I can’t quite see the point of giving the clubs a tax break on their community development while ignoring their community destruction, though; there should be a way of netting out the pluses and minuses.

Denis Moriarty, group managing director, Our Community.

Incidentally, don’t get me started on the supposedly progressive industry super funds that have hundreds of millions invested in gambling while spending millions marketing their “goodness”.

I’m not actually in favour of the cutting-out-the-heart exercise, if only because there’s a reasonable chance that this year will see the election of a president whose eyes would light up at the thought, and I can see legal problems even in the lesser pensioner-mugging project.

It would obviously be more satisfactory if we worked to abolish nuclear weapons, on the one hand, and poker machines on the other. As it is, we’re ramping up gambling on sports of all kinds in a way that seems certain to reproduce the same addiction-dependent industry model even more widely.

Some clubs have dropped the pokies of their own volition, and we should definitely give them all credit for their clear thinking (while continuing to keep up the heat on the ones that haven’t).

Here’s to the AFL clubs North Melbourne, Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn, Melbourne, and the Bulldogs, for example, who will definitely get a leg up in my footy tipping this season.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of, a social enterprise that helps the country's 600,000 not-for-profits.

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