Gambling For Parliament

Burswood Casino is the perfect example of a government-enforced monopoly that provides a pathetic service at enormous cost, with few redeeming features. Staff are surly, drink prices border on extortionate, a ridiculous dress code is enforced on a customer base who have no option to go elsewhere.

In short, it’s a shithole.

One of the things that isn’t obvious to most visitors of Burswood is that, along with infinite rows of poker machines, they have, tucked away in the far corner, two very well appointed poker tables.

Burswood make no attempt to advertise these tables. They are at the far corner near the sports bar, are rarely open on weekdays, and only offer three games: Draw Poker (full and half pot), 7 card stud, (half pot) and Manila ($10 limit). The world’s most popular poker game, Texas Holdem, is apparently still waiting to be approved by the state gambling commission. It is, however, dealt at Melbourne’s Crown Casino.

Along with poor game selection, the Casino takes a 5% uncapped rake on each and every hand. If the total pot is $1000, they take $50. As a comparison, tables in Las Vegas might take 5%, but cap it at $5. This can mean the difference between playing on a table as a favourite, or playing on a table where only the house can expect to win in the long run.

I asked the pit boss at Burswood why they even bother having the tables at all, given that nobody likes the games, they don’t bother advertising them, and the rake is so ridiculous that no serious player would consider sitting. His response: We are required to run the tables as a condition of our licence. Make of that what you will.

In any case, about a year ago I was sitting at the 7 card stud game, having a chat to one of the regulars. He was in his mid-late 40’s, fairly normal looking guy, and was absolutely horrible at poker. No hand was bad enough for him to throw away, and he was always willing to spend that extra money to see what the others had, no matter his chance of beating them.

In the course of our discussion, the guy admitted that he lost about $500 a month at the table. Rarely did he walk away with a significant win, and he often took heavy losses. I asked him why he bothered.

“I don’t drink, don’t smoke, I’m single and have no kids, so I don’t have many expenses. I enjoy the game and the company of the other players, and I earn enough money to pay for it.”

The bottom line is, the guy was doing what he enjoyed. Some of us like to spend our weekends going out and getting drunk. Some people like to buy a new pair of shoes every fortnight, in order to maintain a wardrobe fit for an actress. Some people like deep sea fishing, and the cost of fuel is unimportant if it results in an entertaining day out.

All of these pursuits have something in common: No matter how much I spend at the pub, I’m not going to one day walk in and be given anything in return. The girls with 100 pairs of shoes don’t win any prize for doing so. All of the people described are spending their money on something and have little to show for it.

Why then, do people get all upset when others spend all their spare money at the track or on the pokies? How is it any different to my mates pissing $200 a week up against the wall at the Stamford Arms? Why don’t government beaurocrats attempt to stop people from purchasing extra unnecessary pairs of shoes?

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The government itself can’t be ideologically opposed to gambling. They actively encourage it in the electoral system. I’m not talking about Lotto, either.

If you wish to stand for election for the house of representatives, you are required to pay a deposit of $350 to do so. If you receive 4% of the vote or more, this deposit is refunded. If you get a great deal more votes, you might win “the prize”: A seat in the house of representatives, and all the perks that come with it.

What about the losers, though? In most elections, only 2 or possibly 3 candidates will receive the 4% required to refund their deposit. The others have defaulted their money.

Isn’t this just a wager like any other? You are effectively putting up $350 to win your 3 year parliamentary salary of $150,000. For some players, like a preselected major party candidate, the odds are pretty good. If you are a member of a minor party, like the Greens or Democrats, you probably stand to at least break even.

What if you are running for a lesser-known party though? Say, just for example, the Liberal Democratic Party. I’m planning on running as a candidate for Stirling in the next election. 4% of the vote is going to be a tough ask for a party with little recognition in mainstream media, and policies which are quite removed from the centrist major parties. Isn’t it just a little like the bloke at the 7 card stud table at Burswood?

I know I’m going to do my money, but I don’t care. And hey, there’s just a teency chance that I might hit it big!

Sounds like gambling to me. Why isn’t this practice illegal? Why aren’t there social workers devoted to helping the problem gamblers who do their dough at each and every election?

Anti-Gambling legislation isn’t only unnecessary and counterproductive, it is completely arbitrary and inconsistent. The government’s own lottery presents far worse odds than a roulette wheel with 9 zeroes. It’s worse than any pokie machine. And don’t think for a second that it’s okay because people only spend $2 a week on it. Plenty of people can and do spend upwards of $500 a week playing Lotteries of different kinds.

In WA we have 3 different ticket lotteries, not to mention a myriad of “scratch and win” type bingo cards. All of them offer similar or far worse odds than the pokies, with the added extra of not being nearly as entertaining. Where’s the anti-Lotto party when you need them?

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