Our say | $27,000 fed through Bathurst pokies every hour … is it too late?

HISTORY shows Australia’s problems with gambling started a short time after Governor Arthur Phillip steered the First Fleet into Sydney Cove in January, 1788.

It was a convict named Harris who goes down in the annals as the first people on Australian soil to propose gambling control.

Judge Advocate David Collins records that Harris suggested that “12 reliable men should be selected from among the better-behaved convicts to patrol the settlement at night and detain stragglers and other persons acting suspiciously”.

Governor Phillip approved the night watch, 12 “better-behaved” convicts were selected, and the night watch began its duties.

Collins records that the night was tasked with preventing “gambling and the sale of liquor”, and reported to him each morning.

NSW isn’t a penal colony anymore and the job of controlling gambling has shifted from “better-behaved” convicts to the NSW Government.

Critics of the government’s gambling policies would probably argue the convicts did a better job.

Orange residents gambled more than $292,483,745 on poker machines in the year to July, 2016, a jump of more than $12 million in 12 months.

But figures in the hundreds of millions can be almost meaningless because they are so big. Consider this instead.

More than $650,000 every day was put through Bathurst poker machines in the 2015-16 financial year. That’s more than $27,000 every hour.

By the time you finish reading this editorial another $2000 or so will have been put through Bathurst’s machines.

Poker machines have been around in NSW since they were legalised more than six decades ago, but the sheer volume of machines and the vast sums ploughed through poker machines has changed the equation.

A government that relies so heavily on gambling revenue can’t help but be conflicted about controlling the rivers of gold. The sheer volume of poker machine taxes ensures that.

There are far fewer poker machines than there were nearly two decades ago, but that only makes the continued rise of money pouring into those machines more alarming.

In 1788 a dozen men and a lamp kept gambling under control.

In 2017 it feels like the horse may have already bolted.