THE BLOG

Take a Chance on Me

03/10/2013 15:37 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

If you're gambling online, is it for money or entertainment?

Some words around the world are unique to the country that they originate in. Australians, never shy about bastardizing a word to make it seem more friendly, have made it into a cultural signifier. If you're having a barbie, you're in Australia. Ditto if you're drinking a tinny. These two slang words are close enough to their original form to be understood the world over but try this one on for size: pokie. Don't Google it (particularly if you're easily offended - it has a very different meaning in the UK). Foxed? It stands for 'poker machine'; slot machines if you're in the US and fruit machines in the UK. You know - it's that thing in the corner of a bar flashing away, the one that's in competition with the TV and the smartphone for the lone drinker's attention., tempting a quick injection of cash if you fancy a flutter. Often in Australian bars you'll find them hidden away in a discreet room away from the main space, like a dirty secret.

No wonder. A recent Guardian report linked 128 suicides in the state of Victoria to gambling, with pokies suspected of being the main culprit. In a country with a relatively small population of 23 million people, it is estimated that there are 300,000 problem gamers. So why won't the government take a harder line against them? For the same reason that governments are always reluctant to legislate, because that kind of gambling brings in a lot of tax dollars - around $3 billion per year for 'the lucky country'.

Now you don't even have to go the pub to have a flutter. Although the rise of virtual poker websites has been very apparent, it's now possible to have a go on the pokies online. Given the concerns about this type of gambling, the surprise is that the information about your chances is almost brutally blunt. Onlinepokies.com is full of stats and facts about your chances of a big payday, including the stone cold fact that 'there is no way to win on the pokies in the long term'. In their 'Tips for Winning' section the attitude is also surprisingly sensible. Always set a budget before you play, don't play when you've had too much to drink and play for entertainment, not to win money.

And there's the rub. These kind of machines are undeniably entertaining. Some offer the chance to get another taste of your favourite movie characters (there's a 'Lord of the Rings' machine, for example) and others hook you in because of your love of sports. Nostalgia is also a big draw, with the pokies that look most like the one armed bandits of old, with their three spinning reels, offering simple pleasures. Websites like Pokies Palace and Fruity Reels offer a handy guide (and gateway) to all kinds of pokies. Aside from the beguiling colours, lights and sounds that tantalise our eyeballs, the real draw has always been the same - that a pile of money might unexpectedly come our way, for free, to brighten up our day.