July 2011 – Gambling

July 2011 – Gambling

Who remembers the gambling bug?

It’s a Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1951 about a bug that causes gambling fever in anyone he bites.

In the cartoon’s intro a man puts a coin in a poker machine. He watches the wheels spin around until three oranges appear. Instead of a cash jackpot he gets three real oranges and, enraged, he punches the machine.

Next, the bug bites a cat’s ear. The cat feverishly begs the dog to “deal the cards, deal the cards”.

When the cat loses at gin rummy the dog’s penalties are grim.

First, the Gesundheit (the cat gets covered in bubblegum). Second, the William Tell (the dog fires a suction-head arrow at the cat’s face). And third, Roll out the Barrel (the cat is stuffed in a barrel which trails gunpowder up hill and down dale then the dog lights the fuse. KABOOM).

Like a lot of my favourite cartoons there’s a serious side to the humour.

And, as with many older cartoons, the message is clear.

The narrator tells the audience, “So remember folks, the gambling bug will get you if you don’t watch out.”

I credit my Christian upbringing with the fact I’ve never been bitten by the bug and yet I have seen gambling’s destructive effects.

President of the Uniting Church, the Rev. Alistair Macrae, says that each year thousands of children suffer because of the impact of someone’s poker machine gambling, with problem gamblers each affecting at least one child and adversely impacting upon ten others.

Three quarters of severe problem gamblers play poker machines, Mr Macrae says, and it is possible to lose $1,500 an hour on modern machines.

The social costs of problem gambling are also high. Relationship breakdown, mental health issues, unemployment, debt and financial hardship, theft and social isolation contribute to costs estimated at $4.7 billion a year.

In March the Uniting Church joined with others to launch the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce — a group committed to fighting for gambling policy that supports consumer protection and harm minimisation.

It’s a fight that brings churches into conflict with some “high rollers” — politicians and industry players with vested interests in the continued growth of poker machine revenue in Australia.

The taskforce supports the introduction of pre-commitment technology on poker machines.

This technology requires gamblers to choose and stick to gambling limits.

ClubsAustralia is hitting back with a $20 million advertising campaign opposing it.

You can bet on one thing: This is a fight the families of problem gamblers hope the church taskforce wins.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

PS: The gambling bug’s unexpected penalty was called The Post. See “Early to Bet” on DVD as part of Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1.



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