How Petersham Bowling Club was revived without poker machines

Slot machines are not only bad for health and bad for society, they are anti-business and anti-innovation. They make companies lazy. They make governments lazy. They serve as a kind of social subsidy, preventing companies from failing when they should. They act as a dam of opportunity, preventing ideas from thriving when they should.

I’ve run a pokie free club for 16 years. I understand pokies and how they’ve caused malaise in the business of symptoms of malaise or bloating, and I’ve seen the huge rewards when we do it as the Whitlams sang and ‘blow up the pokies’.

George Catsi, President of Petersham Bowling Club, right, with General Manager Penny Ryan and Bar Manager Carl Manwarring.

George Catsi, President of Petersham Bowling Club, right, with General Manager Penny Ryan and Bar Manager Carl Manwarring. Credit:Walter Peeters

The gambling lobby has seduced state governments and reduced us to a kakistocracy, a place run by the least qualified or the most ruthless. In NSW alone, more than $6.5 billion is lost from poker machines each year. If this money was spent in small businesses, the economy would thrive and create many jobs. Think of this as the ultimate stimulus package. Money that has gone down the drain could be diverted to the suffering families.

Clubs and pubs often argue that they couldn’t survive without slot machines. Imagine if every coffee shop, clothing store, hairdresser, and laundromat (for clothes, not money) would argue that because their business is struggling, they need to introduce slot machines in the restroom or waiting room. The government would sack them and say if they can’t run their business, it’s their loss. Clubs and pubs need to learn to use their brains like everyone else. But let’s be clear about which clubs I’m talking about. Twenty per cent of NSW clubs have no slot machines and 44 per cent of NSW pubs have no slot machines. So, who is actually being served here?

I am the president of my local bowling club in Petersham. In 2006, the local community took over a failed club and attempted to revitalize it. We reached out to Clubs NSW for insight on how we can salvage a community asset. To try something different that the old board hadn’t tried. At least there were slot machines in the club, but that hadn’t saved him.


Something else was needed. One small club after another failed and closed. Sold to developers or flooded with play money by big clubs. We wanted to try a new way. Clubs NSW got us to join before they gave us any advice. His advice was to borrow $20,000 to upgrade our poker machines, which were outdated and unappealing to players. Then, once we attracted players with shiny new slots, we could use the proceeds from their poker machine losses to subsidize food and drink. That was it.

I tried to work out the logic. “So you want us to take advantage of part of my community so we can subsidize discounted food and drink for the rest of the community?” That’s the whole model for slots-supported clubs. Everything is subsidized by the gamblers, even the bargain Sunday roast.

It’s a form of corruption. Not legal as they sewed the law, but it’s moral corruption. It preys on the vulnerable. It goes beyond offering them friendly, casual experimentation with the slots that the clubs consider “entertainment.” The clubs and pubs and the government are just as addicted as the players. I have an answer to that entertainment argument. Charge an hourly fee so people can play as much as they want in the hour. No wins, no losses, just entertainment. How Petersham Bowling Club was revived without poker machines

Justin Scaccy

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