AUSTRALIANS have always loved to gamble, and we've generally been pretty proud of it.
When we'd jokingly say that we knew a bloke who would bet on "two flies walking up the wall", it all seemed such a laugh, just part of what it was to be a bit of an Aussie larrikin.
But it's no laughing matter when we read that Orange pubs and clubs showed an increase of just over $1 million in poker machine profits.
And that's profit. The turnover going through those machines for the same period was many, many times more.
Of course, in most cases that's no real concern.
There are many among us who enjoy the thrill of putting a few dollars through the pokies as part of a night on the town.
The real problem with poker machine profits is that we know from experience that it's not a harmless bit of fun for many in the community
Just as some like to punt on the horses or the dogs and others enjoy trying their luck on a lottery ticket, a half-hour or so in front of the pokies is a pretty harmless way to past the time.
For most, at least.
But the real problem with poker machine profits is that we know from experience that it's not a harmless bit of fun for many in the community.
And we also know that, across the state, the areas with the highest poker machine profits are not the areas with the highest disposable incomes.
When five of the state's top-20 most profitable poker machine clubs are in the battling Fairfield City Council area in south-west Sydney, we must know this state has a problem.
It is true that many local clubs and pubs pump money back into the community through sponsoring sporting teams and local events, but too much of that money is tainted by the damage problem gambling can have on local families.
But banning poker machines is not the answer, as denying the vast majority some harmless pleasure for the sake of protecting a small minority is also no way to address the issue.
Far better would be to finally take seriously the pleas from gambling reform advocates to introduce sensible measures such as $1 bet limits, reduced hours for gaming lounges and an end to loyalty programs that reward people for doing their dough.
Gambling may be part of our nation's psyche but we can't let it destroy us.
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