Poker machines: why do we even have them?

I’m loath to refer to this as a piece in support of poker machines (electronic gaming machines, slot machines, fruit machines, pokies, call them what you will), but this will largely be interpreted as such because it’s not a scathing criticism. However, it’s more a collection of thoughts and things to think about when composing scathing criticisms of poker machines. So here goes.

(And before we start, full disclosure: I am employed by a large club in Sydney, my knowledge of gaming and gaming machines is technical and extensive, and I have worked in the gambling industry (in clubs and casinos in Australia and overseas) since 2005.).

First I’ll acknowledge that problem gambling exists and is a problem, and I don’t think anyone is doing enough to tackle it, and a lot of harm can be attributed to problem gambling involving poker machines. A huge amount of money goes through poker machines in NSW, and very few players win in the short-term – even fewer in the long-term.

All of that said, it’s important that we have legal and regulated gambling. We have to – both from a personal liberty perspective (people should be allowed to do whatever the like with their own money), and from a harm minimization perspective (the alternative to legal, regulated gambling is illegal, unregulated gambling – underground casinos, dog fights and cock fights, underground poker games bankrolled by loan sharks). We can’t totally prevent problem gambling and the harm that comes from it, but we can try to minimize it, which is why regulation is important.

Regulation and monitoring

Poker machines are easy to regulate and easy to monitor. Really easy. Every legally operated poker machine in NSW has a unique serial number; the regulator knows where every single one is, who is operating it and what software is installed on it. The software goes through an approval process. Every legally-operated poker machine in NSW is connected to the Central Monitoring System (CMS) and has to be by law – if there are any problems with communication to the CMS, the machine can’t be operated until communication is restored. Whether the regulation is good enough, the enforcement is good enough, compliance is good enough are other issues, but that they are so so simple to regulate and monitor makes them really attractive to gambling regulators.

Because of the process of getting poker machine software from development to market, poker machines are really difficult to compromise. In short you can’t bribe a poker machine. You can’t cheat. Unlike in casinos and bookmakers, staff can’t be bribed or assist with cheating, payouts can’t be miscalculated. Everything is legit. So they are attractive to operators, players, and regulators, all of whom can trust them.

Low-risk gambling

With the usual acknowledgement that some people’s lives are destroyed through gambling, for most people poker machines provide access to gambling (a legitimate leisure activity) in a low-risk and low-cost way. People who set and stick to limits don’t lose more than they can afford, and the range of machines and games available mean that even very low limits can provide genuine entertainment value, decent time playing, and the thrill of a potential win. And poker machines combine three things that other forms of leisure gambling can’t: low entry price, high prize potential, instant win. Some examples:

  • Casino games offer instant wins and high prize potentials, but the entry prices are high – most people cannot afford to play casino games.
  • Racing and sports betting offer the potential of instant wins with a low entry price, but large prize potentials don’t exist without large bets.
  • Lotteries offer large prizes at a low entry price, but generally can’t offer instant wins.

I’m sure many people consider this a bad thing; I don’t. I just consider it a thing. Lots of people want to experience the thrill of gambling, the potential to win a large prize with an instant payoff, and at a low entry price, and poker machines offer that. I am certainly not going to tell people that that should not be on offer to them.

Harm minimization

Like for regulation, poker machines are easy to monitor for problem gambling as well as for potential money laundering. (Despite what is often said, it’s very difficult to launder money through a poker machine if strict transaction monitoring and player identification procedures are adhered to). Players can monitor their own play if they want to, and get detailed and accurate statements on their play and spend, things that are much more difficult with casino gaming, racing and sports betting, and lotteries, for example. These are not necessarily good or bad things, but they are things that make poker machines attractive to operators and regulators.

Staff exposure is quite important here too: this is anecdotal, but I’ve had far fewer colleagues develop gambling problems in venues with only poker machines compared with casinos that offer table games with live dealers. I have been a dealer myself, and even I can sit at a blackjack table, or stand at a craps table as a player and think that I somehow have an advantage because I know the game inside out.

And it’s worth mentioning that, unlike racing, there are no animal welfare issues with poker machines (other than, perhaps, say, problem gamblers neglecting their pets).

Social exclusion reduction

There are better venues for social interaction than gaming rooms in clubs and hotels. Of course there are. But still, we live in the world we live in, and for quite a lot of people (especially elderly people living alone) a couple of hours playing the pokies once, twice, or a couple more times a week is valuable social interaction with others. I won’t spin it as a good thing, and I am more than aware that this can be spun as pokie dens preying on vulnerable people. But it’s a thing that exists and happens. Social services for elderly and lonely people should be better – of course they should – but they aren’t, and as long as people who get their social interaction from playing poker machines would otherwise be sitting at home alone, a social exclusion reduction argument can be made.

Physical poker machines in regulated venues also function as an alternative to online gambling. Online casinos and online poker machines. Those things can’t be regulated (we’ve tried!) and they are genuinely solitary. Again, it’s not ideal, but having poker machines in relatively safe environments with amenities and other people is a more attractive offering to players and regulators than people sitting at home alone playing the same games but with unregulated operators with no guarantee of wins being honored and withdrawals being possible, and with no protection if things do go wrong.

Money

Of course one of the main reasons they are attractive to operators is that poker machines can generate quite large amounts of revenue, and they are attractive to governments because they generate quite large amounts of tax. There’s a lot of financial and political leverage that goes both ways. A lot of people spend small amounts of money playing poker machines, and a small number of people spend large amounts of money playing poker machines, and this is the basis of most criticism of poker machines: money. (And this criticism is valid.)

All forms of gambling come with the risk of harm from problem gambling and problems related to problem gambling, and poker machines are not a special case. I won’t argue that poker machines are a benevolent source of social virtue providing employment and delivering social change through charitable giving (though both things are true/there are good arguments why these things are, indeed, bullshit: make up your own mind), but poker machines and the industry as a whole (despite some thoroughly rotten operators) are not a pure force of evil. They are simply, as a form of legal and regulated gambling, attractive.

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Kedgeree with smoked herrings

Kedgeree is great. It’s a breakfast dish but you can have it any time. It’s quick and easy and a very good recipe for one, but it is also good when you have an overnight guest who you want to impress with breakfast, and because my version mostly uses tinned ingredients, it’s an ideal camping dish.

This recipe serves one.

Ingredients

  • 200 g can of smoked herrings (in brine, please; not tomato sauce)
  • 60 ml basmati rice (or any long-grain rice, but I insist on basmati)
  • half an onion, diced (I use already diced frozen onions)
  • half a small can of mushrooms (I like the ones in butter sauce)
  • One hard boiled egg, roughly chopped
  • A big pinch of curry powder (I use Clive of India Hot curry powder – this is an outrageous colonial dish after all!)
  • About half a teaspoon of turmeric, for color
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter

Method

In a small-ish frying pan over a medium heat, fry the onion in butter until it is soft and slightly brown, then turn the heat up to high. Stir in the curry powder and the turmeric until it’s combined with the butter and coated the onions, then add the rice to the pan. You want to toast the rice for about a minute, and keep it moving so that the rice picks up the color and flavor of the curry powder.

Once everything is a lovely orange color and nicely fragrant, pour in 180 ml water and bring to the boil. Once it’s boiling, cover the pan (if you haven’t got a lid that fits, just use foil), turn the heat right down and let it barely simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

In the meantime, pour yourself a glass of wine (if you are making this for lunch or dinner) or champagne (if you are making this for breakfast) and take some photos of the cooking process for your Instagram.

Once the rice is cooked, fluff it up a bit with a wooden fork (I had trouble finding a wooden fork in Sydney when I first moved here, and was even told by a shop assistant in a cookware shop that they did not exist and I had conjured up the concept of a wooden fork in my head, but it turns out that someone at Ikea also conjured up the concept of a wooden fork in their head, so you can get one there). Use the wooden fork to break up the herring fillets (which you have drained, of course!) a bit, but not too much because you want chunks rather than flakes, and stir the into the rice, along with the chopped egg and the mushrooms. Do it gently otherwise you’ll break up the fish and egg too much and you’ll end up with mush. Just turn it over with the fork until everything is combined and heated through. Season with salt and pepper. I’m an absolute fiend for salt, but you probably won’t need that much because of the herrings.

If you’re doing this for Instagram, and are particularly interested in likes and comments, then this looks nice sprinkled with some cayenne pepper (I don’t do this because I don’t like the flavor) and some parsley arranged on the top (you could use coriander, of course, which might be a better flavor combination, but wouldn’t be in the spirit of colonial cuisine).

Then, of course, you eat it.

Notes

If you want a vegetarian version, leave out the fish and double the mushrooms, and you could maybe use some lentils or some smoked firm tofu or tempeh or something that will have a bit of a bite and a smoky or smoke-adjacent flavor. If you want a vegan version do that and leave out the egg (and use some kind of vegetable oil or other instead of the butter).

If you’re making this for more than one person (which you probably are if, as suggested, you’re making this for breakfast to impress last night’s shag your overnight guest), then increase the quantities of everything accordingly (use a 1:3 ratio of rice to water), and serve it on a platter, rather than individually, so people can help themselves.

follow me on twitter @supercroup 

 

 

 

A celebration of queer rights in Australia

In Australia we’re in the middle of a campaign for a government survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The going is really tough, and a lot of us are feeling really shitty: the attacks are coming strong from the No campaign.

But: some positivity. Despite marriage equality not yet having arrived in Australia, we do have a lot of rights, and rights that are worth celebrating. And importantly rights that prove that our equality does not have terrible consequences for society.

Let’s celebrate these rights, and use their existence to argue for further extension of our civil and human rights.

The right to exist

Fundamentally, in Australia, we have the right to exist. The law doesn’t prohibit our existence. For all the hatred we face, the abuse, the violence, our right to exist is protected. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to fuck

Sexuality and sex is a core part of [most of] our existence. In Australia we have the right to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Some people engage in sexual violence against people asserting that right. Some put acid in lube dispensers in gay saunas. But none of that removes the right we have to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to form domestic partnerships

Australia is pretty good when it comes to recognizing de facto partnerships — including those between same-sex couples. We’ve established over the pervious weeks that they are not identical to marriages but even so, de facto couples are afforded most of the rights and benefits that married couples are. It’s not perfect, but we do have some of the most progressive de facto rights and protections in the world.

The right to migrate

Spousal migration to Australia is easy. I know: I’ve done it. Admittedly as a white man, but the right to migrate to Australia as the spouse (de jure or de facto) of an Australian citizen or permanent resident is protected, and dependent on (almost) nothing except the status of the relationship. Migration law recognizes the status of de facto relationships where cohabitation hasn’t occurred because of the illegality of the relationship where the couple previously lived.

In practice it can be hard, expensive, and complicated, but the right to migrate with our spouses exists. Few other countries offer this.

The right to employment

Discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or marital relationship status is against the law in Australia. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against us.

They do, of course. But they don’t have the right to do so. And our right is to be protected by law against such discrimination.

The right to transition

Unlike in many places in the world, trans people in Australia have the right to transition. Socially, medically, and administratively. This is not to suggest it is straightforward or that the process of transition isn’t riddled with gatekeeping bullshit, but trans people have the right to live in whatever gender role(s) suit, according to each person’s own determination.

Trans people have the right to receive support to transition, the right to a name change on official documentation, the right to change gender markers on official documentation (including to X if neither male nor female is appropriate). Around the world not all trans people have these rights.

The right to celebrate

These — and other — rights come along with the right to exist openly and freely. The right to celebrate. We have bars and clubs that are not hideaways, but open and public venues that SCREAM queer. We have Mardi Gras in Sydney every year, and politicians incessantly turn up for photo opportunities. There are plenty of problems in the queer party scene, including racism, sexism, and transphobia, and we need to work on that. But we have the right to work on it because we have the right to celebrate.

The right to marry

Coming soon.

The right to marry is an addition to our existing rights, wide-ranging rights that in Australia are surprisingly progressive. It’s right and good that we demand access to marriage, but let’s do so in the context of celebration of our existing rights, and how much these rights add to society.

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Why straight people should say Yes to gay marriage

For most queer people, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, call it what you will is about equal access to a legal institution, and for us equality is important.

For a large part of mainstream society, equality honestly just isn’t that important, and inequality doesn’t affect your day -to-day lives. I know you don’t really care about queer people’s mental health or about queer teens’ suicide rates. Yes, it’s sad, but it doesn’t really affect you, and you’d rather it all just went away.

I know that to a large number of you, the gays are an irritation, an inconvenience. Of course it gives me the shits that you see my existence as an inconvenience, but I won’t pretend it isn’t so, and try to sell you same-sex marriage on a platform of equality, benefit to queers, and #loveveislove.

I know that since we are an inconvenience, you’d rather we just went away, but unfortunately (or otherwise) we are here to stay. Society has tried for centuries to reduce the inconvenience we cause by making us go away, but I think we all realize that we are not going anywhere.

So aside from the equality that we care about, I’d like to share with you how same-sex marriage can help solve some of the inconvenience that you care about.

Admin is a mess

In most states and territories in Australia, there is some kind or relationship register or civil partnership register that unmarried couples can use to register their relationships. Same-sex couples are required to use these registers if they wish to register their relationships. It’s a mess: each state or territory that uses such a scheme has to administer this scheme, as well as administering the recognition of similar interstate schemes and administering the recognition of marriage, which itself is looked after by the Commonwealth. All this jumble, all these intertwined systems could be streamlined and simplified simply by opening up marriage to all couples who want to register their relationships.

Think of all the taxpayers’ money that could be saved. Think of all the red tape that could be done away with. Think of all the extra time, money, and resources that could be put into roads, schools, and hospitals instead of managing half a dozen mostly-equivalent systems that could all be consolidated into the one institution that already exists and is universal: marriage.

Determining next of kin is a mess

When people in same-sex relationships die or fall ill, how much time, money, and effort is spent trying to ascertain who their next of kin is? Lots. Doctors and medical staff spend time and taxpayers’ money trying to find out who should make decisions on a person’s care, when they could be taking care of patients. Taxpayers’ money and administration time is spent in courts trying to determine who a dead person’s next of kin is, who has rights over their affairs. And all of this could be solved by opening up marriage to couples who want to use marriage to manage this.

Barring same-sex couples from marrying costs us all money, and reduces the quality of our healthcare. It’s such a simple fix.

Children are important

Same-sex couples have children. The debate on whether they should or not is a different one, but the fact is: they do. And children of same-sex couples are important. Their lives are important, their childhoods are important, and their education is important.

Children’s lives are easier when the administration of their lives and their education is simple. And that involves recognizing their parents. Marriage makes this super, super simple. It instantly recognizes co-parents, and reduces time and money spent by education systems and other systems administering children’s lives and arrangements. This doesn’t just improve life and education for the children of same-sex couples; it improves life and education for all children. Streamlined education systems with simple admin benefit everyone. Opposition to same-sex marriage is very literally holding your child back.

And aside, if you really do believe that children need a mother and a father, that children of same-sex couples are necessarily at a disadvantage, surely you wouldn’t support putting these kids at more of a disadvantage. Surely you would want to do everything possible to mitigate the effects of that inherent disadvantage. Same-sex marriage does that.

So #VoteYes for you

So straight people, even if you don’t really care all that much about equality, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you actually oppose rights for queer people, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you think queers are a scourge on society, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits society as a whole.

Even if you won’t do it for us, do it for you.

No hate mail, please

Followers on Instagram and twitter may have seen I have updated my mailbox, adding a “No anti-marriage equality material” sticker next to the “no junk mail” sticker.

If you want your own that looks like mine, here is the PDF printable format (click the link). Print, laminate (if you like) and stick it on your mailbox.

This is a very small gesture, but I have stuck this on my mailbox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want homophobic hate mail in my letter box. I don’t expect this will actually prevent this, but it might. Secondly I am marking my home as queer, or at least queer-friendly. In the past I might have been afraid to do this out of fear of threats to my physical safety and to the security of my home. Now I don’t care; I think it’s more important to be visibly queer, to send messages that we are everywhere, and that we are not going away.

This also, I hope, sends the message that objecting to receiving homophobic hate material is a normal and reasonable thing to do, that this ‘debate’ on marriage rights in Australia does not have to be balanced, and that we have no obligation to ‘hear both sides’.

Stay strong, comrades. xx

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A week of homophobic medical experiences

I’ve had a pretty shitty week, and here is the story. I want to express how I was really feeling at the time, so I’ll mostly copy-paste messages sent to friends and family with as little editing as possible.

I was sick on Monday (an upset stomach) and took the day off work so I had to go to the doctor to get a doctor’s certificate for work. I just went to the doctor round the corner instead of my usual doctor. As part of the consultation she was asked general health questions, and through her questioning it transpired that I’m gay: at this she got very flustered and her immediate response was to to say she wanted to send me for full STI & HIV tests immediately, so I was like WTF I’m just here for a medical certificate and I have a regular testing schedule anyway but she wouldn’t drop it and gave me a referral anyway.

That pissed me off, obviously. But anyway, there’s a pathology lab that I pass on my way home from work, so I figured I may as well just go in to do the urine test and throat swab because it’s free and I might as well.

On arrival I gave the lab tech the referral; she asked me to sit down and she left the room. She came back a few minutes later and said “I’m confused because your doctor has requested a throat swab for gonorrhea, and the swab is normally from the penis in men” so I was like, “OK but I need a throat swab”. She said that she didn’t know how to do it because there are no guidelines for doing a throat swab for gonorrhea in men (like WTF srsly?) and she couldn’t do it. She told me to either come back the next day, or go to a different pathology lab.

So I was furious. And I wrote to their office to complain.

I am writing to complain following a recent visit to your pathology collection centre on 15 August that has left me distressed and angry.

My doctor had ordered a urine test and throat swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, tests which I have had many times, and believe are very common. On arrival, I presented the pathology request to the technician, who asked me to take a seat and left the room. Some minutes later she returned and said she was confused because my doctor had requested throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and that there were “no guidelines” for how she should collect those because swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are usually taken from the penis. I told her I have throat swabs for these tests regularly, but she reiterated that because there were no guidelines she did not know how to collect the required sample. She suggested I either return the following day or go to a different collection centre, and refused to collect the sample.

The impression I got was that either this collection center or this staff member (or both) was completely unprepared to collect a sample for a very common test for men who have sex with men. I personally felt humiliated by what seems to be clear discrimination based on my sex and sexual orientation, and angry that my health care and any treatment that may be necessary was delayed because of this. I am also very concerned more generally that experiences like this one discourage men who have sex with men and who live in this area from testing for STIs, putting the health of the community of which I am a part at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

I would like to receive a response explaining why I had this experience, and what will be done to ensure that this experience will not be repeated, either for me or for other people.

But anyway I did go back the next day because I’m some sort of masochist or something. And it was terrible. I was furious.

I got there, handed over the urine sample that I had been carrying round with me all day and said “I’m here for the throat swab too”. It was the same technician as the previous day. She asked if I had called in the morning, and I said no, I’m here now. She told me that she had said to call in the morning to ask them which sample collection kit to use (!!!!), and I said, well, I couldn’t call in the morning.

She said she still didn’t know what the correct procedure for collecting the sample was (I mean come on, it’s a throat swab FFS) and I got quite angry and asked her why she didn’t know, and if it was really that uncommon. She said again that they only normally do the swab from the penis, and I snapped. I said “you do know oral sex is a thing, right?” and then she asked me to wait and that she would go and ask the doctor.

She came back and again said I should have called in the morning. By this point I was nearly in tears. She then picked up the phone and called (I think) another doctor, and by the sounds of it he didn’t know which sample kit to use either (I was there rolling my eyes because I know it’s the blue one, but she wouldn’t take my word for it), and after a far-too-long discussion they agreed that it was probably best if they used the blue one.

She put came towards me, and then went back and got out a face mask to put on (fair enough I suppose, but it felt like she was making a point, and I have never known anyone put a mask on to take a throat swab), and then jabbed me in the throat a few times with the swab. She printed some labels, pushed them towards me and said “check your details”. I told her they were correct, and she said “you can go now. See your doctor in three days”. And I left.

Fucking hell, I was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously angry and humiliated.

This was at a very large medical center in a big suburb. And it’s so concerning because there are a lot of married men on the DL in in that suburb and surrounds having sex with other men (and I know this for obvious reasons), and if it’s this much hassle for me — someone open and upfront about my sexuality & sexual behavior — to get the most basic test for very common STIs, I can’t imagine the local men, who need to test discreetly and quickly, are getting the care they need.

I’m very conscious that this was in an area where there are lots of men who have sex with men in secret. Primarily men of color. Shit like this — that makes testing for common STIs difficult and filled with judgment — discourages testing. Especially in suburbs like this, where culture and open homosexual behavior do not go together, this is a terrible thing. Instead of men being able to test and treat in secret, easily, there’s unnecessary discouragement. And so as well as increased prevalence of these STIs in the local network of MSM their wives are at much greater risk of STIs that they have no conscious reason to test for.

So I’m left angry and upset. Not just because of the effect it has had on my personally, but because homophobic and inadequate systems mean that our community is not getting the care it needs. We deserve a much better standard.

Pea & garlic soup

I make this soup from time to time because it’s really quick and easy to make (it takes ten minutes!), it’s super cheap, and – most importantly – it’s delicious. I think it’s a perfect weekend lunch for one.

Every ingredient – except for the peas – is optional, and I never go out and buy anything specifically to make this, so it’s very much a storecupboard recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Put the peas and the garlic in a small saucepan with the stock powder; cover with boiling water from the kettle so the peas are just covered. Simmer for 7-8 minutes before blending in a blender with a slug of olive oil and a decent drizzling of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper, then eat it immediately.

(Serves one)