3. Poker Machines
(In 1999 the Australian Productivity Commission reported that Australia had nearly 180,000 poker machines, more than half of which were in New South Wales. This figure represented 21% of all the gambling machines in the world, and on a per capita basis, Australia had roughly five times as many gaming machines as the United States. Revenue from gaming machines in pubs and clubs accounts for more than half of the $4 billion in gambling revenue collected by state governments in fiscal year 2002 – 03) Imagine the stats in 2013.
Although everything I have mentioned so far is about the behind the scenes crap, nothing has done more damaged and ruined more lives in the music industry than poker machines. I have a burning hatred for these monstrosities of pure evil and their ability to destroy people lives, not just musicians. But for the sake of argument and this article, I will try and simply focus on the impact they have had solely on the Australian music industry. The State of NSW officially legalised the use of “poker machines” (slots) in 1997 in pubs as a way to find revenue to help fund the 2000 Olympics (Don’t even get me started on that waste of money). And the day that came into effect was essentially the death knell for us local musicians.
Before they did this, poker machines were only allowed in registered casinos and clubs, so local pubs relied on bands and musicians to entertain the masses who were out for a few. And you could actually earn a nice little living as an originals band if you made a big enough fanbase. This is exactly how Cold Chisel and AC/DC got famous, by touring their arses off to rambunctious Aussie crowds. But once pubs were given the greenlight to suck the community dry through these infernal, soulless machines (that might actually prove Satan exists, for surely only he could come up with something so diabolical), the live scene suffered a fatal blow.
We essentially all lost our jobs. Suddenly we were going from earning $200-$300 a show for an original band to having to pay the venues to play covers. And I mean that literally. Some venues have the nerve to actually say that if you don’t get 50 people in the door, you have to pay them a fee. Thing is, the pubs are always still packed, but now all the punters in the POKIES ROOM. Add to this the banning of smoking inside of venues and basically there is now no reason to even have a band.
You made your money off the machines, you got paid millions by the cigarette companies to create outdoor smoking areas (that was a bit of a scandal over here but didn’t stop them). Why would you waste your profits on something everyone is too busy to watch? It got to the point where if you were to play in a pub, they were doing you a favour. I remember one such incident where we had loaded up a bus of fifty locals to take to a gig in another town. The only punters there were the ones we brought. And what did we get for our troubles? $2.
Let that sink in. And they even had the nerve to put a $2 coin (yes, a single coin) in the palm of my guitarists hand and then ask us to come back. Let’s forget the fact that the 50 people we brought probably drank a few thousand bucks worth of grog. That was quite literally the most insulting moment in my entire career. And eventually a lot of the other States jumped on board the pokie bandwagon and now you have a scene completely devoid of anywhere that the next possible AC/DC can hone their chops and make a statement.
Now granted, the local scene (in NSW at least) has made a bit of a (tiny) resurgence as of late, but it is nowhere near the level it was back in the day before the dreaded pokie. Bands are playing for dollars, not $100 of dollars.. And unless you have a significant presence in the community, you can’t tour by yourself anymore. You have to book gigs with multiple well known local acts just in the hope that the lure of multiple bands will get the crowd in the doors. Most venues will likely be forced to put on a cover charge to help fund these shows, and if no one shows up, you have 6-8 bands all not getting paid and going home empty handed.
Now that is just wrong on so many levels I can’t even comprehend the magnitude of how wrong it is.. And just to add, the Olympics is 13 years behind us, the machines are still in place, yet the state is broke. With the epidemic of poker machines that litter the NSW pub landscape, how is it that the state is broke? All of this has culminated into my next point.
This article was first posted on September 5, 2013