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The Prime Minister should reject casino conference centre's sleazy trade-off, writes Sir Bob Jones.

Watching a Super-15 match and irritated by the referee's incessant whistle-blowing, I lay on the carpet and played a game of patience. My youngest daughter, just turned 4, crouched beside me.

"What you doing, Daddy?"

"It's a game; just watch."


"I won," I cried triumphantly five minutes later, having got it out.

My daughter looked puzzled. "Who lose, Daddy?" she asked. Our laughter baffled her even more but her child's innocent clarity of thought got me thinking whether a winner always presupposes a loser.

"Everyone's a winner", "there were no losers on the day", "a win-win result" are usually rationalisations which set a sceptic's antennae waggling.

I pondered it further when the morning's newspaper included a 12-page supplement from the Lion Foundation, listing the winners of their past year's $55 million distribution derived from pub poker machines. In its introduction, the word "charity" was bandied about. The Lion Foundation is a charity only in the eyes of the law but it most certainly is not by any dictionary definition.

Taking money from zombies by stealth and paying it to worthy causes ain't charity. A charitable donation is one given voluntarily by the payer, which I'm sure is not the case with the dead-beats pumping money into these machines. The amount taken now exceeds $1 billion annually.

The Lion Foundation's website contains the following guff about the host pubs: "The people at the heart of these venues are the venue owners and operators - local people who are proud of the contributions they make to their community." What outrageous hogwash!

I say that for, coincidently, the following week I became embroiled in a situation which revealed the truth about pub operators' motives. Last year, our Wellington office shifted to one of our buildings named Legal House. It lies adjacent to the district courts and across the road from the new Supreme Court, the University Law School, the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Unsurprisingly, it's full of top barristers and QCs. On the ground floor corner lies a tavern.

Recently to my horror I saw a TAB sandwich board outside and, worse, an under-veranda sign reading "Gaming Room". Being unauthorised, they were quickly removed on my complaint, but further inquiry revealed that the tavern had 18 poker machines inside.


A showdown duly occurred with the licensee and the nominal lessee brewery's lawyer, which will now be resolved in court.

At that meeting, I heard nothing about pride in contribution to the community, but instead a great deal about how much the licensee made from the poker machines and what a huge loss it would be without them.

"My place is respectable," the licensee protested. "Parliamentarians come here. Judith Collins is a regular."

"Judith Collins bets on poker machines?" I asked, astonished.

"No, no, no, certainly not," he hastened to assure me. "She comes for lunch," his vehement reaction in the process revealing his own view of these losers' contrivances. Parliamentarians may well come over for lunch, given that the Bowen building housing MPs is across the street. Indeed, I had a chat with Winston sitting in the outdoors section recently, but so what?

I enjoy quaffing a few reds at day's end with friends but I have never been a bar patron so I asked dozens of people, including our building's barristers, for their view of the poker machines. The response was uniform and the same word arose every time - sleazy.

I even asked the owner of a fashionable tavern. "The day I put poker machines in here is the day I lose my clientele," he said.

He added that with few exceptions, their presence marked a clear divide in taverns' respective patronage, probably describable as the tattooed and the untattooed.

Betting is an age-old fun dimension to sporting and other events. Indeed, I wish our TAB allowed wagers on election outcomes.

But it also has a harmful element, never better illustrated than by casinos and their tax on the brain-dead via poker machines. I recall having dinner in Sydney with a Chinese friend a few years ago. She had recently established a medical practice in Chinatown. "I'm just a social worker," she wailed. "My day is a non-stop series of desperate Chinese girls coming in on some medical pretence. But all they really want is to talk about the mess their lives are as a result of their husbands' poker-machine addiction."

I stopped going to major Las Vegas fights because I couldn't abide the unavoidable spectacle of thousands of dead-eyed elderly ladies sitting pumping money into these machines, hour after hour.

As much as Auckland might want a conference centre, the PM should decline the Faustian overture from the ghastly casino.