No pokies in the Skull Cave

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th August 2011.

Many years ago, my cub pack visited our local McDonalds for a “behind the scenes” tour. I’m really not sure what I was supposed to learn from the experience. It certainly didn’t help me get my bronze boomerang. Perhaps Akela felt that sooner or later, I’d either be working there or eating a lot of their burgers, so I might as well get used to the place. Based on what happened to some of my scouting friends later in life, they probably should have taken us on a tour of Parramatta Gaol.

Although there was nothing essentially wrong with taking children on a tour of a fast food joint, I remember thinking that it was a little on the dodgy end of the ethical spectrum.

I had exactly the same feeling when I visited the classy establishment that is Star City this past weekend. Wandering through the casino floor on my way to the high rollers room (apparently the bathrooms there are really nice), I stumbled across a bank of pokies themed on one of my favourite childhood superheroes, The Phantom.

Initially, I was a little excited about the prospect of this. The Phantom, created by Lee Falk in 1936, is a comic full of iconic characters. Who wouldn’t want to play a poker machine populated with images of Diana Palmer, Guran, Devil, Hero, the Skull Ring, and the distinctive purple costume of The Ghost Who Walks?

Hold on. Isn’t The Phantom supposed to be fighting bandits, not the subject of a one armed bandit? As the Guardian of the Eastern Dark, Kit Walker fights for truth, justice and the Bengallan way (or something like that). He represents jungle justice and will fight for the rights of the native people, animals, eco-system and the occasional stegosaurus. I’m pretty sure that scatters, double ups and features aren’t a part of The Phantom’s ethical vocabulary.

Let’s face it. The King and Queen of the Nile and Big Red the kangaroo probably wouldn’t have a problem being associated with gambling. Neither would the turtles, sea horses and starfish from Turtle Treasure. If there is no smoking allowed in the Skull Cave then surely The Man Who Cannot Die would object to an RSL packed with pokies installed next to his throne?

I know I’m being facetious but to a comic fan, this is almost the same as encouraging punters to try their luck on a Ghandi’s Gold or a Dalai Lama-Rama pokie.

If you’re going to theme pokies with popular properties, characters and personalities then I have a few suggestions. How about Abba’s Money, Money Money Machine or Scrooge McDuck’s Speck-quack-ular Slots? If you like a flutter, you won’t be able to resist the flashing lights of Ritchie Rich’s Retirement Fund, Daddy Warbucks’ Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Will You Eat Tomorrow or Mr Burns’ Springfield Millions Meltdown. You know you want to put your hard earned dollars in Charlie Sheen’s Winning.

In the end, I couldn’t stop myself from trying my luck with a twenty dollar bet. Sure enough, The Phantom stole my money and I wasn’t allowed in the high rollers room. I shouldn’t have trusted The Ghost Who Walks Away With Your Money.

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 09:11  Leave a Comment  
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Scratch Me Unhappy

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26th July 2011.

Last week, NSW Lotteries released a new instant scratchie with a top prize of one million dollars, surpassing the previous maximum prize of $250,000. With a simple and stylish black design, these new cards have a buy-in price of $15. Wow. Imagine spending fifteen bucks and winning a million. What are the odds?

Well, that’s precisely my question. As of today, the NSW Lotteries website does not have any information about this new scratchie, but if the odds are similar to the $250,000 game, then it would be 1:500000. Now that give you more of a chance of winning the major prize than Lotto, but that’s not exactly saying much. Statistically, there’s not a great deal of difference in the chances of winning a major prize in Lotto between someone with a ticket and someone without a ticket.

Despite knowing all of this, I still enjoy buying a scratchie every now and then. Because I get to scratch and reveal the lucky numbers, cards, symbols or whatever, I feel that I have a little control over my own destiny. Of course, that is far from the truth. In fact, my chances of winning the major prize may already be zero before I bought the scratchie.

Let me explain. Scratchies are kind of like a normal lottery in reverse. Instead of selling all of the tickets and then drawing the winners, the prizes are allocated to tickets at the time of printing and then sold one by one. So if the very first scratchie sold of that particular promotion is the one with the major prize, then everyone who buys a gamecard after that has no chance of winning the big one. Wouldn’t you like to know that the major prize is still on offer before you plonk your hard earned $15 on the counter?

To be fair, the NSW Lotteries website does have a page that lists the major winners on scratchies but it is not predominantly displayed and doesn’t really give any indication of what prizes for each scratchie game are left to win.

The extended gameplay scratchies amuse me. They are usually the more expensive ones and involve a slightly greater complexity pattern of scratching, if that is actually possible. They are also quite often based on bingo, crossword puzzles or a licensed board game such as Monopoly, Scrabble or Twister.

The interesting thing about these cards is that the game itself is completely irrelevant. There is no game. You’re either a winner or more likely, a loser. You might dutifully follow the Monopoly card instructions and scratch your way around the board as instructed but the result is predetermined. You’ll only collect $200 as you pass go if the card was printed that way. Extended play cards really are the scenic route of scratchies.

For some reason, I am attracted to scratchies that are tied-in with movies. Gambling is so much more fun when the X-Men, Spider-man and Indiana Jones are involved, although I’m not quite sure what the friendly lottery folks are trying to achieve. Do they want more movie buffs to buy scratchies or more gamblers to go to the movies?

Lotteries have been labelled a tax on the stupid. I think that’s a little extreme but I believe people should see scratchies for what they are, a fun way to spend a few minutes with a moderate chance of winning your money back, a very slight chance of winning a bigger prize and a very good chance of getting the scratchie stuff stuck under your fingernails.

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 08:58  Leave a Comment  
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