Andrew blinked as he stepped into the gloom. He'd always avoided this sort of place. Huddled over the rows and rows of machines, their desperate, haunted features illuminated by a pallid glow, sat the hopeless, forlorn punters. His heart went out to them, and he felt a lump rise in his throat, as he thought of the fortunes being frittered away every few seconds. All to no avail. It was time to put a stop to this madness.
"Welcome to Canberra, Mr Wilkie," said the friendly looking redhead woman at the door. "Would you care to play?"
Andrew swallowed hard. He'd always promised his constituents that he'd stay independent of this mob. That the sins of the flesh and political patronage were not for him. He knew he’d be able to resist it. He was different.
"Go on," said the woman, whose nametag labeled her simply as Julia. "Everybody likes a flutter. It's fun.” A cheeky smile played on her thin lips. “Pick any game you like the look of," she whispered.
“It's very dark in here!” he replied, his voice betraying his nervousness. “Aren't there any windows?"
Julia laughed. "Of course not, Andrew. Parliament House was specially designed that way - so pollies never know whether it's night or day and just keep on playing. Clever, isn't it? Come and meet some of the others.”
Sitting at a bright, colourful machine, with a huge bucket of money next to him, a young man was frantically shoveling in what to Andrew looked like millions, if not billions, of coins. "This is Stephen," cooed Julia. "He's playing National Broadband." The man barely gave Andrew a glance. "I'm winning!" he said, breathlessly. "I've already signed up 4000 users!"
"And this is Wayne, who was recognized recently as The Worlds Greatest Gambler," said Julia proudly. "He borrows over a hundred million dollars every day!"
Andrew glanced around at all the sad and lonely faces. “Why not have a go?” said Julia sweetly.
He took a deep breath. He must be strong. "Not today, thank you, Julia," he said. “I just wanted to see how everything works down here. I’ll just take a squizz, you know, have a bit of a poke around."
In the darkness, Andrew couldn’t read her expression, but the tone in her voice seemed slightly more sinister. "A poke, did you say? That’s funny. We have a game called Pokie Reforms. Perhaps you'd like to try your luck?"
Before he could stop himself, Julia had ushered him into his very own chair. Gently taking his hand, she placed it on the cool, shiny lever. The machine whirred, and lights started to flash, almost as if the harmless box possessed a life of it's own.
"Imagine if you were to win," Julia purred seductively into his ear. "The prestige, the power." Andrew felt his heart racing. "You could be a legend in your own lifetime. History books will sing your praises. Maybe name a statute after you – Wilkie’s Law! The Man Who Won on Pokie Reform."
Andrew struggled to resist. But the temptation was too strong. As the dazzling pictures and symbols flashed hypnotically before his eyes, he felt an exhilarating surge of adrenalin coursing through his veins. This was it! Finally, he was doing something important with his life. He was a player! As he pulled on the lever, a man at the next machine leaned over and started to say something but Andrew wasn’t listening. He pulled again. The sound, the colour. It was more exciting than anything he'd ever experienced. He pulled again. As the hours rushed past, he was lost in a frenzied, glittering whirlwind of newspaper interviews, television studios and flashing lights.
And then there was silence. As abruptly as it started, the game had stopped. Andrew stared at the blank, silent machine, stunned.
He called out for Julia, but she was far away, over the other side of the room, laughing and joking with another man; showing him which buttons to push on a glitzy game called Speaker of the House. Andrew started to panic. He wanted to keep playing. Frantically he searched in his pockets, but he didn't have any chips left to bargain with. It had all gone.
The man at the machine next to him leaned over again. "I'm Nick," he said, with a wry smile on his face. "I tried to warn you. Pokie Reforms is one hell of a game. I've been addicted to it for years. But I reckon it’s rigged coz no matter what you do the House always wins."