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Communities are trying to chase pokies out of Australian towns. Their victories are inspiring others | Gambling


They gathered in their dozens inside an Alice Springs pub. Knowing the odds were against them, they belted out a rallying cry made famous from a song by Australian band The Whitlams: “Blow up the pokies and drag them away.”

The Sydney-based hospitality giant, Iris Capital, had just spent $50m buying some of the town’s biggest pubs and hotels. It already owned the casino and its more than 300 poker machines, but wasted no time applying for 60 more at its four new venues.

Like in many communities across the country, the fight against pokies fell to volunteers.

From regional Victoria to the Byron Bay hinterland, these groups oppose multimillion dollar investments in their spare time. Some have influenced dozens of publicans, who are now ripping machines from the walls.

It was a group of social workers, activists, young families and professionals who led the fight in Alice Springs from July last year, and sang The Whitlams song the following month.

Their community already had three times the national average of poker machines per adult. Officially, the town – with a population of 25,000 – lost almost $14m to pokies last year – an amount that doesn’t include losses lost at its casino, which is considered commercial in confidence.

“It all started on WhatsApp,” says Emma Buckley Lennox, a lawyer who volunteers for the No Pokies in Mparntwe…

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