Russell Crowe rallies against gambling

Thu Jan 3, 2008 1:25am EST
 
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By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Oscar-winning Australian actor Russell Crowe is fighting a new gladiatorial combat to wean his countrymen off their addiction to gambling machines.

Crowe has become the public rally point for opposition to the ringing, flashing game consoles, known as "pokies," that fatten the profits of Australian pubs and clubs, relieving gamblers of up to A$10 billion dollars ($8.8 billion) a year.

More than 200,000 machines, or 21 percent of the world's total, cram social venues across the country, chiming away in corners as they feed the gambling addiction of up to 300,000 people, according to frustrated welfare agencies.

But Crowe is heading a revolt after convincing the board of his Sydney football club last month to dump scores of machines raking in A$1 million a year.

"Russell threw down the gauntlet and said 'Can we do this?'," said Crowe's club co-owner, millionaire businessman Peter Holmes a Court. "We put a proposal for a family-friendly club, an inclusive club," Holmes a Court said.

Crowe's protest against machines, which are also known as "one-armed bandits" after their operation lever on the side, has led to a bout of introspection by gambling-mad Australians.

Pokies account for five times the dollars spent at the racetrack in Australia and centre-left Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd won strong support ahead of his November election with a line-in-the-sand against the gambling machines. "I hate poker machines and I know something of their impact on families," Rudd said.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore joined Rudd's condemnation, with pokies in her city alone turning over almost A$2.5 billion.   Continued...

 
<p>Russell Crowe poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his new film "American Gangster" in Hollywood, California October 29, 2007. Crowe is fighting a new gladiatorial combat to wean his countrymen off their addiction to gambling machines. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>