Down the pub for a beer, a punt and a vote

The idea of networking poker machines to monitor cashflow and combat potential fraud set us thinking about what functionality we could add to these basic purposes.

The idea of networking poker machines to monitor cashflow and combat potential fraud set us thinking about what functionality we could add to these basic purposes. After all, the Hospitality Association and other hosts of the gaming devices are complaining about the likely high cost of the upgrade; so while Internal Affairs subcontractors have got the backs open, they might as well install something else worthwhile.

A smartcard slot to identify the individual gambler before play would be a good start. As well as acting as a useful testbed for e-government authentication procedures and getting the population quietly used to the idea, it would enable the length and frequency of sessions at the machine to be measured.

Anyone who played too much would be identified as a potential problem gambler and refused further service with a discreet display in a friendly bartender-like manner. “I think you’ve had enough for tonight, John; why don’t you go home and sleep it off?”

Bartenders, after all, are empowered, indeed obliged, to refuse service to intoxicated patrons, and what applies to one overindulgence should surely apply to another.

On a third “vice” front, the other half of Internal Affairs’ Censorship and Gaming division employs five people to watch for illegal porn file exchanges by Kiwis in internet chat-groups and to follow the offending ones through the courts – for the momentous total of 90-odd convictions in five years.

We wonder how many they’d manage to nab if they turned that whole business over to automatic monitoring. No need for smartcards, everyone identifies themselves automatically by IP address, or at least time and ISP.

And don't talk anonymisers; the ones I've looked at don't even support Java and you need at least that for a worthwhile interactive experience.

But back (hastily) to the pokies. There would obviously be an ID-trading problem; the patron who had gambled over his or her limit would borrow a mate’s card and PIN, or persuade him or her to stick a finger on the biometric identifier pad.

This reporter, at the age of 16, once lent a sixpence (remember them?) to the financially embarrassed young lady in front of me at the seaside “amusement” machine. I gained a 20% share of a modest jackpot (she’d been watching the machine’s none-too-complicated sequence) and a close relationship of more than a year's duration (longer than you can usually expect at that age). So I’m the last person to discourage such a “secondary market”. Exchanging tokens and divvying up the proceeds might persuade the sick-n-dreary folks lost in their own world of solitary handle-pulling to actually talk to one another. On the other hand, it may start fights …

Next up after automatic porn-watching might be sensible limits for those addicted to web-surfing in general and online gaming. The message here would read “Enough for tonight: try talking to some real people for a change.” The possibilities for improving our lifestyle are endless.

Meanwhile, the pokies and the existing vast network of terminals in the ailing Lotto operation could brighten up the balance sheet by adding another new application: e-voting and e-referenda. There would be a modest fee attached, collected on the spot, but citizens might well cheerfully cough up for the offer: “Have your say on the Greymouth Gasworks Empowering Bill and be in to win $100,000.”

There you are, good people of the DIA, a few ideas. Think laterally before it’s too late.

Bell is a Wellington-based reporter for Computerworld.

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