Pacific Beat

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Gaming Control
Addicted to Pokies, Addicted to Revenue
If gambling is your vice in australia's most populous state, the temptation is never far away, with pubs and clubs putting out a neon promise of 24/7 action. But last week the New South Wales government announced what it hopes, in the words of Treasurer Michael Egan, will be ""a line in the sand"" that stops around-the-clock gaming and caps at 104,000 the number of poker machines in the state, which has managed to accumulate 10% of the world's total. Related advertising will end and promotions for prizes like cars won't be allowed to top $A1,000 in value.

Excused from the new hard line against non-stop gambling is Sydney's Star City casino and its 1,500 machines. ""It's a joke,"" splutters the licensee of one N.S.W. country pub, who expects hoteliers' profits to fall because of the restrictions. ""The government is hooked on gambling revenue and it's two-faced."" But the casino has its own reasons to be grouchy, with media manager Peter Grimshaw bemoaning the effective scrapping of its popular car giveaways. Besides, Grimshaw told Time, ""we paid a $A300 million licensing fee to operate 24 hours a day. There needs to be somewhere in Sydney that can provide round-the-clock entertainment, and the casino is the logical place for that."" Star City says it doesn't expect a surge in customers for its poker machines from those shown the door at distant suburban clubs in the wee hours.

Maybe, but don't bet against the strength of a problem gambler's addiction. The University of Sydney's Gambling Treatment Clinic sees more than 150 gambling addicts each year and ""they are extremely persistent and inventive"" when it comes to pursuing their addiction, says counselor Manya Scheftsik. Her clients typically lose lots of money in short bursts. ""I tell people they're heading towards certain bankruptcy,"" she says, ""and they're doing it just by spending three hours a week on the pokies."" The government did say it was only a line in the sand.
-Lisa Clausen

Languishing Languages
Keeping Norfuk Alive
When nine mutineers from hms bounty and their Tahitian companions landed on Pitcairn Island in 1790, there was little heavy chatting between the two groups. But 66 years later, when their descendants moved to more spacious Norfolk Island, they took with them a new language, a lilting fusion of Tahitian and Georgian English.

As the jet plane erodes Norfolk's isolation, that lilt is fading: fewer than 200 of the 1,500 residents are fluent speakers. But saving Pitcairn-Norfolk from oblivion has meant figuring out how to write it down. Some prefer English-style spelling; others say only a phonetic system can capture the tongue's unique sounds. ""There are two dictionaries,"" says school principal Ron Miles, ""and there's debate over which to use."" The phonetic way seems to be winning: a schoolteacher will soon be trained in it, and formal lessons could start next year. Alice Buffett, who devised the system, says it will let future generations ""write Norfolk (Norfuk) as it is spoken."" As words like taapau (fruit stains) and waili (ensnared) fall into disuse, accent may soon be all that separates computer from kohmpyuuta, and Norfuk from all-conquering English.
-Elizabeth Feizkhah

Stopping the Rot
Every job has its dreaded scenarios. For the winemaker, just about top of the list is discovering one's grapes rotting on the vine. Botrytis cinerea (also known as bunch rot or grey mold) costs the global wine industry billions of dollars a year. In this high-stakes battle, a team of New Zealand scientists has claimed a breakthrough. Until now, growers have relied on chemical sprays to subdue the fungus. But they have big limitations: they leave a residue on the grapes, and botrytis can quickly build up resistance to them. The Hamilton-based HortResearch has come up with a spray-on organic control agent, which team member Dr. Philip Elmer says is the most effective weapon yet. ""In an average season, it works,"" he says.

For extreme humidity, he's less confident, but one biotechnology company has heard enough: it plans to be manufacturing Botry-Zen by next year. The reaction in Australia is cheers to that. ""It sounds like Mecca,"" says Phil Ryan, chief winemaker of McWilliam's Wines, Mount Pleasant. ""Anything that could conquer botrytis is exciting.""
-Daniel Williams