Pokies king hailed for charity efforts

Simone Ziaziaris

Len Ainsworth isn't much of a punter but the 94-year-old took a gamble a long time ago when he swapped manufacturing dental supplies for pokie machines.

It paid off.

The now-billionaire founded Sydney-based Aristocrat Leisure, which has since grown into the second-largest gaming machine company in the world.

He then exited Artistocrat and established Ainsworth Game Technology, where he remains as chairman.

On Monday, the 94-year-old was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to business and manufacturing and philanthropic contributions.

His business success brought wealth that has enabled large donations, particularly in support of hospitals.

It also emanates from an industry that has been criticised for its impact on problem gamblers - criticism Mr Ainsworth rejects.

Australia has almost 200,000 poker machines - roughly one for every 120 people - and their effects have been under recent scrutiny in political circles, such as during the Tasmanian election in March, and in business, where major pokie owner Woolworths was lobbied at its annual general meeting last November.

Mr Ainsworth dismisses suggestions that poker machines have caused widespread suffering and says 95 per cent of people who play the pokies do so for enjoyment without spending more than they should.

"It is a very small percentage of people who have very addictive personalities," he told AAP.

"You cannot run the economy of the country for the sake of some small minority who think they have got particular rights or whatever."

The gaming tycoon described his appointment to the Order of Australia as an honour and said it was a privilege to be involved in philanthropic efforts, which have included multi-million dollar donations to Sydney Children's Hospital and St Vincent's Private Hospital.

"It is my pleasure to do those things and I am very glad that I can," he said.