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Is pokie machine reform for the government, or for the addicts?

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You might know a problem gambler. Someone who shovels $20 note after $20 note into the poker machines in the hope that the big free spin might be next. Sometimes they’ll win. Most of the time they don’t. It costs money, marriages and – in some cases – lives. This person might be a friend, a relative. Or it might be you.

The question is: can you stop them frittering away their cash?

The Federal Labor Government has picked yet another fight with a powerful industry by proposing laws that would see mandatory, pre-set limits on poker machines introduced by 2014. That’s a system where gamblers (but particularly problem gamblers) can set their own dollar limits and time limits on play, in an attempt to curb the habit of feeding a week’s pay check into the machines.

Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Community Services, wrote about the changes in the Herald Sun:

“That’s why the Government is introducing changes in gambling venues that will help pokie players set limits on how much they want to spend before they start, and stick to them.

An expert economic advisory group, the Productivity Commission, found that 40 per cent of pokie revenue comes from the losses of problem gamblers.

Gaming venues that already have put in place responsible gambling practices will not be significantly affected by these changes.”

The changes wouldn’t be cheap, however, with some estimates putting the dollar value at installing the new system or updating existing poker machines at $30,000 per machine. Businesses that ‘rely’ on pokie profits for at least part of their operation say the changes just won’t work. That problem gamblers will find a way to blow their dough regardless.

The system would use special cards or USBs pre-loaded with a gamblers’ fingerprint. These systems are technically advanced and difficult to implement. They would allow limits to be set with warnings being sent to the poker machine when the limits are reached. But some experts, and industry, say these systems could be bypassed.

Jessica Wright canvassed the issue in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“The deadlock between the government and Clubs Australia boss Anthony Ball means the lobby group will press ahead with its $20 million advertising campaign, which is set to blitz the airwaves from tomorrow night.

Clubs NSW claims the introduction of pre-set limits will cost the industry $1.1 billion over four years and new Premier Barry O’Farrell has already declared he will oppose any federal measure that swallows state revenue.”

The deal that sealed pokie reform

There’s a lot of politics involved in this. Remember that Julia Gillard formed Government on the back of a handful of independents, including Tasmanian Andrew Wilkie whose wish-list was topped very publicly by pokie reform.

He will extract his pound of flesh and has voiced his desire to withdraw his vote of support from the Government if it does not set the mandatory pokie limits by 2014.

Other independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor – they who cast the deciding votes to form the Gillard Government – are not happy about the deal and have already copped a hiding in their own electorates for their support of Julia Gillard.

Bear in mind, too, that it’s the state governments who collect the revenue from poker machines. Not the federal government.

Ah, politics. Will the reforms help problem gamblers, or are they a token gesture born from a political deal to form Government? What will work?

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