The turbulent election result has given new life to the old power-trippers again calling for sweeping restrictions to be placed on the nation’s poker machines.

The ghosts of minority governments past are chuckling as the newly-elected Turnbull Government grapples with its public policy to implement “the most significant package of reforms ever put in place by an Australian Government to combat problem gambling*”.

Just days after the re-elected Prime Minister accepted his shaky victory, independent MPs Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie are threatening to wield their parliamentary power to (again) call for legislated restrictions on poker machines and corporate bookmakers.

The anti-gambling crusaders are again calling for $1 maximum bets and $120 maximum losses per hour. Furthermore, Greens frontbencher Shane Rattenbury was reported by the ABC as demanding mandatory pre-commitment systems on poker machines at the new Canberra casino.

Rattenbury makes the evocative claim that EGMs “are considered to be responsible for 75 to 80 per cent of problem gambling”, although no evidence is offered to support the veracity of the figure.

Hospitality industry figures are typically unimpressed with the latest rhetoric. As during the Wilkie-threatened Gillard government of 2012, rebuffs have focussed on the folly of implementing measures that are expensive to operators, with little or no evidence they will help problem gamblers.

“Access to direct support and counselling is the best and most effective way to help people with gambling issues,” said chief executive of the GTA (Gaming Technologies Association) Ross Ferrar. “The GTA strongly supports initiatives to direct greater effort in this area.”

Rattenbury evoked the productivity commission determining measures such as $1 maximum bets as “key recommendations”, but omitted the fact that what was actually suggested was trials of such tactics, pending a formal evaluation of their efficacy.

Estimates on the cost to venues of implementing $1 betting start at several billion dollars, and Clubs Australia Executive Director Anthony Ball disputes it would even have much effect on any problem.

“The economic, social and employment costs of this policy thought-bubble from Xenophon and Wilkie are even more astounding when you consider that the majority of problem gamblers bet less than $1 per spin,” said Ball.

“The establishment of another committee on gambling to consider a bad plan that has been rejected multiple times, is a poor use of the Parliament’s time.”

The GTA also took umbrage at the slanderous commentary on the existing methodology, particularly the “many years” the industry has worked with community and government to create a regulated and responsible sector.

“A number of statements have been made in recent days that represent a clear challenge to the integrity of our industry and which are quite simply incorrect,” stated Ferrar.

“Let’s stick to the facts: Australia has one of the most stringent regulatory environments for poker machines in the world. Regulators impose comprehensive conditions on every aspect of poker machine design and operation. Bet limits in Australia are among the lowest, and play speed the slowest in the world.”

Ferrar suggests implementation of $1 maximum betting would be perhaps the most expensive and least effective approach to problem gambling. Around 36 per cent of machines would cost between $5,000 and $9,000 to upgrade. The remaining 64 per cent would need to be replaced altogether.

The total cost of this process is estimated at around $3.6bn.

“The question must be asked, who is going to meet this cost?”

Rattenbury also stated to the ABC that “It doesn’t matter where a poker machine is” and that all must incorporate strong harm minimisation measures.

It is worth noting that the Turnbull Government has cited it is addressing problem gambling in reference to the “O’Farrell Review into Illegal offshore wagering” – not existing domestic regulation.

The increasingly available alternative of online or mobile gambling – within book-maker services or casino-style websites – is undoubtedly the elephant in the room that Xenophon, Wilkie and Rattenbury refuse to acknowledge.

And in a case of ‘don’t count your chickens’, gaming minister Mick Gentleman has pronounced that due to the Territory’s moratorium on EGMs, the new Canberra casino will only get any poker machines with the implementation of harm minimisation, and most significantly “if the clubs want to sell them”.


*Human Services Minister Alan Tudge

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