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10 April 2011

Australian Pokies: Lovers VS Haters; Government, by Greg Tingle - 10th April 2011

Australian pokies reform is dominating Australian news headlines, and insiders say the right has only just began, with both the supporter and detractor sides ready for one hell of a war. Clubs Australia has a $20 million dollar public relations campaign officially commencing tomorrow, but will it work? Media Man and Gambling911 probe the pokies lovers VS haters war with this special report...

It's war on for pokies reform as the 'Tasmanian Devil' (MM satire) independent Andrew Wilkie maintains his rage on current gambling laws, aiming for pre-set gambling limits.

Negotiations between the Labor party and the powerful clubs and pubs lobby dissolved last week, after Clubs Australia rejected the government's offer to increase ATM limits at licensed venues in exchange for pre-commitments on pokies.

In an attempt to delight, some say bribe...independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, Labor was also prepared to grant small pubs and clubs a 2-year introductory period for introducing the reforms, which was also flat out refused. The Labor government has realised they need the support i.e the vote, of 4 of the 6 crossbenchers, which include the independents, to remain in power.

Wilkie has said he will withdraw his vote for the government if it does not introduce mandatory pre-set limits on pokies by 2014.

If the cunning plan goes gets implemented, devices installed on poker machines using smart-card technology will limit losses for problem gamblers. Users can set a predetermined spending limit over a fixed period. Detractors say their are many loopholes and shortcomings in the system, and gamblers will always find a way to gamble, such is the nature of the beast.

Loggerheads between the government and Clubs Australia boss Anthony Ball means the lobby group will drive forward its $20 million advertising campaign, which is set to blitz the Australian TV screens from tomorrow evening. Billboards, a website and more will also support the campaign, created by John Singleton's Banjo agency.

The claim by Clubs Australia that pre-set limits will in fact not help reduce problem gambling has the backing of a leading gambling expert, University of Sydney Professor Alex Blaszczynski.

Clubs NSW claims the introduction of pre-set limits will cost the industry $1.1 billion over four years and newly sworn in Premier Barry O'Farrell has already declared he will oppose any federal measure that gobbles up NSW state revenue.

If green lighted, every pokie down under will also need to either be updated or replaced, which could cost up to $30,000 grant for each 'one armed bandit'.

Windsor has said the legislation required "substantial changes" before he would pledge his support, while Oakeshott has promised 150 club operators in his electorate that he will protect local venues. Queensland federal independent MP Bob Katter has indicated he will vote against the plan.

Wilkie remains confident he will win over the other independents once they are briefed on the details of the plan.

"They will see that it is designed only to diminish problem gambling and does not threaten the livelihood of pubs, clubs and casinos," he said.

One Labor MP said there was a real threat that Oakeshott and Windsor would use the opportunity to halt Wilkie's legislation as "a perfect way out" of their support for Julia Gillard.

"Both (Oakeshott and Windsor) have taken a hiding in their electorates for supporting Labor and if they decide to block the reform legislation they will be doing so in the full knowledge this could mean the end of the government's term."

The MP said many backbenchers believed the poker machine reforms "should have been left to the states to dook it out".

A political strategist, who declined to be named, has told the press that the Gillard-Wilkie deal made the "concessions given to the rural independents look like chicken feed".

"Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor tinkered with parliamentary standards and tweaked the rules of question time," the strategist said. "Andrew Wilkie extracted a promise for major reform in an area that is a political landmine, and is absolutely determined he will see the deal honoured. At all costs, and yes, even the cost of the Labor government."

It's lovers VS haters - what side are you on?

Punters, er readers, stay glued to Media Man reports via Gambling911 for more "can't miss" information on Australian pokies and gaming casino wars.

*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man http://www.mediamanint.com is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. They cover a dozen industry sectors including gaming.

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