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26 June 2011

Australian Gambling Political War: James Packer VS Andrew Wilkie, by Greg Tingle - 26th June 2011

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Australia has its latest gambling and political war on the way. Enter James Packer VS Andrew Wilkie in a WrestleMania style main event for the ages. Packer is pro pokie, pro pokies, pro regulation and pro business while Wilkie is anti pokies, anti gambling and an increasing amount of people say, anti business. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has also copped heat from Packer in the newspapers and online forums, and now its Wilkie's time to cop a spray... Media Man , Gambling911 and James Packer dish it out in spades with today's ace update from down under...

James Packer, Australia's most successful and gambling entrepreneur and owner, is pissed at Australia's current stance on gambling re pokies, not too happy with the PM or anti gambling campaigner and "independent" MP Andrew Wilkie, and he's not going to take it anymore.

The gambling and media tycoon had on his time ex NSW Right strategist Karl Bitar to put forward his views and thinks the proposed gambling reforms will all but destroy the gaming, tourism and hospitality industries, all sub sectors of sorts of the entertainment and lifestyle industry.

Wilkie, an ex military man and spy has told the press and anyone else who will listen that he was more determined than ever to curb poker machines. Wilkie says he's received death threats, but these have not been proven.

Many high profile Labor party figures think Wilkie could totally destabilize the minority Government over the proposed reforms and may force an early election. Labor man Graham Richardson said on record that Wilkie is a "zealot" with "wild eyes" who "doesn't really care about being re-elected".

The Tasmanian "devil" (satire) MP and PM Julia Gillard agreed to executive poker-machine reforms by 31 May next year, with punters forced to use smart-cards with pre-determined betting limits and a tactic being called "Big Brother meets Nanny State". Wilkie has threatened to withdraw his support for Gillard...effectively bringing down the Government, should she renege on the handshake deal. Yep, deals a plenty under Labor.

Packer turned up the heat on the Gillard government this week with quote directed at the PM.

"The problem for the Prime Minister at the moment is that while she keeps saying she's pro-business, there is a real perception in the corporate world that she's not," he went on record with The Australian Financial Review.

JP, owner of Crown Casino in Melbourne and Burswood Entertainment Complex in Perth own and operate about 4250 pokies aka "one armed bandits". Packer gave Wilkie a 2-hour guided tour of Crown and encouraged the MP to exempt land based casinos from the proposed laws.

Wilkie even praised Packer for attempting to communicated co-operatively, but said the rest of the gaming industry was "trying to bully me and intimidate me. If they think I'm the sort of character that will be intimidated and back off, they've badly misread me. It just hardens my resolve."

Wilkie advised he was "very disappointed that Mr Packer is now joining the pubs and clubs in resisting these reforms. I had hoped he would stay out of it, but so be it," Wilkie said.

The radical MP said he would be happy to exempt foreign tourists from the smart-cards. That would include the Oriental gamblers who are big customers at Crown Limited.

"I'm not too fussed," Wilkie said. "My interest is Australians in Australia, we have a duty of care for everyone in Australia and I'm not too fussed about how we'd deal with foreign tourists."

Packer may lose in excess of $302 million in revenue annually should the mandatory 'pre-commitment' smartcards be implemented, according to a Clubs Australia insider. The numbers are based on 50% of pokies requiring replacement, and uses Wilkie's own assessment that overall gambling revenue would dip by 40%.

Over the past few month Packer has also approached senior Government ministers including Treasure Wayne Swan, Jenny Macklin and Bill Shorten to Melbourne for discussion on the matter, as well as Opposition leader Tony Abbott and his finance spokesman Andrew Robb. Packer has hired former Labor national secretary Karl Bitar as a lobbyist, in a move that got the knockers talking.

PM Gillard brushed off the suggestion she is anti-business and reconfirmed she will honour her promise to Wilkie to force pokie operators to adopt 'pre-commitment technology' to help limit gamblers' losses.

"The Prime Minister is strongly pro-business," a spokeswoman for Gillard said. "Her ambitious reform agenda is squarely focused on creating long-term prosperity for the nation, led by strong businesses in a strong economy."

The Government's head negotiator on pokies, community services minister Jenny Macklin said the government would prefer States and territories to crack down on problem gambling, but insisted the deal with Wilkie for a full pre-commitment scheme would go ahead.

Wilkie's demand is that all pokies would get with the smart-card technology by 2014, with smaller venues given until 2018 to introduce the cards.

Independent Senator Nick "Mr X" Xenophon, the gambling hater said: "Don't underestimate Andrew Wilkie. This is a guy that chucked away a career with the Office of National Assessments on an issue of principle and went on to sell Persian rugs. He will sell Persian rugs again [if he loses his seat]. Andrew has nothing to lose and that's why people fear him."

Clubs Australia, which has a TV and billboard advertising campaign against the pokie reforms, joined Packer's attack on Gillard. "Mr Packer is 100% right on this issue," Clubs Australia executive director Anthony Ball said.

Next week promises to deliver more drama in the saga that is gambling lovers VS haters, as Aussie political and gaming fun and games continue.

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

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

*The writer owns shares in Crown Limited

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