Australian Gambling: States VS Federal Gvt With Mr X Factor, by Greg Tingle - 2nd February 2011

G'day punters, journos, high rollers - casino whales, gambling millionaires and billionaires, media tycoons, politicians, insiders, outsiders... one and all. You know who you are. Today we take a look at war between the Australian states and the federal government, as the battle for revue (and your minds) heats up. Its Govt VS Govt, man VS machine, and lovers VS haters once again. Media Man and Gambling911 probe the pro vs anti slot reform state of play...

Aussie Legal Eagles Tipped To Play Strong Role In Federal VS Government Pokie Revenue War...

The Labor government is surging forward like a bull at a gate, its pokies pre-commitment scheme, releasing legal advice affirming its "constitutional powers" to introduce national anti-gambling measures. The advice from the Australian Government Solicitor was commissioned as part of the deal struck between Julia Gillard and independent MP Andrew Wilkie on September 2 which delivered Labor minority government. Under the deal, Labor agreed to begin implementing pre-commitment technology by 2012, set a $250 limit on ATMs in poker machine venues and mandate pop-up display warnings on "one armed bandits". Families Minister Jenny Macklin and Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten said the advice showed the commonwealth had a range of constitutional powers - including the corporations, telecommunications, banking, currency, taxation and territories powers - to meet its promise to Wilkie. But as the first hearing of a parliamentary inquiry into the proposed gambling reforms got under way in Adelaide, Macklin struck a conciliatory note, saying the government's preference was to work with states and territories to tackle the problem.

MP Andrew Wilkie: States Must Accept Poker Machine Reform...

Poker machine operators and state governments must accept tougher controls on gaming machines to tackle problem gambling, independent MP Andrew Wilkie stated. Wilkie took legal advice that the federal government had the power to force through reforms on poker machine gambling, including technology to have all gamblers set betting limits. He advised state governments should now come on board and embrace the proposed reforms while pubs and clubs should co-operate or "get out of the way". "My message to the states now is that the writing is on the wall, that the commonwealth government has the power to intervene and it's clearly in the interests of the states that they now co-operate to bring about these very important reforms," he told reporters in Adelaide. "It is abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority of Australians favour reform of problem gambling and reform of poker machine legislation in particular." The federal government wants a national scheme agreed to by May, which could feature a smart card or USB system that stores gamblers' fingerprints. Street surveys and meetings held in clubs about poker machine reform at at odds with Wilkie's claim that Aussies want reform, or want to be told what to spend or what to do. Daily withdrawal limits on ATMs near pokies and electronic warning signs are also part of the curious deal Labor struck with Wilkie to gain his backing after the 2010 federal election. Some insiders are saying that the deal "was no way to conduct politics or write policy". Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said the priority was to broker a national agreement to address the "serious problem in Australia". "It (problem gambling) ruins lives, it can ruin family lives," she told reporters in Canberra. Measures being considered were included in a Productivity Commission inquiry, which found that gambling adversely affected up to 500,000 Aussie each year. Setting "one armed bandit" limits at $1, considerably down from $10 and 6-hour shutdown periods on gaming machines from 2am in hotels and clubs were also recommended. The reform proposal is tipped to force gamblers to find ways around the system, with talk of getting fake fingerprint kits, swapping cards within their social network, and doing more gambling over the internet.
A parliamentary joint select committee on gambling reform began hearings in Adelaide this past Tuesday to advise the government on the implementation of a pre-commitment scheme which could use technology to allow gamblers to set daily, weekly or longer betting limits. South Australia's gambling authority told the committee it backed the pre-commitment technology but said it must be national and mandatory to be successful. "Anything less than mandatory simply will not work," SA Independent Gambling Authority boss Allan Moss said. Many clubs and media commentators say the system will not work no matter that they try, as gamblers will always find ways to get what they want, legally or illigally, such is the nature of the beast. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who also sits on the committee and was first elected to the South Australian parliament on a no pokies ticket, described the operation of gaming machines as a "greedy and desperate industry" that would do all it could to stymie reform. Wilkie said elements within club and hotel groups had peddled "downright lies" about the impacts of poker machine reform. "It's about time they realised a decision has been made to implement a mandatory, pre-commitment system," he said. "As far I'm concerned it's well beyond time for the industry to either start co-operating with us and be honest with their patrons or just get out of the way and let the government and myself get on with the job." The committee hearings will move to Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney later this week The war between the poker haters and lovers is set to intensify, with gamblers looking for ways to beat the system - the new Big Brother.

Aussie Gamblers Look To Beat Big Brother Pokie Limits...

Aussie slot machine players may be able to dodge a proposed new requirement that they set a limit on how much they want to gamble as the Gillard government considers giving them the option of setting no limit on their bets! The option threatens to undermine the purpose of the crucial gambling reform deal Labor made with independent MP Andrew Wilkie to gain his support in the hung parliament. Families Minister Jenny Macklin told Rupert Murdoch's News Limited that while it would be mandatory for every gambler to set a limit before they gambled, the Productivity Commission had proposed that "no limit" could be one of the options gamblers could choose. "That is an issue that is still being discussed by the ministerial expert group and by the parliamentary committee; it hasn't been finalised," she said. Clubs Australia, which opposes mandatory limits on gambling, says other ways gamblers could dodge the practical effect of the new rules would be to set absurdly high limits such as $1 million. "What about if someone sets a nil limit or someone sets a limit of $1 million -- these are questions that haven't been answered," Clubs Australia executive director Anthony Ball said. "This isn't what Mr Wilkie has in mind; he has in mind a binding daily limit of, let's say, $100 or $200. This is where it's going," he said. The Productivity Commission suggests clubs should set a series of default limits on playing time or spending that gamblers could choose to vary with their personal limit if they chose. "A flexible system would allow the gambler to choose their own limits on any one of these options, but include the option of 'no limit' as one of their choices," the commission says in its report into gambling. "As setting no limits on spending involves genuine risks to a gambler, there should be periodic checking that this remains their preference." The government has pledged to introduce a mandatory precommitment system to poker machine players by 2014. It has given the states until May 31 to agree to introduce laws to this effect but it received legal advice this week that says it can use its own powers to override the states if they refuse to do this. Many state governments rely heavily on poker machine revenue and The Australian reported yesterday at least four states are reluctant to adopt the a mandatory precommitment system. Wilkie, who is taking part in a parliamentary committee that is examining a precommitment scheme, has refused to comment on the option of "no limit" or absurdly high limits. Readers, would you set your betting limit to one million or no limit? The war of words and actions between the pro vs anti machine groups wages on.

Pokie Palaces Like Second Home: Feels Good Says Lonely Women...

It's been widely reported that socially isolated women are becoming problem gamblers because they see pokies venues as a "home away from home", a federal Parliamentary inquiry has been told. Former problem gambler Gabriela Byrne said today that many women were lured by venues that were specially designed to make people feel good. "The place itself is attractive to go to and then they fall into the gambling trap," she said. Ms Byrne, who lost $40,000 gambling during a five-month period in the 1990s, appeared before Parliament's joint select committee on gambling reform in a Melbourne hearing yesterday.
Committee chairman Andrew Wilkie, a Tasmanian independent MP, has a deal with the Gillard Government for the introduction of a scheme requiring gamblers to set a limit on how much they are prepared to lose before they start playing. Ms Byrne said she would have saved a lot of money and caused fewer problems for her family if such a scheme had existed when she was gambling. "All I wanted to do was feed the beast," she said. Federal Minister for Families Jenny Macklin confirmed today that the Government had legal advice clearing the way for it to introduce laws to cut problem gambling on poker machines. Australian clubs (and casinos) have many clear warnings re gamblers to set limits or "know your limits", but some people still get into trouble.

The Australian Federal Government Tells States To Act Urgently On Slots Reform...

The federal government has received legal advice that it has extensive powers to force clubs into poker machine reform, but Families Minister Jenny Macklin has urged reluctant state governments to act first. Victoria and NSW oppose a mandatory scheme of "pre-commitment" technology to curb problem gambling that the Gillard government has promised to install on all poker machines nationally by 2014. Under a deal with Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, the federal government has until May to get the states to agree to use their powers, otherwise it must push through using Commonwealth legislation.
Advice from the Australian government solicitor shows the federal government can use taxation law to impose a high tax upon clubs that can only be exempted if they comply with new restrictions. It could also apply the Corporations Act to make most gaming venues and poker machine manufacturers reform or face stiff penalties. It could use banking law to limit ATM withdrawals to $250 at pokie venues; ban the manufacture, interstate sale or importation of machines that lack the new technology; and use the Telecommunications Act to require pokies to download warning systems. But a combination of regulations may be needed. "My objective is to continue to work to get an agreement with the states and territories," Ms Macklin said. "As far as the new Victorian government is concerned, the Liberal Party has on many occasions said that they understand that problem gambling is a serious issue in Australia and that we need to be doing more."

Victorian Government VS State Government (Credit: ABC News)

TONY EASTLEY: Victoria says it will push ahead with its own plans for voluntary gambling limits on poker machines in defiance of the Federal Government.

The Commonwealth has pledged to introduce compulsory pre-commitment technology on pokies to limit the amount of money problem gamblers can lose.

The Prime Minister made the promise last year to secure the support of independent MP Andrew Wilkie in forming a minority government.

To back its case the Commonwealth has released legal advice affirming its right to legislate if the states refuse.

Victoria's described the advice as a dog's breakfast of constitutional provisions.

The state's Gaming Minister Michael O'Brien has spoken to Sabra Lane.

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: The regulation of gambling is and always has been a matter for the states.

And we think the problem gambling is too serious an issue to be the subject of legal threats by the Federal Government using, frankly, a dog's breakfast of constitutional provisions.

SABRA LANE: Do you have your own legal advice?

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: We're taking advice at the moment, but certainly whatever the legalities of the matter the clear fact is that this is a matter that is best left to the states.

The Victorian Coalition went to the election in November last year with a clear plan for tackling problem gambling that includes requiring pre-commitment on all machines that would be available for use by customers.

We're not going to be distracted from implementing our plan by the Gillard Government's posturing which is borne of its own political needs rather than the best policy outcomes.

SABRA LANE: Federal Independent Andrew Wilkie has stipulated that these things need to be done for his continued support of the Gillard Government, and the Government is showing every indication of trying to stick to what he's demanded.

You're saying that you're not going to play ball?

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: We're interested in the best policy outcome. That's not driven by the Gillard Government's political need to keep one Tasmanian Independent MP on side.

We've got a clear thought out plan to deal with problem gambling that includes pre-commitment. But we want to implement that without getting distracted by a federal bunfight which is all for the benefit of Mr Wilkie and Mrs Gillard rather than the actual needs of problem gamblers.

SABRA LANE: On the pre-commitment technology, you disagree that it should be compulsory for all problem gamblers?

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: Victoria believes that pre-commitment should be available on every single gaming machine in the state, and we want to see that implemented as soon as possible really.

But we do believe that the choice to use the technology should be with the individual player. It shouldn't be a case of a big brother government forcing players to provide personal details to get some sort of ID card to be able to play a gaming machine.

We think that's intrusive and, more to the point, it won't help problem gamblers because all the research shows that that sort of activity doesn't affect problem gamblers.

Pre-commitment works best when people want to modify their behaviour. That means a voluntary system will work where a compulsory system just won't.

SABRA LANE: If the Commonwealth does take over the control of gaming machines how much does your state stand to lose? At the moment a fair amount of your gaming revenue does come from poker machines.

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: Look I'd be delighted if there weren't any problem gamblers contributing a single dollar to Victorian revenue. As Gaming Minister I want to see a gaming system in Victoria which is there for recreation and entertainment but is not the subject of the heartache and misery that problem gambling does lead to.

So no-one's more committed than I am and the Government in Victoria to tackling problem gambling.

SABRA LANE: Under Andrew Wilkie's stipulations the states have to agree to this new pre-commitment technology by the end of May. It sounds like you won't be signing up to that.

Have you actually had any talks with the Commonwealth about this yet?

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: No, I understand that various officials between Commonwealth and the states have been in discussions ahead of a select COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting to take place at the end of February. But certainly I haven't had any phone calls from Mr Shorten or Ms Macklin on this issue.

But I'll be very happy to explain to them why Victoria's plan to tackle problem gambling is far better than anything the Commonwealth is able to come up with.

SABRA LANE: And you won't be signing up to anything the Federal Government offers?

MICHAEL O'BRIEN: We've got a clear plan. We were elected by the Victorian people to implement that plan. What the Commonwealth is proposing will do nothing for problem gambling. It's really borne of their own political necessity rather than good policy outcomes.

So there's no reason why Victoria should have to change our clearly thought-out plan to bend to the Commonwealth's interests on this one.

TONY EASTLEY: The Victorian Gaming Minister Michael O'Brien speaking to Sabra Lane.

Ex Slots Junkie Backs Gambling Smartcard...

A former poker machine addict has told a Federal Parliamentary inquiry that a card to limit gambling losses could achieve long-term success in easing the problem. The inquiry is in Adelaide for the first of four public hearings across Australia. It is considering how a pre-commitment gambling scheme could work to make people set limits on their losses before they gamble. Sue Pinkerton said she was addicted to the pokies for six years. She said a card to limit losses would be a partial solution to problem gambling. "While people are still exposed, allowed unlimited exposure and convenient access ... some individuals are still unfortunately going to develop an addiction to them," she said. The head of the parliamentary inquiry, MP Andrew Wilkie, has welcomed indications the Federal Government might legislate to reduce problem gambling involving poker machines. The Government has received legal advice which indicates it has the power to override the states and territories to achieve gambling reform. Mr Wilkie says rather than delay the inevitable, the states should sign on now for a scheme in which people set limits on their losses before they gamble. "It's clearly in the interests of the states that they now co-operate willingly with the Federal Government to bring about these very important reforms and in particular the implementation of a mandatory pre-commitment scheme on all poker machines in the country by 2014," he said. South Australian Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said the states alone could not be trusted to ease gambling addiction and its effects. "You can't trust state governments when it comes to poker machines because they're hooked on the $4 billion a year they take in taxes, that's why the Commonwealth intervention is the best way to tackle this problem once and for all," he said.

Australian Gambling Revenue: Federal VS States War; Gillard And Wilkie Deal Gets Heat...

The battle between the Commonwealth and Australian states over pokies continues machines. In return for support on the floor of Parliament, Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, promised the Tassie MP Andrew Wilkie that by close of business today she would have legal advice on whether the Commonwealth could go it alone in imposing change. At stake are reforms to combat problem gambling...and billions of dollars of state revenue. Gillard has undertaken to change how the machines work. She plans to implement a commitment scheme. Gamblers set a limit on how much they are prepared to lose...require machines to display dynamic warnings and impose a limit of $250 on ATM withdrawals in poker machine venues. Gamblers have already found ways to combat the system, speaking and dealing with their other pokie mates, as well as some hitting internet gambling websites more often, so they are not so restricted, with some getting further disillusioned with clubs and the Australian government in general, blaming the gabling haters and one or two radical and agenda driven ministers, senators and the like. Gillard's issue is that poker machines, and the tax they generate, are guarded ferociously by the states. The Commonwealth has traditionally kept out of this area and the states want it to stay that way. Funny that. It is not only issue gamblers who may have 'one armed bandit' addiction. State treasuries suffer the same affliction. On average, the states raise 10% of their revenue from gambling. In NSW, gambling taxes generate $1.6 billion, or about $300 per adult head... 70% of it from pokies. The Wilkie "agreement" (deal), which has been questioned by legal eagles and potentially being illegal, requires Gillard first to ask the states to carry out the reforms themselves. If they have not agreed to do so by May 31, the government must impose the changes. The legal advice due today will provide an initial answer about whether this is possible. The constitution does not give the federal Parliament power over gambling but Parliament could impose conditions on how trading corporations operate poker machines. It's important to remember that the constitution on that in the event of a conflict between federal and state law, the federal law prevails. The Commonwealth has significant powers in this area but this is not so extensive as to cover every hotel and club with a machine. Federal power falls short for venues not operating as a corporation or across a state border. This may persuade some clubs and hotels to ditch their corporate status to escape federal regulation. This could get ugly and complicated. Gillard will want to avoid this by securing state co-operation. She may do so through a "compensation package" (another bribe or sorts) to the states but this seems off the radar due to the Commonwealth's stressed financial position. Another option would be for the Commonwealth to reduce its grants to a state by the same amount the state receives in pokie revenue, unless the state agrees to implement the reforms. The Commonwealth has had success with this art of war maneuver previously. The idea has also been discussed as a way of basically forcing the states to eliminate mining royalties in favour of a federal resource super profits tax. Australian and state clubs say the the pokie war could overshadow the mining tax war that was the talk of the business world for the better half of 2010. The Commonwealth might achieve its reforms but it's wait and see. The states rely on gambling revenue in a big way. The underlying financial positions of the states, with the possible exception of Western Australia (which gambling king James Packer is very keen on) are desperate. They generate less than 70% of the revenue they need for their annual budget, including for essential services. Without handouts from the Commonwealth, their finances would collapse. The states have been in stress since World War II when the Commonwealth snatched control over income tax. In 1997 the High Court decision in Ngo Ngo Ha deprived them of lucrative taxes on alcohol, tobacco and petrol worth a massive $5 billion a year. With hardly any areas left in which to raise revenue, the states have turned to sin tax type areas - gambling, beer and cigarettes. Could pot one day become legal, so it can be taxed?. Poker machine reform has put the Commonwealth and states on a collision course for war. The Gillard government is not quite sure what to so with "our friend" Wilkie because its somewhat depends on his continuing support, but the word is many other MP's think Gillard might be better of without him, and he is known to be a very bias rep, not speaking for the people for the main, but just pushing his own agenda, with significant ties to the bible bashers and numerous anti gambling folks, which means his is not acting in a balanced fashion, pandering to the wishes of small by vocal groups. So, the Commonwealth will likely win over the states, but it might take than a lot of time, money and embarrassment to do it. "Problem gambling" will likely always exist. People will be people. Governments want their share of the jackpot. Folks, that's just the way it is. Blame the government, Federal and / or state, and if you want a beer, cigy or care to try your luck on the slots, fruits and pokies, do it, but always have fun and set limits. See you at the bar!

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*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man http://www.mediamanint.com is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. Gaming is just one of a dozen sectors covered

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