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Gambling reform will be election battle front.

24 January 2023 No Comment


After months of delay, NSW Opposition leader, Chris Minns, has finally taken some action on pokies reform.

It is welcome news that the ALP in NSW will ban donations to political parties from all clubs in the state that have poker machines.

Although donations from gambling companies are banned, NSW clubs are currently exempt. This is because they are currently classified as not-for-profit entities.

Minns’ other pokie proposals are very weak, demonstrating the power the gambling industry in Australia has over Labor.

For example, it is clear that, unlike Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet, before the March 25 state election Minns will not advocate the introduction of cashless gaming cards for all clubs, pubs and casinos in NSW.

Labor’s planned “mandatory” 12-month “trial run” of cashless gambling technology on 500 poker machines throughout NSW is woefully inadequate.

Five hundred pokies are less than one per cent of the more than 90,000 machines currently in lucrative business throughout the state.

This so-called ‘reform’ does not meaningfully address the enormous harm caused by gambling addiction, which especially affects vulnerable ethnic and low-income groups, many of whom are in ALP electorates.

Now, not just Labor, but Premier Perrottet also needs to reveal full details of his pokies reform proposals. To enable voters to make an informed choice at the March 25 state election, this must include the monetary limits that can be lost each day, week, month and year on poker machines.

Perrottet and Minns should make clear how their proposed limits can be enforced, and how their proposed gambling reforms cannot be corrupted by vested interests.

The chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello, reflects that it is the first time in 25 years that gambling has been an important issue in an Australian election campaign. Even more extraordinary is the fact it is happening in NSW – for so long the stronghold of the gambling industry.

This happened because premier Perrottet broke with the bipartisan support of ClubsNSW. It is critical that pressure is maintained for real reform and not a watered-down response from the major parties.

The bipartisan approach that has occurred in Tasmania shows that it can happen, but real reform in NSW is far from certain. Both sides of NSW politics need to commit to cashless gaming cards.Significantly, former Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard, former National Party deputy prime minister, John Anderson, and key trade unions in NSW unambiguously support this reform of the gambling industry.

But this is another major problem.

Every night on Australian television there are saturation advertisements for betting. These ads often include inducements for gambling, including special cash-back offers on bets, in addition to a general demeanour suggesting that it’s great fun to gamble (and win).

A current example is an ad featuring people in a pub watching a horserace on the video screen. At the end of the race everyone in the pub jumps up and down with joy, implying that they all backed the winner – which is statistically very unlikely. In the not-so-distant past, cigarette advertising used similar emotional appeals, showing smokers as sophisticated, sailing on yachts, travelling the world, and being financially and sexually successful.

 Cigarette advertising is totally banned on television. Why is gambling advertising allowed on prime-time TV, often when children are watching?

The grip Big Gambling and Big Alcohol has on the ALP and the conservative coalition in Australia is similar to the grip the tobacco industry once had on major political parties.

Not so long ago, Big Tobacco, Big Gambling and Big Alcohol seemed omnipotent and invincible in Australia.

But gradually, the public health David drove back the Big Tobacco Goliath. Although, here and overseas, nicotine has made somewhat of a comeback via vaping.

For decades in Australia, Big Gambling won all its battles. But now the gambling industry is also beginning to lose some of its fights. Maybe there’s hope that one day, in Australia, Big Alcohol will also be cut down to size.

In all three cases, prohibition is certainly not the answer. Trying to entirely eliminate nicotine, gambling and alcohol invites lucrative black markets.

This converts bad problems into terrible problems. But an unrestricted approach not only keeps Big Tobacco, Big Gambling and Big Alcohol happy, but is guaranteed to make vulnerable members of the community and their families miserable and damaged.

The trick is to find a Goldilocks regulatory position where problems are minimised. But finding the spot that’s not too hot and not too cold is impossible when tobacco, alcohol and gambling interests capture the regulatory apparatus.

Effective public health policy in all three areas involves reducing supply, reducing demand and directly reducing harm.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History & Politics at Griffith University. His latest book is My Last Drink: 32 stories of recovering alcoholics, co-authored with Neal Price.
The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday January 24, 2023, p 19.

Show guts on gambling

Ross Fitzgerald (Gambling reform will be election battle front, Opinion 24/1)) is quite right that gambling policies will be critical in the NSW elections, now only 2 months away.

Both major parties have only provided weak reforms and with minimal detail. Both leaders are facing internal opposition to even these weak reforms. The community has had a gutful of Big Gambling.

Real leadership on gambling will win plenty of votes and decide many seats.

Alex Wodak, Darlinghurst

The Daily Telegraph, Wednesday January 25, 2023, p 72.Pokies policy is a matter of ethics, not religion.

Pokies policy is a matter of ethics, not religion
ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis’ claim that in advocating gambling reform Dominic Perrottet was acting on his “Catholic gut” is ignorant anti-Catholic sectarianism (“ClubsNSW’s new problem gambling policy is pure public relations”, January 31).
   Although I am an atheist, I strongly support the premier’s commitment to introducing cashless gaming cards in all poker machine venues throughout NSW.

   Tim Costello is correct in claiming that ClubsNSW “apparent concessions” are mere window dressing ahead of the March 25 state election.

Ross Fitzgerald, Redfern
The Sydney Morning Herald, February 1, 2023. p 16.
Regulate vaping
Remy Varga’s important exclusive,  “Exposed: big tobacco’s financial links to vape research” (The Australian, February 1, 2023) reveals how Philip Morris funded international research that produced positive findings about vapes and e-cigarettes.
   In fact, Philip Morris is one of the world’s largest and most lucrative tobacco companies.
  All politicians, federal, state, and local, should note that 93% of Australians surveyed in a large poll last month wanted vaping regulated. They also thought that vapes should be sold behind the counter under the same strict adults-only regulation as cigarettes.
 But unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening now. 
 As a matter of urgent public health policy,  vaping should be regulated as soon as possible, just like cigarettes.

Professor Ross Fitzgerald AM

Redfern, NSW

The Australian, February 2, 2023 Letters p 10.

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