Gambling on pokies reform

By Andrew L. Urban

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie seems to have a good heart – not sure about his thinking prowess, though.

He is wagering the Gillard Labour Government against poker machine reform. If the Government doesn’t pass the legislation he wants – intended to curb gambling addicts’ losses by mandatory pre-commitment  – he says he will bring it down. (Not quite clear how, though …)

The gambling industry (clubs and pubs) is lobbying against the mandatory aspect. Says Wilkie: “The intensity of the response from the gambling industry shows that we have come up with a policy that is going to work.” (Sydney Morning Herald, August 20-21, 2011, p. 3 ‘Wilkie’s pokie deal looks shaky as MPs feel the heat’)

Actually, no Mr. Wilkie, the intensity of the response only suggests that the gambling industry expects to suffer financially from the proposed policy. It does not show that the proposed policy will reduce gambling addiction. It may, but a trial with voluntary pre-commitment would be a sensible and democratically sound first step.

Mandatory pre-commitment regulation may well lead to losses by the clubs if it puts people off pokies altogether – even those who are not problem gamblers. It may also cause losses due to the additional costs involved, which exacerbate any revenue falls as a result of the policy.

The policy objectives are admirable and should be supported by all reasonable citizens. Gambling addiction does enormous social harm. But policies need to be thoroughly and intelligently developed; the Rudd and Gillard Governments since 2007 have shown remarkable ineptitude in both policy formulation and execution. Andrew Wilkie’s good intentions should not be a paving stone to the hell of public policy.

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