Jeff Kennett was an enthusiastic promoter of Victoria’s poker machine
duopoly, locking it in place for decades when he floated Tabcorp for
$675 million in 1994. However, the Tabcorp prospectus promised that
Victoria would eventually have 45,000 machines but we never got above
30,000 as the social damage made it politically unpalatable to keep
rolling them out.

That damage is becoming more apparent by the year and we now have the
unusual situation of Jeff’s former numbers man, Mornington MLA Robin
Cooper, calling for Victoria’s poker machines to be withdrawn when the
duopoly licences expire in 2012, as you can see from this report in The Age last week.

Cooper fleshed out his thinking during an interesting interview with
Terry Lane on Radio National last Sunday. Poker machines produce about
$1.4
billion a year in revenue for Victoria, so any abolition would leave a
huge hole in the state budget. On top of that, the pokies duopoly of Tabcorp and Tattersalls would
be entitled
to about $1 billion in compensation if the licences were given to new
entrants or simply not renewed.

Cooper suggests that a sinking fund needs to be established to make
that
compensation payment in 2012. But surely a better solution would be for
Steve Bracks to put this on the table for a major negotiation over
federal-state relations.

The Feds should reward states that reduce their reliance on gambling.
Peter Costello’s brother Tim, the World Vision CEO who was previously
the most effective anti-gambling campaigner in Australia, should have a
word with the treasurer to get this one moving. Being the biggest gambling losers in the world in per capita terms is not
something we should be proud of.

Surely church-going political leaders such as Tony Abbott, Peter
Costello and John Howard would see the moral force of such an argument.
Former WA Liberal Premier Richard Court was on a panel with Crikey in
Perth two weeks ago and declared that his exposure to the evils of
gambling through his local church was what motivated him to be the only
state premier to resist pokies in suburban pubs and clubs.

Western Australia is subsidised by Victoria and NSW and has large
mining industry royalties to sustain the Budget, so it can still
prosper without the dreaded pokies. Victoria is not so lucky and should
be given large federal incentives by Canberra to do the right thing by
the community and pull those appalling machines out of the community.

South Australia has the influential No Pokies MP Nick Xenophon and we
even had a new pressure group taking an axe to an old poker machine on
the steps of the NSW Parliament yesterday. Could these be the first
signs of a serious move to dramatically reduce Australia’s appalling
claim to house 10% of the world’s poker machines? Let’s hope so.