Poor old Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu has copped a shellacking for his gaming policy announcement to cut Victoria’s 30,000 poker machines to 24,500 after the Tabcorp and Tattersall’s licences expire in 2012.

The attacks have ranged from the persistent Jon Faine line of “how are
you going to plug a $200 million budget black hole in six years’ time”
to the Neil Mitchell claim that the “sloppy policy” won’t curb problem gambling.

Tabcorp CEO Matthew Slatter predictably came out complaining and pokies
king Bruce Mathieson, who is in partnership with the supposedly good
corporate citizen Woolworths, told the Herald Sun: “It’s a joke – it doesn’t fix the problem at all. But I suppose when you’re in Opposition you do anything to try to grab some
votes.”

The Herald Sun went on to suggest political donations would be withheld:

The Baillieu bombshell has angered industry heavyweights, who could
punish the Liberal Party by withholding campaign donations in the lead-up to the
election. At the 2002 state election, the Libs received donations of more than $200,000
from industry players, including Tattersall’s, Tabcorp and the powerful
Australian Hotels Association.

So precisely what do all these critics suggest be done
about the fact that Australians lose more head gambling that any people
in the world? Everyone is quick to criticise, but you never hear any alternatives. I’m appearing at the Gambling Licences Review hearings at 3pm next Tuesday having made the following submission on what should happen to the industry to cut annual player losses from $2.4 billion to $500 million.

Sure, the proposal would leave a big hole in the state budget, but this
goes back to the hypocrisy of Peter Costello’s whinge this week that he never supported the introduction of pokies in Victoria and believes they have ruined suburban pubs.

There is one compelling reason why Australians are the world’s biggest
gamblers – the states deliver most of the services but have very narrow
revenues bases and gambling has been a great growth tax over the past 15 years.

When the Federal Government was concerned about guns in the community
after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, it instituted a guns buy back.
Costello’s Treasury is currently funding a generous $220 million buyback of fishing
licences on the east coast because our waters are being damaged by
over-fishing. $31.85 million was also spent buying back licences after the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2004.

If Peter Costello and John Howard were genuinely concerned about
Australia’s gambling addiction, they would open up the federal coffers
to plug any revenue holes. Anything less is just empty rhetoric.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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