Anti-gambling campaigners across the country are cockahoop today after Julia Gillard signed up to a comprehensive Federal pokies reform program and timetable to secure Andrew Wilkie’s political support.
Those who have observed the caretaker PM during the negotiating period have detected a steely determination to tackle problem gambling. Indeed, there was almost enthusiasm at the prospect of sticking it up the “whatever it takes” merchants in the NSW Right who have long been in the pay of the pokies lobby as this list of political donations demonstrates.
Shares in the five biggest pokies dependent stocks — Crown, Tatts Group, Tabcorp, Woolworths and Aristocrat — have this morning all traded below yesterday’s closing prices in a rising market.
Aristocrat, the world’s second biggest poker machine manufacturer, was hardest hit, losing 7c or 2.35% to $3.74.
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However, there’s a long way to go because the three independents could yet prop up an Abbott government and there’s no assurance they will support any federal legislative action even if Labor gets over the line.
The Greens are firmly committed to strong action so all the political uncertainty resides in the House of Representatives.
The registered clubs movement is already fighting back and will no doubt target the two NSW regional independents threatening job losses and less funding for children’s sport.
Whilst the $1 maximum bet threat has been headed off for now, NSW clubs and pubs won’t benefit much from their current $10 maximum bet in a system which has mandatory pre-commitment.
If every player is mandated to register for a non-transferrable USB stick pre-set with a maximum loss of $50 day per day, it will have a profound effect on problem gambling.
Punters don’t walk into a venue planning to lose $5000, but they do get into the zone and then chase their losses.
Sure, players would be able to set their own limit but not many will opt for a big number as no gambler wants to lose.
The clubs movement is already trying to rubbish two pre-commitment trials currently taking place in South Australia and Queensland but these are voluntary systems.
Another potential complication goes to the Commonwealth’s constitutional powers to regulate pokies licences which are issued by cash-strapped state governments.
The Corporations Act does give the Feds substantial power over companies as John Howard demonstrated with WorkChoices, but many licensees in the pokies space are not for profits.
However, the pokies manufacturers are companies and the lines are often blurred with less commercial operators.
For instance, Tabcorp has signed a deal to run the 3000 machines owned by the RSL in Victoria once the new operating system commences in 2012. And we all know Woolworths has managed thousands of machines for AFL clubs.
Similarly, the Penrith Panthers are the biggest pokies club in Australia with 14 different venues across a staggering 2 million square metres of land.
Yet the Panthers have sold a 49% interest in their pokies operation for about $80 million to a listed hotel fund managed by a multi-national Dutch Bank. Have a listen to the full exchanges about the Panthers’ pokies operation with ING Real Estate Entertainment Fund Chair Richard Colless at a unitholder meeting earlier this year.
Another interesting variable going forward will be the ALP’s own four pokies venues in Canberra which Julia Gillard erroneously claimed yesterday did not benefit from problem gamblers.
Given that the Productivity Commission estimated there are 160,000 problem gamblers nationally who generate about $4 billion of the $10 billion in annual losses, it seems strange to think that the Canberra Labor Clubs can magically only drain cash out of occasional recreational players.
The Canberra Labor Club are as thick as thieves with the broader clubs movement, especially given that for-profit operators like Woolworths or hotels are banned in the ACT.
Indeed, these venues were going to be sold to the CFMEU for about $25 million last year to cash up the party for the recent Federal campaign. They’ll be worth a lot less if Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon get their way with mandatory pre-commitment.
*Disclosure: Stephen Mayne ran for the Senate in Victoria on this no pokies platform.