After a lot of viral and video promotion involving Tim Costello and Nick Xenophon, it was remarkable to have the Victorian election campaign’s pokies forum in Melbourne yesterday with not a single person from the media turning up.

They missed a ripper. Attendees got to hear the minister, his shadow and minor parties slug it for two hours in front of the man who runs the 12,000 pokies empire for Woolworths.

Ross Blair-Holt, the long-time loyal deputy of semi-retired pokies billionaire Bruce Mathieson, turned up to, of all places, the Cathedral Room of the Cardinal Knox Centre at the back of St Patrick’s in Melbourne to hear all the pokies critics come together.

Check out this package of videos of the main speeches.

Full marks to gaming minister Tony Robinson for coming into the bear pit. While he was predictable in defending the Brumby government’s record on pre-commitment and removal of AGMs, it was very surprising to hear this quite savage attack on NSW:

Tony Robinson: If you believe in national standards, and we do in Victoria, we’ve been at the forefront. We’re out there on pre-commitment well before that agreement was signed by the federal government. There is one big problem. Three words — New South Wales. Home to half the country’s poker machines. A state where you get no dialogue, you don’t get meetings like this. A state where the industry has the arrogance to go up to the opposition leader, who might be Premier one day soon, and sign a tax-reduction agreement for pokies in NSW. We all have some work to do on NSW. They are years and years and year behind us here in Victoria.

When asked by Crikey contributor and gambling academic Professor Charles Livingstone whether Victoria would implement the final version of Julia Gillard’s pokies agreement with Andrew Wilkie, Robinson gave an unequivocal “yes”.

Opposition spokesman and Liberal leadership aspirant Michael O’Brien fudged on the same issue and was jeered when expressing clear opposition to mandatory pre-commitment.

However, the roles were reversed on other key issues.

On the question of whether Victorian councils can collectively slug pokies operators up to $10 million a year in special rates, the minister still refuses to rule it out while the opposition says the setting of rates is a matter for councils.

The proposed second Victorian casino in Mildura was empathically rejected by Michael O’Brien while the Labor minister waffled saying that 19 votes out of 40 in the Victorian upper house would make it difficult.

The questions about the Mildura casino were posed by Mildura councillor Vernon Knight. The vision of his effort after the six-hour drive can be seen at the end of Tony Robinson’s speech in the video package. 

While independents and minor parties, save for occasional mentions of the Australian S-x Party, are getting sod-all coverage in the Victorian election campaign, the mayor of Mildura is shaping up as a dark horse to get elected on the back of the anti-casino movement.

However, like with Greens candidate Rose Iser in Essendon as Andrew Crook reported  on Monday, sometimes you have to jump into bed with the enemy to secure the preference flows to win.

Mildura mayor Glenn Milne is running hard as a high-profile independent candidate who is publicly opposed to the second casino proposal being pushed by celebrity chef Stefano de Pieri. However, mayor Milne is swapping preferences with Stefano’s pro-casino independent candidate Doug Tonge in a large and volatile field.

The Nationals member for Mildura, Peter Crisp, who gained notoriety in 2006 by winning the seat off independent Russell Savage while living in NSW, is in danger of losing his seat, so watch out for “the other Glenn Milne” to potentially be a minority government kingmaker.

The other classic moment at yesterday’s forum came when Robinson was talking up all the benefits that flow from the pokies-funded $100 million a year Community Support Fund.

City of Moreland councillor and DLP candidate in Northern Metro, John Kavanagh, correctly pointed out that $400,000 from the fund went to pay Australian Open prize money last year.

Yep, the pokies fund designed to limit community damage actually gave cash instead to Serena Williams. Kavanagh, who is a chance to win on Saturday, called this particular government slush fund “a disgrace”.

*Stephen Mayne is running as a “no pokies” independent in the Northern Metropolitan upper house region.