No one could accuse Four Corners of being captured by the live export industry after its Bloody Business program on May 30.

Fast forward three weeks and Australia’s premier investigative program tonight is wading into the pokies debate with story called Wilkie’s Gamble, which has already been slammed for adopting many of the arguments pushed by the gambling industry.

Based on the broadcast promos and this online material, anti-pokies activist Paul Bendat launched this withering critique of Four Corners claiming it had “fallen to the pokie clubs strategy to stop pokie reform”.

This relates to the whole “licence to punt” line pushed by Clubs NSW and claims already published by Four Corners that pre-commitment technologies are “untested” and “radical”.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox

By submitting this form you are agreeing to Crikey's Terms and Conditions.

Truth be known, it was the Productivity Commission, not Andrew Wilkie, which first recommended universal pre-commitment as a “strong, practicable and ultimately cost-effective option for harm minimisation”.

Besides, Four Corners has missed the point in focusing so heavily on full pre-commitment. As Bendat explains on his blog, the preferred reform option proposed by the Wilkie-chaired Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform involves the following:

Gamblers will be able to lose up to $150 per hour gambling on pokies that require no pre-commitment, no card, no licence to punt. At a maximum bet of $1, this will account for 80% of existing gamblers without them having to change their gambling habits. This modest consumer protection measure asks only gamblers whose choice it is to gamble on the dangerous high intensity machines to choose how much they are prepared to lose.

When challenged with all this material on Friday, Four Corners supervising producer Mark Bannerman emailed through this response:

Thanks for the email. I think from our point of view we’ll let the program speak for itself. As you note it is best to wait to see a story before making a comment. We’ll be happy to respond once the program has been broadcast.

The Four Corners online preview also included the following claims:

Each year about $12 billion dollars are lost in gaming machines. Of that amount, it’s estimated problem gamblers lose $4.7 billion a year. In turn, state governments take about $5 billion in tax. That is 10 per cent of their total tax revenue. While surveys show that a clear majority of Australians agree with the need to reduce the impact of problem gambling, it’s also true that anyone who wants to reduce the amount of money spent on gaming machines encounters opposition at every level of business and government.

That last line is not right. Local government outside NSW is becoming increasingly vocal in its opposition to the model of having community spending subsidised by Australia’s world leading problem gambling epidemic.

Indeed, the recent Municipal Association of Victoria state council meeting held on May 26 comfortably passed the following resolution:

That the MAV advocate to the Minister for Gaming to adopt the following recommendations from the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report on Gambling (February 2010):

  • To lower the bet limit to $1 per “button push”;
  • That shut down periods for electronic gaming machines (EGMs) commence earlier and be of longer duration;
  • To trigger the necessary process for the introduction of a mandatory full pre-commitment system to set binding limits on losses;
  • Better warnings and prominent information in venues; and
  • Continue and extend regional caps for EGMs.

This week’s National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra, which heard from Julia Gillard this morning, also has three separate anti-pokies motions listed on the agenda.

Manningham Council itself will be voting on an anti-pokies motion at next week’s council meeting similar to this package of motions, which have recently been passed by Victorian councils such as Geelong, Whittlesea, Moreland and Macedon Ranges.

I sat next to Kevin Andrews at Manningham City Council’s regular “local members breakfast” on Friday morning and politely warned him that federal Liberal MPs would be receiving considerable pressure from the anti-pokies campaigners once the Gillard government introduces its proposed legislative reform agenda.

Like with tobacco reform, there are numerous Liberal MPs who privately agree with their conservative allies in Family First, the DLP and the Christian Democrats that something has got to be done on pokies reform.

*Stephen Mayne is a Manningham City councillor who was not paid for this contribution.