The two dominant footy codes usually war with each other for dominance but they’ve put aside their differences to protest against independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s pokies reform.

The two codes are meeting today to hatch out a plan to run anti-pokies reform television advertisements during grand final week.

The main concerns for footy clubs are the huge amounts of revenue that come from club-owned poker machines. Victorian AFL clubs control 2500 of the almost 30,000 poker machines statewide. The NRL claims it will cost $71 million to refit poker machines with the mandatory pre-commitment technology for which Wilkie is calling.

The footy mouthpieces have been loud in their disagreements with the planned reforms. “To suddenly out of nowhere, without any consultation, to have what looks like being a footy tax imposed is going to hit football clubs right between the eyes,” declared Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.

Hawthorn president — and former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett — argued that “the Gillard government is going to wipe out RSL clubs right throughout the state.”

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said the government needed to “help raise awareness around problem gambling and actually tackle that issue, not put our clubs in jeopardy.”

Wilkie, who has spearheaded the reforms, rebuked McGuire’s comments: “That’s patently ridiculous,” said Wilkie. ”He shouldn’t use such inflammatory terms.”

Meanwhile, Wilkie is facing possible legal action from Clubs Australia and Clubs NSW, after receiving a legal letter asking him to withdraw comment he made on September 1 regarding Clubs Australia’s position on mandatory pre-commitment technology for poker machines.

It’s the old “not in my backyard” story. But PM Julia Gillard doesn’t need another divisive issue such as this, writes Michelle Grattan in The Age: “The polls show high public backing for action on problem gambling. But such generalised support can evaporate when the issue comes down to clubs in people’s local area.”

Wilkie has promised to remove his support for the Gillard government if the pokies reforms are not passed.

Phillip Coorey speculates in The Sydney Morning Herald that the pokies reform struggle could bring on an ALP leadership challenge. “This internal discontent is fertile ground for a revival by Kevin Rudd, who could send Wilkie and his reforms packing and call a snap election.”

Peter Fray

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