Crikey readers might recall that in June this year, Clubs NSW, pokie lobby supremos, claimed that a report from Deutsch Bank justified their claim that clubs would lose 40% of their revenue if harm minimisation measure proposed by the federal government were to be introduced. The Deutsche Bank report is available here.

At the time, I wrote to the lead author of that report politely asking how they arrived at that estimate. I haven’t had a reply yet, so in the absence of any explanation my opinion is that the figure was derived from the Productivity Commission’s estimate of the 40% of pokie revenue that comes from problem gamblers.

Anyway, regardless of the merits of the Deutsch Bank report (which Clubs NSW continues to cite as its source for the claim that ruin awaits clubs if problem gambling is addressed) the cat’s out of the bag now. Over the weekend, Clubs Queensland appears to have accidentally posted a report prepared for them which shows that the likely effect of the government’s harm minimization measures — pre-commitment and low-impact pokies — will be to reduce their pokie revenue by between 10% and 20%.

This seems to me to be a much more reasonable and likely estimate, especially if clubs adopt low-impact pokies — machines with maximum bets of $1 and maximum prizes of $500. After all, 88% of people who use pokies bet less than that. Those who bet above that limit tend to be those with a problem.

Clubs NSW representative Anthony Ball has now also revealed that his organisation has written to the government offering to arrange a trial of pre-commitment. This is also an interesting development, given that the pokie industry refused an approach from the Tasmanian government to do just that earlier this year. I guess they’ve had second thoughts.

Although they’ve had some unexpected cheerleaders in the Fairfax press recently (such as Shaun Carney), the clubs campaign has been increasingly shrill and somewhat loose of late, as noted by Tom Cummings at his cyenne blog.

Exaggerating the impact of worthwhile reforms is a tactic beloved of rent-seekers and harmful industries everywhere, so it’s unsurprising that the pokies lobby engaged in it. It’s equally unsurprising that they are prepared to go for a stalling tactic now, albeit one that smacks of compromise. Although Carney and others argue that the pokie lobby’s campaign has spooked ALP backbenchers, it’s clear that an overwhelming majority of ordinary people back the reforms — a recent ANU poll found that 74% of people support the idea that people who wish to gamble should be able to nominate their maximum level of loss before gambling. An Essential poll in September found 67% support for the government’s proposals.

Pre-commitment for high-impact pokies (those with current bet levels of up to $10 per spin, allowing losses of up to $1200 per hour) coupled with the availability of low impact pokies for “walk-up” players will have a positive impact on problem gambling. It will not be a magic bullet, any more than seat belts are a magic bullet for road trauma; but these reforms will help a lot of people to avoid getting into trouble in the first place, and will strongly support those already in trouble to escape that situation more quickly.

The pokies lobby argues that the only way for them to go forward is, essentially, business as usual. The vehemence of their anti-reform campaign is evidence of their stunning lack of imagination. The price of this is to bankrupt and generally ruin the lives of their best customers. Even the pokie lobby might eventually come to realize that such an approach is no basis for long term sustainability.

Peter Fray

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