Andrew Bolt — forced to correct the record over the weekend for his law-breaking articles on nefarious light-skinned Aborigines — also has a long, proud history of commentating on Australia’s pokies legislation.

This year, the right-wing shouter has been quick to jump on his MTR boss John Singleton’s pro-pokies bandwagon while simultaneously failing to disclose the connection with the man who signs his six-figure pay cheques (Singleton dreamed up the “licence to punt” campaign and owns several pubs that feature the one-armed bandits).

“There is no way Labor can agree to Wilkie’s demand,” Bolt stormed in the Herald Sun on September 3, in reference to planned mandatory pre-commitment technology and restrictions on maximum bets as a condition of Wilkie’s support.

“Its MPs in NSW have been stunned by the anger of many Labor-voting punters in the massive leagues clubs, particularly ones in Labor seats, against this ‘licence to bet’.”

Just to be clear that the idea was political suicide, Bolt followed up with this on his Bolt Report:

“But Labor MPs can’t give Wilkie what he wants. MPs in NSW seats know punters at the leagues clubs are fuming about this so-called licence to punt. Many are Labor voters.”

On September 21, Bolt was slurping the Kool-Aid again, foreshadowing an AFL campaign-that-wasn’t against the technology. A follow-up blog post reckoned the clubs’ pitch was “sweet revenge for Karl Bitar, who has masterminded it for Crown after being unfairly blamed for Julia Gillard’s own sins and dumped as Labor’s national secretary”.

Bolt has cloaked his recent endorsements in a kind of meta political analysis, claiming that because Labor MPs in marginal seats like David Bradbury were being targeted, the party could not accept Wilkie’s stance and must therefore call an election.

Still, the AFL article contains one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hint on Bolt’s true views. There are, he says, “…plenty of people like me who loathe those wallet-hoovering machines, and want more done to persuade the poor and stupid to quit before they blow the family savings.”

Which leads to the question — why wouldn’t Bolt fall in behind Labor and Wilkie in backing the Productivity Commission-recommended technology?

It wasn’t always this way. Way back in May 2004, the former Age cadet penned a column under the unambiguous headline: “Pokies: game over” (not online):

“They are evil, mindless, addictive and without virtue. They are poker machines and Victoria should switch them off. I LOATHE our pokies. I wish the Kirner Government had never let these foul machines loose on our communities, to pick the pockets of the poor, rob their children and tempt the weak to crime.”

And then this:

“What are they good for? At their very best they kill time for people who should be getting on with something more useful, and they titillate the lazy with fool’s dreams of fast bucks earned with no honour or sweat. But at their worst, they destroy families — some I know and like too well to tell you about here.”

So, what should the government be doing about these “foul” excuses for entertainment? Simple, said Bolt.

“We must ban them, as we banned them before, when we had moral gumption. Let’s ban them, now we’ve seen the havoc they wreak.

“Ban them. Help the weak. Ban them. Think of the children. Ban them. Protect the poor. Ban them. Show some heart. Some virtue. Just ban them.”

He had also called for a ban a few months prior in February 2004 (also not online): “… if governments can now tell us where, when and how to gamble on pokies, haven’t they a right to tell us not to gamble on them at all?”

Good question. Which makes Bolt’s rejection of Wilkie’s and the Gillard government’s proposed legislation curious indeed. We don’t want to accuse Australia’s most popular columnist — like former colleagues did in Anne Summers’ Monthly profile — of opportunistically latching on to whichever line inflicts the most damage on a sitting Labor government.

But given the statements already on the public record, an alternative explanation seems a tad spurious.

Peter Fray

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