Anthony Ball is the driving force behind Clubs Australia’s campaign against Andrew Wilkie’s poker machine reforms. He’s got the footy codes, the tabloids and the Libs on his side, plus plenty of cash left in the bank.
And now that Wilkie’s clout is weakened, thanks to the shock resignation of speaker Harry Jenkins, he’s more powerful than ever.
“I’m fortunate to be in an industry which probably is powerful,” the Clubs Australia and Clubs NSW boss told The Power Index last month. “Our ability to talk to people in every part of NSW every day is quite unique, and we can mobilise huge numbers of people.”
Wilkie’s mandatory pre-commitment scheme, Ball says, would frighten casual gamblers from having a punt, send clubs bust and result in the loss of thousands of jobs. He won’t rest until it’s off the political agenda.
Ball is calmer and more considered than you’d expect for someone who’s spearheading such a ferocious public campaign.
“He’s reasoned, thoughtful, doesn’t threaten and is not self-important,” says former NSW Premier Morris Iemma.
“I don’t yell at people,” says Ball, who was named one of our most powerful people in Sydney last month. “I learnt long ago that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Although he looks like a retired rugby league second rower, he’s got an economics degree from ANU and is a graduate of the famous Washington DC school for lobbyists, the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute.
He certainly got his money’s worth, because the clubs’ campaign against pokie reform has been an all-singing, all-dancing sight to behold.
Ball & co. have organised fiery protest rallies, commissioned polling showing pokie reform would cost over 30 MPs their seats at an election and run prime-time TV ads designed by Labor’s favourite ad man, John Singleton. It’s all been cleverly targeted at marginal Labor electorates and the seats held by the balance-of-power independents.
Their key slogan — “It won’t work and it will hurt” — was even parroted by Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould during the rugby league semi-finals.
As a result of all this, support for pokies reform in NSW, where many key marginal seats are located, dropped from 66% in April to 52% in October, according to a Nielsen poll.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott has predicted the Coalition will scrap mandatory pre-commitment if elected because he believes the policy, which was recommended by the Productivity Commission, would hurt community clubs and do nothing for addicts. But not everything has gone the clubs’ way.
In September, AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou slammed Ball as a “hillbilly” who should “just shut up” for suggesting the AFL was “uniting with the National Rugby League” to fight pokie reform.
Last month, a leaked industry estimate showed the drop in gaming revenues from the pre-commitment scheme would be 10-20%, half the figures publicly cited by Clubs Australia.
The Greens and key independent Tony Windsor has expressed support for a $1 bet limit for poker machines — a policy Ball says would be as equally disastrous for the clubs as pre-commitment.