Nick Xenophon is on another anti-gambling crusade … yeah, sorry about that.

On Friday, Crikey reported on the rise of smartphone betting — or at least the apps, raking in cash from iTunes and Android platforms, that allow you to buy bundles of fake money to lay down on a virtual table. As gaming academic Charles Livingstone told us:

“Should a 12-year-old be playing a slot machine, would you allow 12-year-olds into a casino? This is crazy stuff. To all intents and purposes, it is gambling. The fact that you don’t win money is neither here nor there because it costs you money to keep using it.”

On Sunday, Fairfax’s Richard Willingham rewrote the story and got Xenophon to bite: he’ll move a private member’s bill to have the games reclassified when Parliament resumes (the Greens immediately jumped on board). As the media-savvy South Australian independent fumed:

”The government has sat on its hands on this, when it was warned over a year ago. It is laughable to say it’s not gambling because you can’t take your winnings out, even though you can lose buckets of money.”

Successive governments of all colours, state and federal, let gambling barons in this country become too powerful and increasingly socially destructive. Labor was backed into a corner by Andrew Wilkie to curb poker machine use and wriggled out with a half-arsed plan that will do little. Real reform needs real consideration and consultation.

Slow down, Nick. Is a ban on virtual betting really necessary? Or will it only distract an easily distracted government from the really important gambling reform areas?

We’re thrilled Canberra is talking about the genuine concerns of those in our report and elsewhere. But let’s hear a little more about the risks before we rush to legislate.

Peter Fray

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