What a week for the gambling industry!

Tabcorp and Tatts surprised many by rolling the ACCC and its competitors at the Australian Competition Tribunal, which approved their $11 billion merger.

The BBC duly told the world: “Betting is a national obsession in Australia which has the world’s highest gambling loss per head, according to UK consultancy H2 Gambling Capital, with Australians losing an average of US$1,130 a year.”

Makes you proud, right?

The Brits are certainly taking a different view to gambling than Australia with the Football Association last night terminating its commercial deal with Ladbrokes so it can occupy the integrity high ground. Might be one for the gambling-dependent AFL and NRL to consider following.

But don’t expect that Australia’s $23 billion in national gambling losses will start falling any time soon.

New South Wales is Australia’s most pokies-saturated state and the gambling industry is so normalised that no one even reported this projected surge in tax revenue from pokies pubs that the state government revealed in Tuesday’s budget:

  • 2015-16: $680m
  • 2016-17: $731m
  • 2017-18: $766m
  • 2018-19: $806m
  • 2019-20: $848m
  • 2020-21: $893m

NSW might be a pokies-captured write-off, but there is some push-back south of the Murray with Woolworths, Australia’s largest pokies pusher, currently embroiled in the biggest VCAT pokies contest we’ve seen to date. After two more full days of evidence this week, we’re looking at a nine-day epic after Woolies and its billionaire joint-venture partner Bruce Mathieson challenged the refusal of both the City of Whittlesea and the state regulator to approve 40 pokies in The Commercial Hotel in South Morang. The local Murdoch paper has just published this update on proceedings.

There was even a pokies element to the biggest sporting pay deal in Australian history this week, when Tim Costello came out swinging against a 20% pay rise for AFL players given it is partly being funded by the $120 million which 10 AFL clubs are currently soaking out of visitors to their pokies venues.

That, of course, is nothing compared with the NRL which former Victorian gaming minister Tony Robinson recently described as “a franchise of the pokies industry”. It’s hard to disagree with his position when he cites examples such as the Canterbury Bulldogs, which, in 2014, derived $77 million of its $88 million in revenue from its huge pokies empire.

Tim Costello reckons that various AFL presidents have told him they’d love to follow the lead of North Melbourne and ditch the pokies, but they need the revenue to keep up.

However, the AFL clubs could at least pretend to be serious about gambling harm as a public health issue.  You can see how flippantly Collingwood treats the issue by this pathetic three-line submission to the current state government review into what should happen to pokies regulation in Victoria when the current entitlements lapse in 2022.

The gambling debate is also intensifying globally as regulators grapple with the spread of online gambling, which has now reach $40 billion a year in revenue.

The industry’s credibility will no doubt take a hit after Reuters yesterday exposed some of their practitioners for laundering their revenues through fake websites purporting to be online retailers.

The Australian regulatory regime for online gambling has been the subject of a lot of work between the states and Canberra, although a chance to push through this quite wide-ranging legislation was delayed by yesterday’s education marathon and will now return to the Senate during the Spring session.

Finally in today’s gambling wrap, we’re commencing a list of current elected representatives with known associations with or sympathies to the all-powerful gambling industry. Here are seven names to kick things off.

Current elected representatives with known gambling industry associations or sympathies

Kevin Andrews: led the charge against the Gillard-Wilkie reforms in 2011 and subsequently received $30,000 in donations from Clubs NSW, even though he’s a Victorian MP. Has held numerous political functions at Woolworths-owned pokies venues in Menzies.

Cr Ali Cupper: the Mildura councillor in Victoria sits on the board of the Mildura Working Man’s Club, which pockets about $6 million a year from its 47 poker machines.

Cr Robert Doyle AC: pokies-funded pubs have been the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s second-largest source of donations after developers with almost $100,000 contributed by the Australian Hotels Association since 2008. The AHA is on the record wanting more pokies and NSW-style perpetual licences in Victoria. Doyle also declared a $10,000 donation last year from Crown Resorts director Harold Mitchell.

John Darley: the South Australian independent moved an amendment in 2015 opposing a proposal to make it a little bit more difficult for citizens to access cash at pokies venues.

Cr Andrea Metcalf: the only Bendigo councillor this week who didn’t vote for the council to fight a proposal by a group called Bendigo Stadium to install 44 poker machines at The Wellington Hotel.

David Leyonhjelm: resisting current legislation before the Senate to better regulate online gambling. At least he’s consistent with his libertarian views on smoking and guns.

Geoff Provest: the National Party MP for Tweed Heads who spent 14 years as general manager of the Tweed Heads Bowls Club, which has extracted more than $200 million in pokies losses from its community over the past 25 years, leaving it with net assets of $33 million.

*Do you know of any elected representatives who are associated with or known supporters of the gambling industry? Send us an email (and you can stay anonymous).  

*Stephen Mayne is part-time communications adviser at The Alliance for Gambling Reform.

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Peter Fray
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