Monday, April 11, 2011

On Gambling

Andrew Wilkie has made his support for the Gillard Government conditional on action on poker machines. The PM is now facing the prospect of an intense media campaign by the club industry, a campaign that Wlikie rightly points out is misleading.

An interesting question is whether such a campaign - though intended to be political - could be argued to be "in trade or commerce" as the real purpose is to protect revenue streams, and hence the misleading conduct would breach clause 18 of the Australian Consumer Law.

Irrespective of that, the real question is how reasonable it is to expect the Federal Government to act. The Productivity Commission report on the matter was commissioned by COAG and the Federal Government's response embraced the idea of pre-commitment saying;

The Productivity Commission found that pre-commitment is the most effective way to target problem gamblers and at-risk gamblers without impacting upon the wider gambling community and that's why the Government has committed to developing a pathway towards implementation for pre-commitment. ...

The first priority for the Australian Government will be to progress a nationally consistent pre-commitment model for electronic gaming machines.

Wilkie's demand is for the Feds to go further.

I haven't read the full PC report. It clearly notes that the biggest problem gambling pool is poker machines, but it is by no means the only one. There are problem gamblers on horse racing. But the prevalence of problem gamblers here might be as much due to their availability as to their inherent design.

It is well known that the reward structure of gambling machines and their venues (frequent low pays, quite irregular, lots of noise to reinforce the win, design of venues to restrict natural light, even hard to find exits) increase the behavioural training to play. But the switch from pass-time to addiction is harder to tell. And ultimately the best solution for any true addiction is abstinence not harm-minimisation.

But do we have to wait till other gambling forms become a problem before we act? Online sports betting is relatively new. In the US sports betting (at least in popular culture) has long been a source of problem gamblers. Now in Australia you cannot watch a sports event without being saturated with adds for gambling, and reports in the commentary of odds - run as if they are information but really they are "advertorial" or "product placement."

The Federal Government is responsible for the regulation of broadcasting. I for one would like to see a complete ban on the advertising of ALL forms of gambling on television and radio, including the images of poker machines in adds for clubs or pubs.

I'm happy to engage in a long banter about the benefits that "clubs" provide to the community, the employment in the sector or that 70% of Australians enjoy a non-problem flutter. Here all I'll say is that even if these are as good as their promoters would argue, they do not make a case against a simple advertising ban.

It would also seem to be a simple suggestion that clubs on-going tax exempt status could be linked to their demonstrating their corporate citizenship by implementing pre-commitment. Unfortunately Governments have already allowed Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs in PC-speak) into commercial hotels.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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