Nick Xenophon pokies reform

Nick Xenophon (centre), with Tim Costello and Andrew Wilkie are using their positions of power post-election to push for big gambling reforms. (Image: Paul Jeffers)

Nick Xenophon, the senator who has made pokie law reform his life’s mission, is pushing for a new limit on the gaming machines in Australia.

South Australia’s independent senator, whose Nick Xenophon Team has already snapped up seats in the Federal Election, also wants a ban on gambling adverts.

The move comes with the backing of another independent MP, Andrew Wilkie. Wilkie secured his seat in Tasmania this month and, like Xenophon, could wield influence as the Coalition lurches towards making a minority government.

Sensing blood, the pair are gunning for an industry they say is creating “400,000” serious problem gamblers in Australia.

$1 Pokies Limits Recommended

At the top of the MPs agenda is a restriction of pokie machines betting. Currently, states offer maximum bets on pokies of around $5-10. However, Xenophon and co. are pushing for the Productivty Commission’s recommended $1 maximum bet to be seriously enforced.

This compares to the UK, where “fruit machines” have an upper limit of £5 ($8) per spin, and Las Vegas, which allows up to $125 per spin.

Outlining their plans at a press conference this week, Nick Xenophon said that, “this [pokies betting] is an issue that will not go away where there are 400,000 people with a severe gambling addiction or well on the way to getting one.

“We are here to say that we will be planning a whole series of measures, both in the parliament and outside the parliament to deal with the issue of gambling reform.”

Sportsbetting Ads Also In Firing Line

PM Malcolm Turnbull will return to parliament with the tiniest of majorities. It means independents like Wilkie and Xenophon could hold a lot more sway in the Senate over the next few years.

Setting out their agenda for a reform of gambling in the country, Wilkie and Xenophon, accompanied by Tim Costello of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said that TV advertising should also be curtailed. They are seeking a ban on sportsbetting sites being advertised during matches on television.

“The community knows it is wrong, but yet the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have refused to act; they are completely and utterly out of step with the expectations of the community,” said Wilkie.

A self-regulatory code was introduced for online bookies recently, but the group has long been skeptical that any sportsbooks are serious about restraint.

IGA Review Fails To Sort Land-Based Pokies

Australia was in line for a shake-up of its gambling laws when the Gillard government was in power. Powerful hotel and clubs lobbyists ensured the lucrative machines weren’t going anywhere fast.

Some hope for reformers came last year when Tony Abbott’s government ordered a review into online gaming laws. His review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) failed to address land-based pokies, however, and many saw the review as a way of simply enforcing the land-based operators’ position.

In particular, cash-strapped states who are busy counting the pokies dollars pouring into state coffers are keen to increase their presence. Australia’s pokies habit brings in billions in tax revenue each year, and it will be a strong PM who will put in place any laws to curtail that.

For now, Labor is sitting on the fence as to their response. It’s unlikely that we will be hearing the end of Wilkie’s and Xenophon’s plans any time soon.

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