Pokies and gambling firms are to be targeted by a concerted legal effort by the newly-formed National Alliance for Gambling Reform. (Image: AAP)

Pokies and gambling firms are to be targeted by a concerted legal effort by the newly-formed National Alliance for Gambling Reform. (Image: AAP)

Pokies have been grabbing all the headlines Down Under this month. But a new threat of legal action is the clearest sign that people are prepared to get serious with Australia’s gambling “epidemic.”

This week, a national gambling alliance was launched in Australia, with spokesmen saying that pokies were “as addictive as cocaine.”

Although specific details were on the thin side, lawyer Jacob Varghese said that a range of actions would be considered, including breaches of Australian Consumer Law.

“There’s no accident that people are getting addicted to machines, they’re designed to make people addicted,” he told the media last week.

“I think the entire industry is involved in an elaborate confidence trick and we’re determined to prove that it’s not lawful.”

National Alliance for Gambling Reform to Tackle Pokies

Long-time anti-pokies campaigners like the Australian Christian Lobby and GetUp are among the estimated 40 organisations which form the National Alliance for Gambling Reform. Their aim is to fight the harm caused by pokies. Australia has an estimated 400,000 problem gamblers.

Predictably, SA independent senator, Nick Xenophon, expressed his delight at the movement, calling the launch “terrific news”, but he also warned that the gambling industry would react strongly.

“If they [pokies manufacturers] try and get legislative protection against this legal action, it will be a tipping point in terms of the public disgust and anger at the damage caused by poker machines.”

Australia now has over 200,000 pokie machines in pubs, clubs and casinos. Almost half of those are in New South Wales, which boasts the biggest pokies per capita ratio outside Nevada.

So far, pokies reform has been soundly swept under the carpet. Most recently, Labor supported a repeal of proposed reforms that would have seen stakes and machines limited in the country.

SA To Look Into Online Gambling

While the National Alliance looks at legal action against manufacturers, Mr. Xenophon’s state of South Australia announced it was to look into its online gambling laws.

SA has 19 licenses awarded to companies, with sports betting online available to residents. However, the state’s IGA (Independent Gambling Authority) has suggested that regulation changes to the South Australia Gambling Code of Practice could be in order to stop excessive credit being given to customers.

“In some cases, account holders are offering credit ranging from $200 to the tens of thousands with no consideration given to the person’s circumstances, their capacity to repay or their well-being,” argued Minister for Business Services and Consumers, Gail Gago, in a statement last week.

The entire online gambling industry is in turmoil in Australia at the moment. After several high-profile cases of offshore betting firms testing the resolve of lawmakers with misleading ad campaigns and borderline legal features on their websites, the then-PM Tony Abbott ordered a complete review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

Although Abbott has been shunted out of office, the review will continue. Time will tell what effect this will have on online sites, but for now the country’s land-based pokies operators look likely not to be fought by the government but by campaign groups like the National Alliance.

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