The Faults with Gillard’s Pokie Mandatory Pre-Commitment Plan

Mitchell Collier discusses how mandatory pre-commitment will not only fail to stop problem gambling, but will have community-wide negative effects.

The new poker machine legislation proposed by the Gillard government will have unintended consequences that hurt more people than it helps. Mandatory pre-commitment, whereby a player selects a maximum amount of money to gamble, will not reduce problem gambling in the slightest.

I have no doubt that Mr. Wilkie and the Gillard Government have good intentions with this policy, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If implemented, this tax will see many Australian’s lose their jobs, funding for junior sport and other community projects will be slashed and it will result in governments ultimately increasing taxes. Oh, and it won’t stop problem gambling.

Let me be clear. Problem gambling certainly exists within our community and causes enormous amounts of pain for those affected and their loved ones. I have seen several people in my short life (I’m in my early 20’s) suffer at the hands of problem gambling, in particular poker machines. I’m offended when I hear people like the Minister responsible Jenny Macklin claim that people like me don’t care about the plight of problem gamblers. How dare anyone have the temerity to oppose a policy that won’t work?

If mandatory pre-commitment solved the issue of problem gambling then I’d be the first to support it. The reality is that if people want to gamble they will find a way. Should we ask all Australian’s to pre-commit to a maximum number of alcoholic beverages they consume before entering a pub? No, that would be stupid because it would be punishing the vast amount of Australians who enjoy a drink (but aren’t alcoholics), it would see pub’s lose revenue and those who are alcoholics could easily go and drink somewhere else. Likewise, problem gamblers can easily just go home and gamble on the internet.

The proposed legislation also makes many ridiculous generalisations. It assumes that everyone who plays a poker machine is a problem gambler. Clubs Australia estimates that only 60,000 of the 5 million Australians who play pokies annually are problem gamblers. Moreover, it assumes that any Australian who has the audacity to withdraw money from an ATM on a licensed premise is a problem gambler. What pathetic assumptions.

Having to license yourself to play poker machines will be extremely effective in deterring casual gamblers (such as myself) who play the pokies merely as a form of social entertainment. As the statistics show, close to 90% of poker machine players indulge in the pokies for this very reason. The majority of gamblers who spend $10 to $20 will just simply not bother playing, while those addicted will play regardless. So pubs will lose revenue from casual gamblers and not problem gamblers.

Accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted a study indicating that 89% of Australian hotels will be forced to cut staff if mandatory pre-commitment is introduced. Furthermore, a KPMG study indicates that 11,500 jobs will be lost in NSW alone. With sobering statistics like that, the government and all the other do-gooders out there better be damn sure that this policy works. Otherwise, all the club employees who lose their jobs and join the queues at Centrelink have done so for nothing.

But perhaps the most disgraceful myth being circulated in this debate is that pubs and clubs are these evil, greedy capitalists profiting off human misery. Clubs spend over $160 million a year on live entertainment and provide business for local butchers, security guards, cleaners and caterers. They have shown more support to small business than this Gillard Labor government ever will.

In addition, clubs and pubs are major sponsors of junior sport, they provide cheap meals and services to seniors, and donate significantly to charities. What an unbelievably evil and heartless industry this is.

Interestingly, it will also be state and federal governments, who have relied heavily on gambling taxes, who see a drop in revenue. The federal government itself has estimated that expenditure on poker machines will fall by about 30%. That also means that that the government will take a 30% hit in its tax revenue. Who will pay for this? The Australian people with more taxes I suppose.

This reform will have severe consequences for the economy stretching well beyond simply that of the club industry. This policy once again demonstrates the unintended consequences government can have when it interferes in the economy. Those who support this reform need to stop looking at the intentions and instead the consequences. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Mitchel Collier is a 2nd year Journalism/Arts student at the University of Queensland. He is the assistant editor of the student union magazine Semper Floreat, and Publications officer for the UQ Liberal Club.

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