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Australia's Problematic Pokies Predicament

From George Webb
July 2016.

The recent Australian election may spell bad news for the gambling industry. Now, anti-gambling MP's could hold power in Australian government which will undoubtedly affect the online casino industry.

Senator Nick Xenophon has spoken passionately about changing gambling laws and has been a known advocate for anti-gambling since his original platform in 1997. The Independent Party member has made it his life's work to gain a reform for pokie law and is pushing for a new limit on the gaming machines in Australia.

Xenophon is not alone in his anti-gambling mission, as independent MP, Andrew Wilkie has backed him. It is thought that Australians lose up to $5 billion a year on pokies. The pair sense that enough is enough and that gambling is becoming a serious problem in Australia. They aim to hit the industry hard, claiming that it is creating "400,000 serious problem gamblers in Australia".

As a result of the estimated losses and potential problem gamblers, laws for a pokies limit have been proposed, a law which currently tops their agenda. The current maximum bet states offer on pokies is generally around $5-10. Though Xenophon and fellow MPs which back the restrictions are pushing for a $1 maximum bet to be enforced.

The potential 90% decrease in stake will undoubtedly hit the gambling industry hard. However, similar laws have already been introduced in the UK with little repercussion. "Fruit machines" serve a limit of 5 per spin, and Las Vegas, the casino capital of the world, which allows up to $125 per spin. Though Vegas has enforced a limit, it still a near 1,500% increase on that of the UK described pokies betting as "an issue that will not go away" highlighting that there is "400,000 people with a severe gambling addiction or well on the way to getting one".

Whilst pokies has been high in the line of fire, sports betting has not gone un-noticed. A ban on TV advertising has also been called for with the main target being sports betting sites being advertised during matches on television. Xenophon and co have been left unsatisfied by the self-regulatory code that was introduced for online bookies recently, as they remain skeptical that any sportsbooks are serious about control.

There has long been talk of much needed reform in Australia's gambling laws. Reformers saw a glimmer of hope last year when Tony Abbott's government ordered a review into online gaming laws. However, the review into the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 fell short as it ultimately failed to address all relevant areas. The review did not address land-based pokies, in turn, many viewed the review as a way of enforcing the position of 'red-brick' casinos.

Whatever Xenophon's desire to restrict gambling, it's always going to be a conflicting decision. States desperate for cash are reliant on the pokies dollars and are keen to increase their occupancy as it remains no secret that Australia's pokies practices attract billions in tax revenue.

And there is no denying the popularity of games amongst the population, albeit mainly in the lower income bracket. December last year saw a 6% increase in gambling overall, with eSports and race wagering the most popular forms of online gambling mainly amongst younger males. When looking at the classic table games, such as roulette, the trend also seems to continue. Recent data from online operator 888casino shows that Australia and the Pacific come in as the second luckiest region, in relation to Europe, and that the optimal age to win is the early senior years between 55-64, a key demographic in Australia's gambling drive.

In addition, pro-gambling groups are firmly against the decision. Leisure giants Clubs NSW, and the Australian gambling industry in general, are set to stop at nothing to oppose the ideals setting up counter campaigns.

The 90% decrease that Xenophon is calling for will certainly have a lasting impact and it will be a resolute decision.


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