Won't work, may indeed hurt

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The ongoing debate about poker machines and proposed mandatory pre-commitment technology has taken so many twists and turns that I’ve forgotten more than I know about the whole thing.


One thing I do know is that this is one of the hottest political footballs of the Gillard Government’s tenure.


It rates alongside the carbon tax as one of the policies that could very well bring down Ms Gillard and her government, which continues to rate poorly in the polls.


In short, the Federal Government wants to implement a mandatory pre-commitment scheme for poker machines.


Pre-commitment refers to a system enabling a gambler to set limits on how much they will spend or how long they will play – before they start gambling.


I took that line from a government document and I’m already scratching my head.


It’s kind of like asking an alcoholic how much he wants to drink this week, isn’t it?


I mean presuming that the pre-commitment concept is aimed at tackling one who has an addiction to poker machines, it seems somewhat confusing that we’re going to ask them how much they want to spend.


According to Clubs Australia, mandatory pre-commitment means that every poker machine player must show identification and register to obtain a card before they can play.


Yes, that means you on a night out, when you decide to put a lazy $20 in the pokies.


On the card, players must decide what limit they wish to spend. They can set any limit, including no limit.


Now Clubs Australia, which obviously has a one-sided view given there will be a revenue hit to its clubs, says that those with a poker machine problem would be the first to sign up to these cards, ensuring they could continue playing.


Clubs Australia is probably right.


And all the while, the clubs and pubs will continue to let them slip $50 note after $50 note into the machines.


You see, the clubs and pubs aren’t innocent angels in all of this, either.


Many offer free soft drinks and lollies to keep people hitting away at the buttons.


Others employ different methods.


But one has to remember that a club and its employees have no idea how much someone has in their wallet, or their bank account, and hence picking someone with a problem is no easy task.


So, it stands to reason that something needs to be done to curb what is obviously a problem in Australia.


But is mandatory pre-commitment the answer?


In my opinion, no.


It simply makes no sense that you’re going to control one sector of the gambling industry in this way, yet you’ll allow a punter to walk up to a roulette table at The Star Casino and bet whatever they like.


And then there’s the whole world of internet poker machines.


I never thought they actually existed – I presumed they were some kind of scam that pops up when you’re browsing around – but apparently it’s a growing industry and one that poker machine addicts would surely be aware of.


I admit I haven’t read every aspect of the Productivity Commission’s report, nor I have I read every piece of literature about the issue, but on the surface, the whole thing just doesn’t make sense.


If you ask me, you’re only moving the wider problem a little to the left.


You’re not tackling the core issue. You’re not fixing the problem, you’re managing it.


That is surely not a responsible solution in the long term.


And of course, there’s the side issues to this whole debate.


Bob Katter came out this week and suggested that problem gamblers should be banned from venues under the poker machine reforms.


The man in the big hat says people should be able to ban their spouses, or employees, from playing the pokies.


Now it’s a stupid idea, but is it much dumber than the whole pre-commitment plan itself?


Perhaps old Bob has a point, hidden under the hat somewhere.


And what about Ray Warren, Phil Gould and Channel Nine landing themselves in hot water over comments that aired during the coverage of the NRL Finals?


Not a paid ad, says Nine.


Our honest views, says Warren and Gould.


A bit much is being made of all of this. If Warren and Gould were happy to say what they said, then they have every right to say it.


Perhaps it wasn’t the best time and place, but to suggest the pair has done anything seriously wrong is in itself lunacy.


And of course, there’s jobs on the line in all of this as well.


The jobs of many club employees, the numbers of which are really unknown and wouldn’t be known until the policy is passed and the technology implemented.


And the job of Lindsay MP, David Bradbury, too.


Mr Bradbury’s job is to represent the views of his community.


He may find out how many people in his community really support policies like this one when we next go to the polls.

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