Australia will not see liberalised online gambling (update)

Federal government rejects Productivity Commission recommendations

It appears from statements made by the Australian federal government’s Community Minister, Jenny Macklin, that the federal government will not support any moves to liberalise online gambling laws in the country.

Speaking on SBS television Tuesday after the release of an extensive and much anticipated Productivity Commission report on gambling, which recommended that regulation was preferable to prohibition, the minister unequivocally said the recommendation would not be supported

Minister Jacklin also said the government would look at 'pre commitment' technology to tackle problem gambling at [land] slot machines, or 'pokies'. The phrase ‘pre-commitment’ refers to responsible gambling practices whereby operators allow players to set their own limits prior to gambling, a precaution which is said to contribute to combating problem gambling.

The Productivity Commission’s recommendation on land gambling ‘pokies’ are that the maximum bet on a gaming machine would be cut to A$1 and that a maximum A$20 (down from the current A$10,000) input could be implemented by using new technology.

Macklin said there may be no need for other regulatory measures - there was however 'important work to be done to develop pre-commitment.' "The community wants us to address this issue (of problem gambling)", she said.

Macklin said the federal Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, would try to establish a select committee to act on the recommendations, involving the Australian Securities and Investments Commission councils, three Commonwealth government bodies who regulate financial services Downunder.

"We will discuss these issues with states and territories...there are various rules about caps on machines, so we have to discuss that with them," the minister said.

There appeared to be little indication that federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was softening his position on internet gambling, either.

Conroy is already embroiled in a controversial internet censorship issue, and this week said Australia would examine the possibility of a more effective regime examining the impact of gambling over the internet and mobile phones.

The Productivity Commission estimates there were between 80,000 and 160,000 Australian adults suffering severe problems from gambling. There are additionally 230,000 to 350,000 people at moderate risk, experiencing lower levels of harm, who could advance to problem gambling, which costs the nation A$4.7 billion a year and should be tackled in a similar way to binge drinking, the Commission recommends.

In addition to the wider ramifications of addictive gambling, the report singled out "pokies" or [land-based] electronic poker machines commonly found in hotels, as an area of policy interest.

The Commission estimated that about 600,000 Australians - or 4 percent of the population - play the games at least once a week. About 15 percent of those players, or 100,000 people, are considered "problem gamblers", the report said. They account for about 40 percent of total spending on the machines.

"The risks of problem gambling are low for people who only play lotteries and scratchies, but rise steeply with the frequency of gambling on table games, wagering and, especially, gaming machines," the report concluded.

The report noted that Australians spent over A$19 billion a year on gambling in 2008-09, for an average cost of about A$1500 per gambler, the report said.

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