Gambling still under the spotlight in the Australian state of New South Wales

Gambling - and pokie machines in particular, remain under the spotlight in the Australian state of New South Wales as Parliament debates curbs on pokie machine gambling following a review of the Gambling Machines Act. Gaming minister Kevin Greene has proposed a ban on credit card cash withdrawals from ATM machines in (land) gaming venues, a reduced cap on the maximum allowed poker machines by 5 000 and streamlining forfeiture procedures in cases of illegality.

Suggesting fines of up to A$ 11 000 in his new Gaming Machines Amendment Bill 2008, Minister Greene said: "We do not want anyone to have the opportunity to bet on credit."

Greene says local government areas within the state will be classified into different bands based on poker machine density and usage and other social data. "Those areas that have very large numbers of poker machines it will find it extremely difficult to increase the number of poker machines in those communities," he said. The bill had been designed in consultation with community groups, problem gambling counsellors and industry operators, he said.

Warnings will also be required to be printed on prize cheques to prevent patrons from gambling their winnings.

Green Party spokesperson Lee Rhiannon criticised the bill, describing it as an "opportunity lost" and claiming that new poker machine laws could mean an actual increase in the numbers of these gambling devices.

But Ms Rhiannon said the bill actually included "some sweeteners" for the gambling industry.

"The government is spinning these new laws as a win for problem gamblers, but they barely change the status quo," she said in a statement. "Gambling venues in LGAs (local government areas) with low numbers of electronic gaming machines can now purchase up to 20 extra machines without a social impact assessment. The new laws are an opportunity lost. They should have set long-term targets to dramatically reduce the number of poker machines in NSW."

Rhiannon went on to assert that the new laws should have banned ATMs from gambling venues altogether rather than just banning credit card cash withdrawals, and should have given local councils a greater role in regulating gambling.

On the federal level, Australian online gambling continues to occupy centrestage (see previous InfoPowa reports) following a Senate Estimates hearing last week in which the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy confirmed a plan to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to ban "unsuitable" Internet content, at this stage specifically online gambling and pornography. Conroy is proposing a compulsory two-tiered filtering system that allows for some personal discretion but which has attracted growing criticism from Net Neutrality advocates.

Critics are claiming that if implemented, Conroy's plans will introduce an unprecedented level of Internet censorship more draconian than that attempted in any true democracy, placing the country on a par with oppressive regimes like China and Iran.

On the other side of the argument, Family First advocates want to see X-rated and Refused Classification Internet content to be the subject of bans. "Family First would consider a mandatory ISP-based filtering system that protects children by blocking illegal content like child pornography, but allows adults to opt out of filtering to access material classified R18+ or less," a spokeswoman said.

Conroy's proposal is to hand the administration of the ISP blocks and blacklistings to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

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