Senator Nick Xenophon has made no secret of his disdain for pokie machines. He’s long campaigned for stricter regulations, lowered max pokie bet limits and an overall reduction in the number of machines supplied by hotels, pubs and clubs. Now, he’s calling for a Senate inquiry to hear from Woolworths and manufacturers as to why they are so opposed to his efforts to reduce harm and gambling addiction in Australia.
According to Fairfax Media, supermarket behemoth Coles is n board with Xenophon’s plan; at least, the part about dropping the max pokie bet from it’s current rate of $10 per spin down to just $1.
Coles, which operates 3,069 pokie machines across its multitude of properties, said the company contacted all five of the manufacturers that supply its machines. Ainsworth Game Technology, Aristocrat Leisure, International Game Technology (IGT), Konami and SG Gaming all refused the request.
MP Andrew Wilkie, another anti-pokie politician who wants to see Australia tighten the reins on its gambling laws, reported that players lose approximately $200 million each year on Coles’ pokie machines.
The supermarket’ biggest rival, Woolworths, operates over 300 hotels through through its joint venture with the Mathieson family, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH). Those hotels give Woolworths control of the largest number of pokies on the country – more than 12,000 of them – and are estimated to generate at least 80% of the company’s total revenue, which topped out at $4.11 billion this year.
Like the pokie machine makers who rejected the idea of enforcing $1 pokie bet limits, Woolworths agreed that such a move was not plausible. The company ignored the recommendation of decreasing max bets by the Productivity Commission in a 2010 report.
Obviously, Woolworths could stand to lose a great deal of profits if Xenophon and other anti-pokies leaders get their way. A spokesman for the group, David Curry, said there was no evidence to prove adjusting the max bet make reduce harm or pokies safer, and that it would be an unfair restriction compared to higher bet limits on other wagering products like lotteries and keno.
“We already have industry-leading, voluntary pre-commitment installed on all our gaming machines in mainland Australia,” Curry defended, pointing out that Woolworths is “the only company to do so. And if you look at the prevalence rates of problem gambling, they’ve more than halved over the past decade,” he said.”
Pokie machine manufacturers are in the same boat, but they’re playing a different card, stating that such software upgrades to all machines would not only be ineffective, but time-consuming and extremely expensive. They estimate that such alterations would cost the industry $3 billion.
Such excuses aren’t good enough for Senator Xenophon, MP Wilkie or Archbishop Timothy Costello. But they are also aware that those pokies makers have every right to reject Coles’ request.
Australian law prohibits anyone except pokie manufacturers from altering the way the machines work. If the industry refuses to do so – as they have – it would take a change in legislation to twist their arm.
With no other real alternative, the anti-pokies campaigners took to name calling on Monday. Xenophon called the industry a “pack of malevolent bastards”, comparing them to the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The Senator is clearly looking to discredit the industry by requesting a special inquiry, and demanding that representatives of Woolworths and pokie machine makers appear to explain their refusal to cooperate.
“On the political front, I’ll be pushing for a Senate inquiry to haul the pokie machine manufacturers and indeed Woolworths to explain to the Senate, to the people of Australia, why they refused to be part of making these machines less addictive,” said Xenophon Monday.
An unlikely – but potently true – response would be simply, ‘Because we don’t have to‘.