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Clubs stake new claims on pokies trials

CLUBS in the ACT that have agreed to a trial of mandatory precommitment on poker machines  are now calling for the legislation to ensure the trial assesses the impact on the industry and contains a cost-benefit analysis, not just assessment of  how well the scheme reduces problem gambling.

In January, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, emboldened by Liberal turncoat Peter Slipper’s move to the Speaker’s chair, reneged on her deal with Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie for a national scheme to force punters to preset how much they were willing to lose on poker machines

The government is now developing a trial of the technology in the ACT. It is also pushing for all pokies to have the technology, but only on a voluntary basis, by 2016, and wants the trial  reviewed by the Productivity Commission.

Mr Wilkie has given conditional backing to the trial, with a key concern being that it is run by a ‘‘competent independent’’ person or group.

Industry backs the trial, but last week Clubs ACT chief executive Jeff House wrote to Families Minister Jenny Macklin’s department saying the group must agree to its terms and methodology.

Mr House’s letter, seen by The Age, suggests several amendments to draft legislation, including that the terms of reference for a Productivity Commission review of the trial must also be agreed on between the Commonwealth and Clubs ACT.
Mr House says the review must examine cost-effectiveness, not just the schem’s capacity to help problem gamblers.

‘‘The Productivity Commission must also review and assess the impact of mandatory pre-commitment on gaming venues and the broader gaming machine industry, including impacts on the contribution the industry makes to the community,’’ one suggestion says.

Clubs ACT has agreed with the government that the trial will last 12 months and be conducted and assessed independently of government and industry.

Anti-pokies senator Nick Xenophon said its latest call was further evidence the industry was trying to ‘‘sabotage’’ the trial, and urged Mr Wilkie to block the legislation. ‘‘How about they do a cost-benefit analysis on the lives  [pokies] have destroyed,’’ Senator Xenophon said.

Mr Wilkie has so far withheld support for the bill over worries that the Prime Minister’s comment in January— that mandatory precommitment could be turned on ‘‘at the flick of a switch’’ — was not reflected in the legislation.

‘‘I am still considering my position regarding the government’s watered-down poker machine reform,’’ he  said.    ‘‘Obviously I’ll be most interested to see if the government seeks to accommodate more of the pokies industry’s desires.’’

A spokeswoman for Ms Macklin said the government  welcomed Clubs ACT’s ‘‘willingness to work with us’’ to achieve a robust trial.

Mr House said he had made it clear  that ‘‘under no circumstances’’ would he  support any legislation — to the point of the trial not proceeding — that would represent a de facto decision to implement mandatory pre-commitment.

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