Moves by Clubs Australian, an organisation representing a number of clubs offering poker machine gambling, to suggest anti-problem gambling measures that include family interventions , have been viewed with some scepticism by politicians and anti-gaming activists.
The Australian newspaper The Age reports that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – himself no lover of poker machine gambling, is under pressure from Family First senator Steve Fielding and independent senator Nick Xenophon to take on the gambling industry.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee is currently examining three private members' bills aimed at reducing poker machine gambling.
Senator Xenophon was dismissive of the CA plan, describing it as a joke and a cruel hoax on problem gamblers. "Asking the gambling industry to look after problem gamblers is a bit like asking the wolf to look after Little Red Riding Hood," he told The Age.
"This is not so much a tall story that Clubs Australia has told us, it's more of a stall story. They want to stall the reforms that are inevitable."
Anti-gambling activist and World Vision chief executive Tim Costello said the proposals were window-dressing. "Here's the industry in utter panic mode saying ‘Quick, stitch something together', but … it's not going to make any difference," he said. Costello was also critical of the concept of family intervention, asserting that it had been tried and failed in South Australia.
Instead, he proposed a regime of slowing machine spin rates or introducing smartcards to limit an individual's losses, saying this had far more chance of being effective.
Clubs Australia chief Peter Newell said it would cost at least $500 million to retrofit Australia's poker machines with smartcard technology. He would be open to the idea if its effectiveness was proven and state governments covered the costs.
A new Productivity Commission inquiry into gambling — which will update a 1999 study that found that 2.1% of Australians were addicted to poker machines — will begin next week and report late next year.