$1 bets – the lies that sunk the dream

Picture this.

The government, belatedly realising that the poker machine industry has gone too far in its quest to maximise profits, decides to act. They announce that as a measure to combat problem gambling, the maximum bet on poker machines will be slashed. An aggressive timeframe is put in place; industry has two months to ensure all new machines comply, and within two years all poker machines, new and old, must meet the new standard.

Rather than fighting this new development, the poker machine industry shrugs and says “ok”. Venues, operators and manufacturers work with the government to make sure they measure up. And nineteen months later, the feat is accomplished.

Sound like a pipe dream?

It’s not.

This has already happened.

In May 2008, Victoria’s Brumby Government announced that the maximum bet for all poker machines in Victoria (outside of the casino) would be cut from $10 to $5. Industry was given until July 1st 2008 to make sure that all new machines complied. And the deadline for compliance across the board, for old machines and new, was January 1st 2010… just 20 months away.

The Vic Govt gazette (2008) cutting bet limits

No one howled. No one organised rallies, or marched on Spring Street, or put up billboards slamming the move. No one was denounced as being “un-Australian.”

They just went ahead and did it.

And by January 1st 2010, these changes were indeed in place. The maximum bet on all poker machines in Victoria was dropped from $10 to $5 in under two years, without a murmur from the industry.

All of which makes a mockery of the claims by both the industry and the Federal government that dropping poker machine bet limits nationally to $1 would take years and cost billions of dollars.

All modified poker machines would need to be re-certified? Sure, that happened in 2008. Big deal.

There’s not enough time to put the changes in place? Hey, Victoria made sure that over 27,000 poker machines were brought into line in under two years.

The modifications will cost billions of dollars? That’s not what the industry said in 2008.

The changes are too complex, the existing machines are too old, it’s just too hard? Please. It’s a software change, with some cosmetic modifications to the cabinets to reflect the new betting limits. I’ve got 20 years in the IT industry informing this opinion.

No. The only difference between what the Victorian government did in 2008, and what the Federal government refuses to do now, is that the industry knows a maximum bet of $1 would hit their bottom line.

Hence the outrage, the bloated claims of cost and time and complexity. It’s all been a lie, served up by the industry (led by Clubs NSW), encouraged by the Opposition (which backed the industry), and swallowed by the Government which took it as gospel.

The states have now taken their lead from Canberra; just today, the Labor and Liberal parties in Tasmania voted against a proposal for $1 bets in that state. This, the easiest of reforms, will not be considered any time soon.

It’s now been over two and a half years since the federal election of 2010; going by the Victorian experience, $1 bets could have already been a national reality. That they’re not even on the agenda is, instead, a national disgrace.

It really is that simple.


1 Response

  1. Cathy says:

    I am still waiting for a clear explanation of what this specific (and to me mysterious) issue is (referred to below (1) particularly the first paragraph) when converting machines to $1 bet limits which is put forward as a good part of the reason why it would be costly, difficult etc to implement

    (though seemingly not considered relevant there is a separate acknowledgement by them elsewhere of there being less than 1 per cent of current machines existing in the Australian market place capable of allowing $1 bet games)

    They also admit the figures were based on the original Wilkie/Gillard agreement time frame for mandatory pre commitment (also see below (2).

    The following statement (1) and answer (2) are from representatives of FaHCSIA.

    (1) Ms Croke
    and venues. The advice that we in the department have received is that the switch to a $1 bet limit requires a change of software – and $1 bet game software does not exist at the moment. It is new. That is different to $5 bet limits and $10 bet limits. So we are talking about a new piece of software that does not exist currently.

    The advice that we had was that it would cost anywhere from around $2,000 up to $9,000 for the software change. That is on a per machine basis, but that does not include some of the more cosmetic changes to electronic gaming machines. So it might be around the cost of new signage, display and messages. That button now has to have $1 displayed on it for people to recognise that it is a $1 bet.

    The advice that we got was a range of figures. We used a midpoint for the basis of the costing for the $1 bet.

    The information that I understand is in the document that you got is consistent with that range. That is about a software change and then also adding in that where machines are not capable of facilitating that new software there would have to be some hardware changes. Also, if the machines are completely incapable of supporting the software there will need to be whole new machines. That is the advice you have received. That is the same basis on which we did the costing.

    Can you take on notice whether the department was ever given any directive by the minister to cost the policy according to the criteria you have described? [Description page 42 Di Natale]
    And who made the determination that it should be costed in the way that it was

    The Minister did not provide a directive to the Department on how to cost the implementation of $1 bet limits. Low intensity machines were investigated by the Department, in conjunction with the receipt of independent technical advice. The costing for $1 bet limits was done using the same commencement date as mandatory pre-commitment according to the timelines in the former agreement between the Prime Minister and the Member for Denison.

    I guess nothing we say will change the priorities of those who only see the $$$$ signs. I am sure that if the pokies industry in QLD get their way they will have (among other things) the $10 bet limit (up from $5) activated in no time and I ‘bet’ there won’t be any complaints about costs etc.

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