Greens deal opens way for delayed national poker machine reform

CONTROVERSIAL watered down national poker machine reforms are set to be implemented after the Greens agreed to back the Gillard government’s scheme, which will also give the green light for a trial of mandatory precommitment in the ACT.

After months of negotiation and several offers from the Greens to compromise if $1 bets were accommodated, the reforms will eventually lead to every poker machine in Australia offering punters the option to preset how much they are willing to lose.

The independent Andrew Wilkie has already ”reluctantly” declared support for the bill and lashed the Greens for standing in the way of unprecedented federal poker machine reform. Poker machine regulation is currently the domain of states.

Other key independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, have previously said they supported the ideas of the bill, without having actually seen it.

The Greens support should allow the bill to pass the lower house and guarantees it will go through the Senate.

The Greens will continue to campaign for a $1 maximum bet limit as the best way to curb problem gambling on poker machines. The gambling lobby is vehemently opposed to $1 bets.

To secure Greens support, funding has been pledged for a national gambling research institute.

In January the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, reneged on her deal with Mr Wilkie for a national scheme that would force all punters to preset how much they were willing to lose before they started gambling.

Facing a multimillion-dollar campaign from the clubs and pokies industry, particularly in marginal NSW and Queensland seats, the government said it did not have the support of the Parliament to pass the reforms.

Instead, the government offered a national voluntary scheme under which machines would allow punters the option of setting a loss limit. Mr Wilkie reluctantly agreed to back that option, but the government was unable to pass the legislation, with the Coalition and Greens against it.

Under the government’s plan all new machines would also have to be ready for mandatory precommitment, and all machines will have to have the technology by 2016.

If a trial was conclusive then a national network of mandatory precommitment could be activated by a future government.

Under the scheme there would be a national regulator and all pokies within a state would be eventually electronically linked.

The government’s bill also will include a $250 ATM withdrawal limit in poker machine venues where state laws do not already apply withdrawal limits.

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