The South Australian State Parliament will be considering a proposed package of gambling reforms this week. The proposals, if approved, would have widespread effects on the state’s punters. The reforms remain a contentious issue, with vocal opponents vowing to halt them in their tracks.
The following proposals have been presented to the state for consideration:
- Pokies would be able to accept banknotes instead of coins.
- Rather than reducing the number of poker machines in the state, a maximum limit would be put in place.
- Restrictions would be lifted, allowing access to gaming machines on Good Friday and Christmas Day.
- Clubs would have fewer restrictions when performing certain functions including, club mergers and the transfer of gambling machines (such as video poker) between locations.
- Venues would be able to indefinitely ban “problem gamblers”. Banned players would face having their winnings seized and donated to the Gamblers Rehabilitation Fund which would also absorb any unclaimed winnings.
Proponents and opponents
The reforms have found their biggest supporter in Attorney-General Vickie Chapman.
Chapman believes that the proposals will greatly assist in curtailing problem gambling in the state. “Through these changes, we’re looking to maintain support for our vibrant hospitality sector while ensuring there’s help available to those who are at risk,” said Chapman.
Chapman pointed out that allowing banknote-accepting machines would align South Australia with similar policies, adopted by other Aussie states as well as New Zealand.
Lawmakers have added their support, favouring the prospect of a reduction in the bureaucracy that clubs have to deal with. Paving an easier way for club mergers would also eventually reduce their total number.
It remains to be seen whether the proposals will survive the wrath of their fiercest detractors. Tim Costello of the Alliance for Gambling Reform called the banknote proposal “appalling.”
He drew comparisons between American gun laws and Aussie gambling laws. “It’s why going from coin-operated to cash is really like going from the ball-and-musket rifle in America – the Second Amendment right to carry a gun – to the semiautomatic and claiming the same right to carry a gun. That technology change makes no sense for liberty in America; here what South Australia is doing is just going backwards.”
Best MLC Frank Pangallo is standing in defiance, alongside Costello. In his opinion, the banknote reform is nothing less than “thoughtless, callous and heartless.”
Pangallo fears that the measure would “absolutely accelerate problem gambling.”
Another SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros has also joined the ranks of those opposed, pointing out that the coin-only policy has been the “single most effective harm minimization measure” currently in place. She accused members of the government of turning a deaf ear to gambling advocates and experts.
More than meets the eye?
Several journalists have speculated that ulterior motives may be at play. The working theory is that some parties may stand to gain from the reforms.
Records from the SA Electoral Commission clearly show that the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) has made a number of political donations. 2019 has seen the group donate more than $6,000 to the Labor Party and over $42,000 to the Liberal Party.
The AHA has lauded the proposals, eagerly pointing out the benefits to hotels, clubs, and legal casinos. The political donations have, however, left a cloud of suspicion hanging over the organization, as increased profits in the industry would offer a direct and immediate financial benefit to them.