Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Stephen Mayne

Hot tip for Dutton: go harder on Labor’s weak spot of gambling reform

Peter Dutton’s modest proposal to further restrict gambling advertising on television during live sporting broadcasts was perhaps the most interesting policy the opposition leader offered in his debut budget reply speech last Thursday, even though it wasn’t strictly a budget item.

However, there is so much more a genuine gambling reformer could do than these baby steps, which only incrementally added to the failed “siren-to-siren” ban imposed by then-communications minister Mitch Fifield in 2017.

Gambling industry television advertising has almost doubled since the 2017 “reforms” and is still running at more than $300 million a year, largely because the likes of Dublin-based Sportsbet are fleecing $2 billion a year from its 1 million Australian customers.

Australians lost a record $25 billion a year to the gambling industry in 2022 and as Crikey has noted previously, it has been Labor governments which have been responsible for most policy decisions which led to us being the world’s biggest per capita gamblers.

That said, the tough-on-crime ex-Queensland cop said and did very little about gambling during his most recent nine years in office, despite the obvious criminal connections with money laundering.

For example, John Howard smashed the Canberra-based adult entertainment industry shortly after taking office in 1996, but when Julia Gillard proposed a mandatory pre-commitment scheme for pokies in 2010 the Tony Abbott-led opposition set out to destroy it. As a result, annual pokies losses have almost doubled to $15 billion and no state or territory government has implemented reforms which delivered materially lower revenues — although there are promising developments in Tasmania.

In terms of sports gambling, it was the March 2008 High Court decision in Betfair v Western Australia that led to the Northern Territory becoming the unfettered flag of convenience for foreign bookmakers, and 15 years later this hasn’t been meaningfully tackled by either side of politics.

Dutton now wants direct action on Indigenous kids in Alice Springs, but his federal Coalition has been missing in action when it comes to curbing the ability of the NT Labor government to continue issuing online gambling licences, the latest being to Rich Lister Matthew Tripp and News Corp for their failing BETR joint venture.

With no less than 30 bookmaking and betting exchange outfits licensed by the low-taxing NT Racing Commission, you’d think Dutton might call for a moratorium on new licences and a federal takeover of the licensing regime. He was all over Westpac in 2019 for its supposed “free pass for paedophiles”, leading the charge for the historic $1.3 billion money-laundering settlement with AUSTRAC.

However, it was the NSW Crime Commission, not AUSTRAC, which last year revealed that money laundering was endemic on pokies across NSW pubs and clubs, a move which sparked then-premier Dominic Perrottet to propose mandatory cashless gaming.

The federal Labor Party is particularly vulnerable on gambling because it remains directly invested in the gambling industry, something which Dutton should exploit.

Anthony Albanese had no qualms about officially launching the Mercure Belconnen in February 2020, a $50 million, four-star hotel which the Canberra Labor Club was able to build off the profits from its four pokies venues in the nation’s capital.

This “not-for-profit” empire includes a recently opened Labor Party pokies venue in the Canberra CBD, which trades as Central Social Club and provides access to addictive poker machines until 4am. Why doesn’t Dutton call for Labor to shut its Canberra pokies venue at midnight — that would directly hurt its finances.

The 2021-22 Canberra Labor Club annual report stated on page 23 that it had $76.7 million in total assets, but the net asset position was only $40.5 million because it still has $28 million in loans from the ANZ Bank that it borrowed to build the 125-bed Mercure Belconnen.

Sure, the Canberra Labor Club is technically owned by the party’s ACT branch, but divestment would require a resolution at a national conference and there just happens to be one of these taking place in Brisbane from August 17 to 19.

As ALP federal president Wayne Swan pitched in a cash for access mass email on Monday offering “general observer” tickets for $500:

National conference is Labor’s highest decision-making forum and Australia’s largest political gathering. National conference has always played an important role in defining the future direction of our party and our nation. This conference is our first face-to-face gathering in five years, the first national conference in Queensland since the 1970s, and importantly the first national conference held whilst Labor is in power federally since 2011.

Indeed it is, so why doesn’t Dutton call for Albanese to use his authority and put up a pokies divestment motion to conference? The Australian Local Government Association annual conference in Canberra next month will debate this City of Manningham motion proposing all sorts of gambling restrictions.

The other logical national conference gambling reform would be to ban Labor from accepting gambling industry donations, mirroring the position it adopted with tobacco in 2004. It took the Liberals until 2013 to match this position (the Nats still take tobacco cash), so why doesn’t Dutton get ahead of the curve and call for a bipartisan position, voluntarily banning all gambling industry political donations?

As for television advertising, the biggest obstacle is the two remaining Australian media oligarchs — Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes — who together enjoy more than $200 million a year of gambling advertising revenue across their respective media empires.

The AFL has carved out the political risk of an advertising ban in its latest broadcast deals with Seven (Stokes) and Foxtel (Murdoch), so if the federal Parliament moves to impose an advertising ban, the loss of revenue will fall squarely on the media companies.

Stokes and Murdoch can afford to take the hit, so rather than waiting for more pressure from the teals and the Greens, Dutton and Albanese should just get with the program and deliver a bipartisan tobacco-style ban on all gambling advertising.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.