Published in: Latest Intelligence
Australian reforms: No politics!
by Ross Ferrar
A lot of confusion was cleared up in the last month or so of 2012, when the Federal Parliament finally passed poker machine legislation after more than two years of political and media debate.
The legislation includes requirements which will take effect on a range of dates from December 2018 to December 2022, about “pre-commitment” and dynamic warnings. With a lead time of between 6 and 10 years, adequate time is available to comply with these requirements effectively and efficiently.
The lead time provides the opportunity for regulators and suppliers to align Federal and State requirements, so that any changes to new games and machines can be sensibly developed and coordinated across all States at the lowest possible cost and least possible distraction.
All in all, that’s a pretty good outcome. What some politicians had been trying to push through would have been disastrous. But that’s what prohibitionists do.
A Federal election is due by the end of November 2013. Everybody has an opinion whether there’ll be a change of government, but one thing is clear – it’s extremely unlikely that the poker machine legislation passed in November 2012 will change.
This time last year I said that “what we need to do… is get on with real dialogue conducted sensibly.” Most times, that has not happened.
Even in the formal setting of a public hearing at Parliament House in Canberra, the discussion has sometimes descended to the ridiculous. As one said to me, just remember that politicians are professional politickers – their job is to grab issues and make the most mileage possible before the media loses interest!
Fortunately there is genuine, informed discussion under way at the State level and 2013 brings optimism that the complexity of standards and requirements of poker machines and games is at least being considered. It’s a good time to consider these, because the new Federal requirements have the potential to make the process of getting approval for the supply of poker machines and games very complex indeed.
The real ‘elephant in the room’ is online gambling, particularly on mobile devices including smartphones and tablets. There’s two important aspects of online gambling.
Firstly, everybody’s doing it. Whether betting on sport or lotteries, it’s convenient to place a bet using the gear you always carry around. But like everything, online gambling is changing with social network games including forms of gambling. Social network games are amongst the most popular games played in the world, with several products with tens of millions of players. This alone will change the worldwide gambling landscape in the very near future.
Secondly, online gambling doesn’t really recognise boundaries. You can pick up a smartphone now and be playing casino-style games for real money within a minute. Those games won’t be physically in Australia, but may well be regulated in some other country where online gambling is legal and licensed. The interesting thing about online casino games is that players tend not to care about where they’re located – they just enjoy the activity and the convenience – and never mind the prohibitionists.
What’s very funny about online gambling is that some Australian politicians seem to think they can control it. Their advisers ought to learn that the Internet doesn’t care about politics! What’s not very funny about online gambling is that if you’re playing a game which is not physically in Australia, any money you spend goes straight out of the Australian economy along with jobs.
Politicians’ fixation on poker machines is misplaced when they’re only located in secure hospitality venues. In time, they’ll realise that poker machines are not evil, they don’t get happy, they don’t get sad – they just run software. And they’ll probably look back on the current long-term reduction in problem gambling, with some nostalgia.
People gamble because they like to enjoy a bit of fun. Just try to take that away any time now or in the future.
Ross Ferrar is the Chief Executive Officer of Gaming Technologies Association, the peak representative body for Australian gaming machine technology suppliers. He is also a member of the Asia Gambling Brief Advisory Board.