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Emily D. Swoboda

Victorian Friction

29 February 2008

The Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation has green lit a new service in the territory allowing citizens to use their TV remotes to place bets on horse and greyhound races from the comfort of their living rooms, but the opposition see the service as a direct route to gambling addiction.

Tabcorp in June partnered with interactive TV production company Two Way Ltd. and Foxtel to launch the subscription-based service that will soon be available to Tabcorp account holders and some Foxtel subscribers.

The service was initially set to launch in New South Wales, but was put on hold last month by Minister for Gaming and Racing Graham West because he reportedly wished to review the state's wagering regulations before green-lighting the program.

And although the service has been given the go-ahead in Victoria, regulators and government officials are facing some tough criticism.

Opposition Gaming Minister Michael O'Brien has condemned the government's decision, calling it a "classic example of the government putting revenue ahead of responsibility."

O'Brien said under Premier John Brumby's govern, gambling losses have increased.

Opponents of the service, such as long time anti-gambling advocate Rev. Tim Costello, fear the service will only lead to more problem gambling in the territory, which already claims to be home to about 1 percent of adults with gambling problems, which according to the 2006 census (the last available), would work out to around 49,324 people.

"I have long been worried living rooms will become gambling dens," Costello told The Age. "The clear community sentiment is to regulate access to gambling . . . because of the families that have been torn apart."

The government asserts however that since the service will only be available to subscribers of the Sky Racing Channel and Tabcorp customers, it is simply an extension of the existing phone and Internet betting accounts already held by thousands of Australians.

Furthermore, the service is equipped with optional safeguards for Foxtel subscribers such as PIN access to block children from accessing the service.

Meanwhile, the Victorian government is conducting an inquiry into the lucrative electronic gaming machine industry -- four popular designs in particular, which are each reportedly claiming more than A$220,000 a year from South Australian gamblers.

Problem gambling researcher Charles Livingstone of Monash University on Feb. 18 told a parliamentary panel that electronic gaming machines -- a popular source of revenue in South Australia -- produce high losses and encourage and even worsen gambling problems.

Quoting a 2006 study he conducted on behalf of the Victorian government's Independent Gambling Authority, Livingstone found four particular machines -- Shogun, Shogun 2, Indian Dreaming and Dolphin Treasures -- had the most losses, allowed the highest average bets or multiple bets, and were disproportionately more popular with problem gamblers.

Livingstone said he had a difficult time believing that gaming machine suppliers like Tatts were unaware that a large portion of their revenues came from problem gamblers. He suggested that the machines could be used to identify and possibly help problem gamblers by the use of smartcards, which could lock out players, for instance.

A spokesperson for Gaming Minister Tony Robinson told the panel that the government has invested around $90 million in treatment and support services for problem gamblers, including banning 24-hour gaming venues outside of casinos, regional caps on gaming machines in vulnerable communities, ATM withdrawal limits and a smoking ban.

Victorian Friction is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda