MP seeks national monitoring of gambling - Tuesday 8th of December 2009

The rivers of gambling tax revenue flowing to state governments beg for an independent national body to monitor gaming laws, Senator Nick Xenophon says.

The outspoken pokies opponent also wants the effectiveness of problem gambler programs measured.

He says the programs are woefully funded when compared to the billions collected from poker machines.

Senator Xenophon spoke on Tuesday in Sydney at a public hearing held by the Productivity Commission into its ongoing gambling inquiry.

A draft commission report recommends improving policies and regulations applying to gaming machines and online wagering and gambling.

Senator Xenophon did not advocate a federal takeover of state and territory-based laws, but said problem gambling was an nationwide epidemic with too many regulatory and prescriptive inconsistencies.

"I just dont think we have a national approach, and I think that there ought to be a national body to look at this and to drive the agenda in a constructive way," Senator Xenophon told the hearing via telephone from Canberra.

What was needed, he said, was "an approach where a national body can actually independently assess the effectiveness of measures both in terms of minimising harm and also ensuring effective enforcement of laws".

Senator Xenophon detailed his recommendations in a written submission to the commission prior to Tuesdays hearing.

"State and territory governments have a vested interest in understating the level of the problem caused by gambling, particularly poker machines, given their reliance on gambling taxes," his submission states.

"This alone is a compelling reason to ensure that data is collected, at a national level using common benchmarks and a rigorous methodological approach."

"In particular, it needs to be established how many people with a gambling problem are currently receiving help, and of those, how many have been helped to break free of their problem."

In his home state of South Australia, Senator Xenophon said, less than one per cent of pokies revenue went to the states Gamblers Rehabilitation Fund, and just over one per cent to a similar fund for NSW.

He also called for a "victims of crime compensation fund" in his submission, saying crimes by problem gamblers directly affected family members and often went unreported.

Among the commissions more controversial recommendations, it wants the maximum poker machine bet reduced from $10 to $1, a $20 maximum on any one machine by a player and a $200 ATM withdrawal limit on cash machines located nearby.

Public hearings will continue in December in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra.

The commission is expected to produce a final report in early 2011 and wants restrictions in place by 2016.

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