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  • Rikki Lambert

Pokies debate blows up and gets personal in western NSW

Is this Helen's face the one that scorches a thousand pokies?

A NSW independent whose vote could determine who forms government after 25 March has come under attack at a local club for her stance on poker machine reform.

Elected on a Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party platform at the 2019 election, the now independent has been a straight shooter on pokie harm and her stance on reforms proposed by the Perrottet Coalition government, telling Flow on Tuesday:

"I think they think I'm a female independent MP and I'm an easy target. That's the only thing I can put it down to. I can name a lot of MPs that are sorting the reforms just like me, yet they are singling me out. I am the only female independent in NSW parliament and I think that they think that I'm going to be weak and cave in to all of this intimidation and bullying. I am not. And we need to talk about the advertising of gambling as well which is totally out of control."

In a hung parliament, Dalton's vote could also determine the fate of proposed pokie reforms.

On Wednesday data released to the Wesley Mission showed daily pokie losses were $23.7 million in the September quarter, up 11 per cent on previous data. Wesley Mission CEO Reverend Stu Cameron said:

""People experiencing financial hardship can be drawn into gambling, hoping for a win to afford groceries and pay the rent.
"However, any hope is an illusion, and the predatory pokies industry is positioned in every town and suburb to take advantage of people who may be vulnerable."

The Perrottet government is proposing a cashless gaming card rollout to control the spending of problem gamblers. As with greyhound racing, council amalgamations and koala habitats before, the issue appears to have created a schism in the Liberal-National coalition. Last year at NSW Crime Commission report found billions of dollars in cash was being laundered through the state's poker machines every year.

Deputy premier and Nationals leader Paul Toole said last Thursday:

"I've made it very clear that the road to get there needs to be a sensible one because we all know that a large venue in the city is very different to a small venue in the bush."

Premier Perrottet has ruled out a regional exemption or delay on rolling out the reforms whilst former federal Nationals leader and NSW party elder John Anderson told Fairfax media:

"This idea that this [poker machine gambling] is some sort of bonanza for regional development, I simply don’t buy it. It isn’t worth the social cost. I don’t believe the economic argument."

National Party candidate for Helen Dalton's seat of Murray, Peta Betts, told Flow on Tuesday:

"I think the Nationals are doing what the Nationals do well, and that's having that conversation with the people themselves. That includes the clubs and working out what will be the best way forward, how we can make this work. Let's be honest, what works in the city doesn't always work out the regional, rural areas.
"It's bringing all those people together and having a conversation and saying 'what's involved here? what's at stake here? how can we work together to make this work."

Ms Betts declined to comment on the apparent difference in position between the Nationals and Liberals on their approach to poker machine regulation.

The state Labor opposition have declared they will introduce a 12 month trial of cashless gaming involving around 500 machines, remove signs outside venues and implement new self-exclusion registers. Labor not only pledged to ban donations from clubs but vowed it would not receive any themselves from hereon in during the campaign.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns has indicated he doesn't support an immediate introduction of cashless gaming as he wants evidence the cards will be effective.

Treasurer Matt Kean described the Opposition's policy last Tuesday as one 'written by the gaming industry for the gaming industry', adding:

"The gaming industry will be popping champagne corks after reading Chris Minns' policy."

Mr Minns said the government had not released their own poker machine policy, such as daily spend limits on pokies or the detail on the cashless gaming trial.

An independent candidate and Clubs NSW whistleblower Troy Stolz running to unseat Mr Minns in his home seat said:

"Minns' proposal is akin to sprinkling a handful of salt into the Pacific Ocean."

Clubs NSW were approached for comment but did not respond.

Hear the full interview with Helen Dalton MP discussing carp infestation, poker machines and more on the Flow podcast player below:


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