Nick Xenophon Announces South Australian Poker Machine Reduction Plan
SA Best’s Nick Xenophon is being criticized for changing his stance on gambling policy, which would reduce the number of poker machines in South Australia by 4,000. SA Best’s gambling reform package was described by Labour’s Steven Marshall as “both a deal-maker and a deal-breaker”.
South Australia faces an election in March 2018. There is a chance that SA Best could hold the balance of power. As a minority party, one of the major parties might need SA Best to form a government.
If so, then SA Best’s leader, Nick Xenophon, would be in a position to make demands. Given his long advocacy of rolling back the gambling economy in South Australia, Xenophon perhaps has a chance to write policy on his pet issue.
Nick Xenophons’s Poker Machine Reductions
With that in mind, Nick Xenophon unveiled his plan on Monday to widespread criticism, though it reduces the number of poker machines in South Australia by nearly one-third. The package also would reduce maximum bets on the club pokies to $1 per spin. The proposal would see a buy-back scheme for the pokies, though the details of that plan remain vague.
Xenophon described his proposal as in terms of practical politics. He noted, “What we’ve said is that there’s flexibility within the way that you achieve it, but what we’re seeking to achieve is, I think, reasonable.”
Xenophon: Sensible and Practical Reforms
The longtime poker machine critic called his plan “sensible and practical”, but many of his followers do not see it that way. Nick Xenophon entered politics 20 years ago with the stated goal of ridding South Australia of all its poker machines.
The plan unveiled on Monday would reduce the number of poker machines in clubs and pubs from 12,100 to 8,100. That is not enough for some in SA Best. For politicians in the majority party, it is far too many pokies to sacrifice. Those politicians see the reduction not for the good it might do pokies players, but for the harm it might do local businesses.
Labour Party’s Plan
For instance, opposition leader Steven Marshall said he would not form a government with SA Best. Marshall said the Labour Party wants no changes to the number of poker machines in South Australia.
Nick Xenophon is not so sure. In defending his plan, Xenophon added, “I suggest to you that if SA Best is in a position of power to hold the next government to account, then both Labor and the Liberals will become born again gambling reformers in a very short amount of time.”
Steven Marshall Mocks Nick Xenophon
Steven Marshall mocked the plan, while taking a shot at Nick Xenophon personally. Marshall said, “This is the most astonishing backflip, I think, in electoral history in South Australia. He was a ‘no-pokies MP’ now he is an ‘8,000-pokies MP’…a guy that has sold out on his single-principle policy position.”
Marshall might be concerned that SA Best has modified its position in a way that would make compromise with the Coalition possible. For an MP who is against any reduction, having a fellow leader walk back a “no-pokies” pledge would seem to be good news. Instead, the Labour Party leader points out the supposed hypocrisy of Nick Xenophon’s deal.
Xenophon’s plan appears strategical and long term. For instance, the SA Best leader’s proposal would ban political donations by the gaming industry to South Australian candidates. In the long run, such a plan would cripple the poker machine industry in the state.
Ian Horne Criticizes Pokies Plan
That is why Ian Horne, the Australian Hotels Association’s South Australian branch leader, called the Xenophon plan a “deliberate and planned” destruction of the state’s club and hotel industry.
Horne added, “This plan will decimate hotels across South Australia, wiping out many of the 26,000 jobs it directly creates. It would result in many pubs being completely shut.”
SB Best’s Electoral Chances
2018 appears to be SA Best’s high point for electoral contention. The party is fielding candidates in 35 of 47 districts. SA Best candidates are polling as high as one-third of the electorate in some of those districts, holding out the hope SA Best could hold the most seats — or an outright majority — if the election tally falls SA Best’s way.
If that were to happen, Nick Xenophon could find himself as South Australia’s premier. Xenophon played down the possiblity, saying only that becoming the premier is a “arithmetical impossibility” and his party is simply “fighting very hard just to win the balance of power.”