Surveys reveal 70 per cent of Australians now believe the harm done by gambling outweighs the benefits. That emerging consensus lit the fuse in a bombshell that Communications Minister Richard Alston lobbed onto the conference table at the recent National Ministerial Council on Gambling. He unveiled a proposal to clamp a moratorium on new interactive gambling services retrospective to 19 May this year. For good measure, while the moratorium is running the Government would press for consideration of an outright ban on Internet gambling, Alston said.
As my late friend Peter Buckman was fond of saying, "It's pointless trying to ban something that large numbers of people insist on doing." Most of the "bad, bad things" in which our society indulges have slowly but surely been legalised. Nobody disputes that we'd all prefer it if these activities, including drugs, prostitution and gambling, just went away.
Too many lives are ruined and many people have little or no control of the situation once they find themselves hooked. But just screaming "stop!" or making laws to ban these nefarious activities only opens up a fabulous opportunity for those who care not a jot for the law.
The only long-term solution lies in education and the provision of something meaningful to do with yourself instead. Of course, education takes a long time and achieving full employment for everyone may take even longer. That long time-frame gets right up the nose of those who despise these activities with a passion, and it sees them hollering for all sorts of bans and prohibitions. It is the responsibility of governments to respond to such calls with a big-picture view rather than the classic knee-jerk reaction of drafting new laws to keep the noisy minority quiet.
Our Federal Government appears to have been seduced by the loud noise coming from the minority, and has embarked on the road to banning gambling on the Internet.
It's not that such a move is inherently wrong, it's just pointless. Nobody in government appears to know what every 12-year-old already knows: nobody owns the Internet. So, exactly who are you going to prosecute if they ignore your laws? Given that a ban could be effective in stopping anyone basing their gambling server in Australia, what does the Government intend to do when punters browse their way to some other country that has no such ban in place?
This banning action is similar to the Iranian Government ordering death sentences in absentia on people that it feels have offended it - nobody seems to get executed and those who are sentenced are smart enough to cross Iran off their holiday agendas. So it will be with Internet gambling. Those who want to, will still do it, and the Government can sit on its hands and say, "Well, they're not doing it here."
Big deal. We might as well issue a fatwa on anybody who indulges their online gambling habit, safe in the knowledge that they won't really be killed but we can say we've done something about it. While we're at it, let's also tell those drug dealers what we think. "You're a rotten lot of bastards, so there." I can almost hear every druggie in the country quaking in their boots right now. And the supply of heroin in the country has completely dried up. Not.
The Government is relying on the media and the lack of knowledge of a large percentage of the population when it pulls tricks like this. It sure makes a great headline and damn it, Janet, several IDG titles ran lots of copy on the topic.
We're guilty along with the rest of making some noise about some people making a noise but not really doing anything. I hope I've made it clear that I think the Government has got it wrong this time.
I don't want to see some poor bugger locked in his room gambling his wages away with just a few mouse clicks. I realise that the whole country has a problem with gambling, not least the various State Governments that are as addicted to the revenue stream as we punters are to the betting ring.
But banning it won't work and can't work on today's Internet. Time for the politicians to do what they're paid for - spend some serious time and energy figuring out how to control the beast instead of sending it underground.
Do we really want to offer up the Internet on a plate to organised crime?