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Coles 'stymied' on $1-bet pokies trial

AAP logoAAP 18/12/2016 Trevor Chappell and Helen Velissaris

Supermarkets and hotels operator Coles wants to trial $1 bet limits on poker machines in its hotels but says the pokies manufacturers won't co-operate.

Coles, owned by conglomerate Wesfarmers, operates 3,069 poker machines in 89 pubs, most of which are in Queensland, where liquor outlets have to be attached to hotels.

Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder wants to see if the $1 bet limit will reduce problem gambling in the hotels owned by the group.

"A fair chunk of the revenue (generated by pokies) can come from problem gamblers, and that's not something we're entirely comfortable with," Mr Goyder told AAP on Monday.

Gaming regulations prohibit anyone other than licensed gaming manufacturers from making changes to poker machines.

Coles sought assistance from the makers who supply the poker machines to its pubs but says all of them declined.

"They (the poker machine makers) are telling us that there needs to be an industry approach or they're not going to do it," Mr Goyder said.

Wesfarmers has been considering its position on poker machines since the Productivity Commission's report on gambling in 2010.

"We decided a while ago that we's try to do a trial in half a dozen of our hotels, but we can't do it because the machine manufacturers won't make the change," Mr Goyder said.

"So we're a bit stymied at the moment."

But Mr Goyder said Wesfarmers could sell its hotels business and rid itself of poker machines if the Queensland government changed the requirement that bottle shops be attached to pubs.

"In that case we'd be a retailer of liquor, and we'd probably exit hotels - that would be our first choice," he said.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said the poker machine makers were a "pack of malevolent bastards" for rejecting Coles' request to trial a $1 bet limit.

Senator Xenophon said he will push for a senate inquiry into the decision by manufacturers so they can explain why they refused to be a part of making poker machines less addictive and safer.

The representative body for Australian gaming machine technology suppliers, the Gaming Technologies Association, said the trial as proposed by Coles was not a simple thing.

GTA chief executive Ross Ferrar said a trial could require complex regulatory, technical and manufacturing input.

"It would likely entail significant time, cost and resources to build, test and deploy new equipment to the standards of integrity and performance required," he said.

The Productivity Commission report on gambling in 2010 said a bet limit of $1 per button push on a poker machine would strongly target problem gamblers.

But the commission said there was only a limited capacity for gaming machine manufacturers to re-design the large number of existing games to be compatible with such a bet limit.

The commission's report said problem gambling had a significant social cost of $4.7 billion a year, and high-intensity gamblers could easily lose $1,500 or more in an hour.

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