In pockets of Australian suburbia, electronic gambling machines, or pokies, await in pubs, hotels and sports clubs, contributing to an extraordinary level of gambling. Government statistics show the unremarkable machines account for more than half of individual Australians' annual gambling losses, a gargantuan $18.4 billion in U.S. dollars. On a per-capita basis, Australians lose the most in the world: more than $920 every year. The gambling losses per adult are more than double those in the U.S., and around 50 percent higher than second-placed Singapore, according to H2 Gambling Capital. As those figures swell, a public war is brewing between operators and opponents, with each trying to win over state governments that rely on revenue from the machines. Pokies remain by far the most profitable form of gambling for operators and most damaging for gamblers, opponents say. And they permeate small towns with a prominence unmatched around the world. In a country that has confronted powerful industries — from guns to tobacco — some wonder why gambling has escaped tougher regulation. Critics say politicians are increasingly afraid to confront the growing influence of the gambling lobby.
On the brink: U.S., China
threaten tariffs as fears rise
The world's two biggest economies stand at the edge of the most perilous trade conflict since World War II. Yet there's still time to pull back from the brink. Financial markets bounced up and down Wednesday over the brewing trade war after Beijing and Washington proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of each other's products in a battle over the aggressive tactics China employs to develop its high-tech industries. There's time for the countries to resolve the dispute through negotiations. The United States will not tax 1,300 Chinese imports — from hearing aids to flamethrowers — until it has spent weeks collecting public comments. It's likely to get an earful from American farmers and businesses that want to avoid a trade war at all costs. China did not say when it would impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products — from soybeans to small aircraft — and it announced it is challenging America's import duties at the World Trade Organization.
Ahead of elections, Iraqis grapple with Iranian influence
Iran's influence is looming large as Iraqis prepare to head to the polls for parliamentary elections in May, with many in the country worried that Tehran may be looking to strengthen its political grip on Baghdad through the ballot box. Iranian support and military advisers helped Baghdad's Shiite-led government beat back the Islamic State group. But with ISIS militants now largely defeated militarily, Iran's expanding influence has emerged as one of Iraq's most divisive issues ahead of the balloting. That influence has sown fear among Iraq's disenchanted minority Sunnis, who bore the brunt of the war's destruction, and has also caused concern in Washington.
U.S.: World 'far more dangerous' due to chemical weapons
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Wednesday that the U.N.'s failure to hold Syria accountable for its use of chemical weapons because of Russia's opposition has made the world "a far more dangerous place." She told the Security Council that its lack of action on Syria has led others to take notice — pointing to the use of nerve agents against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother in Malaysia and the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in England. "This reveals a dangerous trend," she said. In a joint statement, the U.S., Britain, France and Germany criticized Russia for vetoing the extension of the expert body from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that blamed the Syrian government for four chemical weapons attacks that killed civilians. The four countries condemned the use of chemical weapons anywhere and vowed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.
Nation can't join poison inquiry
The international chemical weapons watchdog on Wednesday rejected Russia's call for a joint investigation with Britain of the nerve-agent poisonings of an ex-spy and his daughter in England. But Russia said the number of countries that abstained from the vote suggested many have doubts about Britain's allegations that Moscow was behind the attack and now plans to take its denials of involvement to the U.N. Security Council. Britain said Russia's proposal for a joint investigation received only six votes at a special session of the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The council has representatives from 41 countries. — tbt* wires