Bet­ting agen­cies are join­ing the queue of pun­dits who haven’t got a clue about the state elec­tion re­sult

The Advertiser - - OPINION - — Rex Jory

IT would be eas­ier to pick win­ners at the black­jack table at the Ade­laide Casino than pre­dict the out­come of the March 17 elec­tion. No state elec­tion re­sult has been more dif­fi­cult to call.

When Nick Xenophon pulled his chair up with his SA Best can­di­dates and de­manded to be dealt into the game, the dy­nam­ics changed. Most pun­dits have a point of view about how the cards will fall on elec­tion day but the re­al­ity is no one has a clue.

The Pre­mier, Jay Weather­ill, pre­dicts La­bor will win more seats that the Lib­er­als. But he didn’t say La­bor would win gov­ern­ment.

There is no point in re­ly­ing on his­tory or prece­dent to guess the re­sult. The con­ven­tional point­ers to the likely out­come were lost as the dealer shuf­fled Xenophon into the new deck.

On elec­tion day for­tunes will be won and lost as the cards are turned over.

The elec­tion will be a del­i­cate test of democ­racy as pref­er­ences rather than pri­mary votes put mem­bers into Par­lia­ment.

Some mem­bers and can­di­dates will win a four-year term in Par­lia­ment and with it a salary and ad­di­tional ben­e­fits which will add up to close on $1 mil­lion. A solid re­sult in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil earns an eight-year term – and guar­an­teed pay­outs of nearly $2 mil­lion

But oth­ers, like un­lucky gam­blers at the black­jack table, are go­ing to lose their seats, their rep­u­ta­tions and their liveli­hoods.

Take the SA Best can­di­dates. Mr Xenophon has de­manded they each do­nate $20,000 to the party’s fight­ing fund to stand un­der the SA Best ban­ner. That’s a lot of money. But a prize of $1 mil­lion in salary and perks for an in­vest­ment of $20,000 rep­re­sents pretty good odds.

If the bet­ting agency Lad­brokes is any guide, Lib­eral can­di­dates could be dealt the best cards. Lad­brokes have the Lib­er­als at $1.85 to form gov­ern­ment, which as­sumes the party will win the largest num­ber of seats in the 47-seat House of Assem­bly. La­bor’s odds are $2.20 while SA Best is on $6.50.

Lad­brokes say the chances of a hung Par­lia­ment – with SA Best hold­ing the balance of power and es­sen­tially dic­tat­ing which ma­jor party will gov­ern – is $1.60 while $2.30 are the odds on one of the ma­jor­ity par­ties gov­ern­ing in its own right.

But the bet­ting agen­cies are sim­ply join­ing the queue of pun­dits who haven’t got a clue about the re­sult. What looks pos­si­ble or likely now will al- most cer­tainly change in the fi­nal two months and two days be­fore the elec­tion.

World poker cham­pion Doyle Brun­son once said: “Try to de­cide how good your hand is at a given mo­ment. Noth­ing else mat­ters. Noth­ing.” That mo­ment is elec­tion day.

Former Lib­eral leader and La­bor Cab­i­net Min­is­ter Mar­tin Hamil­ton-Smith threw in his cards af­ter heed­ing an old Chi­nese proverb: “If you must play, de­cide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stake and the quit­ting time.”

You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Mr Hamil­ton-Smith sensed his time was up.

There will be more cruel cards dealt in this game. For ex­am­ple, Mr Xenophon is likely to run can­di­dates against Mr Weather­ill in Chel­tenham and the Op­po­si­tion Leader, Steven Mar­shall, in Dun­stan. Mr Weather­ill is un­beat­able but Mr Mar­shall could be vul­ner­a­ble against a pre­sentable SA Best can­di­date backed by a pro­fes­sional cam­paign and La­bor pref­er­ences. Mr Mar­shall may turn over his cards ner­vously on elec­tion day.

Imag­ine if the Lib­er­als did well in the elec­tion but lost their leader? In this un­pre­dictable elec­tion any­thing is pos­si­ble.

And what if SA Best won a hand­ful of seats but Mr Xenophon failed to win the seat of Hart­ley? Lad­brokes are of­fer­ing $1.40 on Mr Xenophon com­pared with $2.90 for the Lib­eral mem­ber, Vin­cent Tarzia.

As pro­fes­sional gam­bler Nicholas Dan­da­los said: “Re­mem­ber this. The house doesn’t beat the player. It just gives him the op­por­tu­nity to beat him­self.”

On March 17 there will be pre­cious few win­ners and an army of losers. At black­jack, the house never loses.

TAKE A PUNT: Pick­ing the win­ner of the state elec­tion is harder than a game of black­jack, writes Rex Jory.

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