In this week’s instalment of citizen journalism, ClubsNSW CEO, David Costello, responds to the Productivity Commission’s draft report that has recommended a number controversial measures including a daily gambling limit for anyone wanting to play a poker machine.

“It is a myth that your chances of winning on poker machines improve the longer you play. Every time you play, regardless of how long you have been playing, your chances of winning are the same. Debunking this myth is one way clubs have contributed to a reduction in the number of problem gamblers in Australia.

One myth that remains, perpetuated this week in a Productivity Commission draft report, is that technology exists that allows Australia’s 125,000 problem gamblers to safely place regular, daily bets.

The commission’s Louise Sylvan told ABC radio problem gamblers wanted to be able to determine how much they spent when they gambled, and it was on this basis that she supported technology known as pre-commitment.
That must seem like manna from heaven to problem gamblers who, until now, have been assisted by counsellors helping them acknowledge that gambling is a vice they cannot control, and that their best course of action is to walk away.

The commission wants problem gamblers to obtain a licence to gamble. Unfortunately, the 99 percent of people who are not problem gamblers would be required to apply for the same licence, and face the same restrictions.
Pre-commitment requires a chip and hardware be fitted to 190,000 poker machines in Australia. Each machine would be linked, so a computer could track how much money you had played on a poker machine that day.

Each machine would be card-operated, and no card means no play. Bad luck for tourists, or anyone resistant to the idea of registering for a quasi Australia Card. Big Brother has more: once you register, you would be told how much you could gamble. Reach that amount, and the machine would shut down. You would then be unable to play for 24 hours.
Social punters would shake their head, wonder how the government could tell them how they spent their money, and probably leave the club. The problem gambler is not so easily discouraged.

Problem gambling is not an illness that can be treated like a cold. It is a psychological condition. Americans call it pathological gambling, a far more accurate description.

The problem gambler will not be ”cured” simply by reaching their daily bet limit. They could buy, borrow or steal other cards to continue gambling. Or switch to another form of gambling, probably online. The commission gives the green light to online gambling and its use of credit cards despite evidence it is four times more addictive than ”land-based” gambling.

It would appear the commission is committed to a ”try anything” approach to reduce problem gambling. In NSW, clubs have had poker machines for more than 60 years. If you read the report and its dire claims, you would have to ask, how has the community survived?

For a start, clubs, unlike hotels and casinos, are not-for-profit organisations. They invest in sporting facilities, food and entertainment, employ 45,000 people and pay more than $1 billion each year in tax. Last year the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal concluded clubs made an $811 million annual social contribution. But that is only possible because of poker machines.

That does not mean we turn our backs on problem gamblers. The combined efforts of clubs and the NSW Government have achieved a substantial decline in problem gambling, which the commission itself estimates to now be no more than 1 per cent of the adult population.

Phone records of G-line, the counselling service, show the calls it receives have fallen for the past seven years to half of what it was when the service started. Many counselling services have told me their numbers have also fallen recently but understandably refuse to speak up for fear of losing their government funding.

It is not easy to balance reducing problem gambling against those of us who enjoy gambling responsibly.

Unfortunately the draft report’s recommendations will help few. It will not help the average Australian who likes to put $50 through the pokies after a show at the RSL on a Saturday, and it will not help the problem gambler.

The commission cited Norway as a model. But it has poker machines in newsagencies, service stations, train stations, even supermarkets. It does not have registered clubs. Australians need to decide if this is the gambling future they want.”

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The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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