Big Gaming is pushing all the wrong buttons
Yesterday in The Punch, David Penberthy ridiculed the gambling industry’s claims that pokie-reform was un-Australian. But the $20m campaign by Australian Hotels Association and Clubs Australia campaign about the so-called “licence to punt” is more than just shallow and bankrupt politicking – it’s plainly misleading.
There is NO proposal to have a licence to punt and those concerned about the damage poker machines do are not calling for a licence to punt.
The pre-commitment scheme currently under consideration applies only to poker machines (not punting more generally) and at its simplest is a basic consumer protection tool which will allow gamblers to pre-set a limit to how much they will spend.
In fact, there are so many wrong or misleading things in these AHA/Clubs Australia adverts that it is hard to know where to begin.
Contrary to claims that the scheme will apply to a $5 punt, the Federal Government inquiry into pre-commitment is currently considering various options which would allow occasional recreational and low-level players to use machines outside of the pre-commitment scheme. Like many in the welfare community, the SA Council of Social Service supports these options – as long as they don’t undermine the integrity of the system. BUT the government has yet to make a decision, which makes a further lie of the AHA/Clubs Australia attack ads about “if the Federal Government gets its way”.
In a pre-commitment scheme where all information is stored on a gambler’s own card (and getting a card would require no more identification than you need to hire a DVD from the local video store), it’s also hard to see where concerns about loss of freedom or privacy may arise.
Again, the government hasn’t made a decision on the details (so it may operate differently), but to assert, as the AHA/Clubs Australia TV advert does, that the government would be “tracking what was won and lost”, is simply scaremongering. And it’s pretty hypocritical when the information recorded about gamblers and their betting is actually likely to be less than many venues already collect through their “loyalty” programs.
And finally, in the context of serious public health and public policy issues, the suggestion in the industry’s TV adverts - that the government will be “telling us how many beers to have next” – might be useful for dramatic effect, but it too, has no basis in fact.
Wrapping issues in green and gold by calling something “un-Australian” doesn’t change the facts. And for the record, the facts are pretty scary. Australia has some of the “highest intensity” pokies in the world – big multiple bets available, high prizes to lure gamblers, and fast spin cycles for high turnover.
The result, according to the Productivity Commission, is possible gambling losses for a pokie player of $1,200-$1,500 an hour. In total, over $10b is spent per year across nearly 200,000 machines. About 40 per cent of this comes from problem gamblers. Surely, no matter how deep our national pride, this is something our nation cannot be proud of?
Remember too, the harm from problem gambling goes way beyond the gamblers themselves – to families, friends, employers and the broader community through stress and lack of engagement, debt default, relationship breakdown, crime and violence. In the way that only economists can, the Productivity Commission has estimated the costs of associated with gambling at between $4.7b and $8.4b per year.
Behind these statistics are real people’s lives.
It is alarming that, faced with a proposal for a scheme which will assist in minimising harm and preventing gambling problems developing, the gambling industry is responding much like big tobacco did…with big advertising dollars being deployed against the public interest. Like tobacco, gaming machines are an addictive product.
Thus the logic of the Productivity Commission’s conclusion that a consumer protection and public health approach should be adopted so as to minimise this damage. A pre-commitment scheme is simply part of that approach.
While inroads into rates of smoking have been made (despite the concerted campaign of the tobacco industry), it remains to be seen whether the political power of the hotels and clubs lobby will thwart the move to a mandatory pre-commitment scheme.
We should not underestimate that political power. It is not just the $20m advertising campaign. According to Australian Electoral Commission data, in the last financial year, the Australian Hotels Association (state & national) provided a total of $429,000 to the Labor, Liberal, and National Parties, while Clubs Australia and state Clubs Associations provided $318,000 for party coffers. On top of this, there were donations from various casinos plus Australia’s biggest poker machine owner, Woolworths.
Most state governments are also deeply conflicted since they too are increasingly wedded to their share of the pokie spoils.
Yet despite these big dollars, thankfully, there is still broad community concern about the harmful and sometimes tragic impacts of a pokie addiction. This was reinforced by recent polling by the Australia Institute on behalf of UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide, which found that two-thirds of all Australians believed that it would help pokie players if they were required to set limits.
Knowing the damage and loss that could be prevented and this level of public support, it is surely not too big an ask for government to put in place a system that asks gamblers to make a clear choice, in the cool light of day, about their gambling budget.
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