‘Managed liberalisation’ a soft touch on pokie scourge
Towards the end of the recent 4Corners report on James Packer’s gambling fortunes former PBL director Geoff Cousins gave his assessment of the casino game.
“They’re frankly just a horrible business,” Cousins said. “They live off the misfortunes of others and they are a completely non productive business. They don’t create anything, they just take people’s money and shove it down a hole and now and again if they’re forced to, they give a tiny bit of it back.”
It was an excellent summation that could equally be applied to the casino’s little brother: poker machines.
The Productivity Commission has released its draft report on gambling and it’s called for some measures it says will save Australian gamblers at least part of the $18 billion they lose each year.
According to the PC 15 per cent of Australian gamblers qualify as “problem gamblers,” and another 15 per cent are at some risk. The problem gamblers account for 40 per cent of the losses.
Pokie losses make up 65 per cent of the hard-earned Australians are shoving down that hole each year.
“While precision is impossible, estimates of the number of problem gamblers lie in a range around 125 000, with the estimated number of gamblers at moderate-risk ranging around 290,000,” the report said.
“Regular gaming machine players (those playing at least once a week) are estimated to spend around $7000–8000 per annum, a sizeable share of household incomes, and a key source of harm to some.”
The two key recommendations for poker machines are: reducing the speed the machines operate so people don’t lose money so quickly, and giving gamblers the opportunity to cap the amount of time and money they spend in advance of playing.
“Most recreational gamblers play at low intensity, but the machines allow losses of up to $1200 an hour,” said the PC. “The bet limit should be lowered to one dollar per button push (equating to losses of around $120 an hour), with much lower limits on how much cash can be fed into machines at any one time. Recreational players would be minimally affected.”
Other recommendations include limiting access to ATMs in gambling venues, shorter opening hours and more visible warnings.
They’re calling it “managed liberalisation” and I bet you $50 no Australian Government has the guts to introduce it.
As the PC draft report said: “Gambling taxes still amount to around 10 per cent of state and territory own tax revenue.”
The Federal Government wants to censor your internet, tell you what to feed your kids and tax your Bundy and Coke. And yet the solution to the hideous waste that is problem gambling in this country the answer is “managed liberalism.”
The Commission outlined a range of policy measures introduced by governments that have so far proved ineffective, including:
Short periods of machine shutdowns. These typically occur in the middle of the night. They allow premises to be cleaned and maintained, but produce few obvious
harm minimisation benefits
A lower maximum bet limit — from $10 to $5. That means that the value of bets laid per hour will have fallen from a maximum of $12 000 to $6 000. That entails a reduction in expected maximum player losses from $1200 to $600 an hour, which remains very high. (And some jurisdictions have maintained the limit at $10.)
A reduced value of notes that gamblers can insert at any one time into a machine from $100 to $50 — but retaining the capacity to insert note after note
Reduced cash input levels, such as from $10 000 to $1000. In this case, a player could still insert twenty $50 notes consecutively into the machine. (Again, some jurisdictions have retained the $10 000 limit.)
ATM withdrawal limits of $200 per transaction, but problem gamblers can go back time after time, subject to the normal arrangements they have with their banks
Mandatory clocks on machine displays, so people do not lose track of time. But most people have watches and they typically concentrate on the game.
All tried, and all failed.
Here’s an idea - how about less poker machines.
The PC even said the problem of poker machines bleeding our suburbs was a modern phenomenon brought about by the liberalisation of restrictions in the 90s, and has resulted in a triffid-like outbreak of the salary suckers in pubs all over the country, except WA.
“A criticism of gambling policy in the 1990s was that, despite international evidence about the risks of highly accessible gaming, governments did not apply a precautionary evidence-based approach to justify the extensive and rapid liberalisation of gambling that ensued,” it said (in brackets, as if it was an after thought).
So the less pokies strategy worked pre-90s, it could work again, if a Government has the guts to do it.
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