The problem of pokies in Australia is once again causing serious concerns across the country.
2010 and 2011 were the years when most of Australian gambling news were reporting various efforts aimed at tackling the poker machines harm. But along came huge lobbying efforts from hotel and gaming industry, and a brand new “people power” movement.
Apparently this movement has made the pokies-related change in Australian gambling laws politically impossible. And now, two years later, Australian population seems to have forgotten about the damaging effects problem gambling has on the communities. It is now up to the community backbone to deal with the problem and put pressure on the lawmakers.
Fact and figures
Australian pokies problem is back in the spotlight
• Australian gambling laws weren’t altered to address the problem gambling issue
• Now the problem is back and causing some serious trouble across the country
• Ties between industry players and the government could slow down the reform
NSW upper house committee has received figures on how poker machines have been affecting the state’s poorest communities. One of the sets of data was submitted by the Fairfield council – the “capital of pokies” in the state.
According to the figures submitted to the committee, Fairfield population has lost $270 million on pokies, which account for 3,741 machine units. That is $123 million more than has been lost on the machines in the City of Sydney.
Another growing problem councilors are fearing is how children are being subjected to the risks of gambling, when families and unemployed population is frequenting pokies places in search of ways to make money. The council is desperately looking for other forms of revenue in order to sponsor entertainment options, which is “not embedded in a culture of gambling”.
The committee received a note from Wesley Mission, stating an independent review of the situation is needed. It will facilitate the creating of a system, which will determine just how many poker machine licenses can be given out in specified areas.
Looking at the Australian market as a whole, problem gambling is costing Australian society at least $4.7 billion a year. Pokies are the main problem as they are designed to produce maximum losses for the players, and even encourage addiction. Sportsbooks and online casinos in Australia also contribute to the problem, but to a lesser degree.
Comments from researchers
The federal government and the NSW lawmakers are finding excuses for spending less time on the problem. They both quote individual rights as the reasons for their slow response to the problem. While support for problem gamblers is being offered, the recent figures put a dent in the government’s position.
University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic has revealed that the Responsible Gambling Fund has been promised $48.1 million for 2013-2017 period, but it’s main efforts go to client numbers rather than quality of services offered to problem gamers.
Gambling Treatment Clinic researchers commented: ”This appears to have resulted in a focus on ‘support’ over ‘treatment’, rather than focus on getting them to stop or reduce their gambling.”
The recently established system of voluntary pre-commitment to limiting losses, is not really effective and is utilized by a very low number of problem gamblers. The system has been heavily supported by both federal and local governments.
Researchers have also opined that the inquiry’s terms of reference didn’t make a specific focus on the brand new plans for a “high-roller” casino at Barangaroo. The very recent relaxing of laws on various electronic classic casino games have also played little part in the research.
The report continued to mention: ”The GTC is seeing an upswing of gamblers who gamble primarily on casino table games (either at the Star Casino or on electronic versions of these games located in registered clubs).” This, naturally, offers higher risks of increased numbers of people turning into problem gamblers.
Barry O’Farrell MP says the minimum bet sizes will ensure most local gamblers will not be going to Barangaroo to gambler, but according to the researchers: ”Such statements are seriously misguided.”
Speaking about the demographics of problem gamer, the clinic research has identified the biggest group of at-risk gamers as ”individuals such as students, new immigrants or working class individuals”.
Ways to address the problem
It is widely understood that it’s high time to put the problem gambling issue back on the national agenda. The close ties between the federal and local government and industry bosses could place a major obstacle before reforms. However, activists and researchers are confident, nation’s well-being is by far more important than financial gain.