Queensland Laws Criticized: No Restrictions for Pokies Turn Vulnerable Players into Victims

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Academics are criticizing Campbell Newman’s poker machine reforms, claiming that it aims to increase income at the expense of disadvantaged people.

Queensland’s version of reformed Australian gambling laws, specifically the state’s new policies regarding poker machines, are designed to turn the community’s financially disadvantaged residents into sure victims, academics say.

Campbell Newman’s government had introduced a new “red tape reduction” program on July 1, and it has done nothing but given vulnerable members of the local community easier access to pokies. At least that’s what a report commissioned by the Anglican Church of South Queensland’s social responsibilities committee shows.

Since the new regulations came into force, limits for poker machines allowed under a single license have been relaxed, and each operator can now have as much as 500 pokies across three or more venues. Under previous laws, the limit was 280.

All about the money

Australia has had a long and troubled history with poker machines, which have spread all across the country and caused nothing but trouble for a nation that’s already a little too hooked on gambling.

Top three states offering poker machines in Australia:

• New South Wales
• Queensland
• Victoria

Doctor Charles Livingstone, who works for the School of Public Health at Monash University, believes the government has put revenues ahead of people. In his opinion, the well-being of the state’s problem gamblers and their families don’t seem to weigh as much as revenues, unlike in other parts of the country.

“It’s about money, pure and simple,” he told the papers. “Clearly the government’s priority is to encourage gambling businesses, but you can’t do that unless you encourage problem gambling as well.”

Before the local government introduced the red tape reduction changes, gamblers who won the jackpot on a poker machine could claim their money either through cheques or by returning to the venue 24 hours later. Now clubs can pay winners their money on the spot, and that goes for all prizes up to $5,000.

“For problem gamblers that means they’re going to put [their winnings] straight back in [a poker machine] again. That’s a retro-aggressive step that has no particular benefit for anyone except the operators and the government who collect it in revenue,” Livingstone explained.

From harmless fun to addiction

Other changes include allowing players to use $50 and $100 notes as well, as opposed to just coins and $20 bills, and increasing the total credit allowed on a single machine from $100 to $199.99.

“This is supposed to be a harmless form of amusement, so why is it possible to put $600 through a machine on average every hour in Queensland?” the doctor asked.

“And the industry wants you to be able to put $1200 an hour through a machine and increase the maximum bet to $10 per spin. You can push the button every two and a half seconds. That’s an awful lot of money for something that’s supposed to be harmless entertainment.”

Regional boundaries once imposed on poker machine licensees were also removed, so under the new state regulations operators are free to set up shop in any area, whether they have sporting or community affiliation or not.

Clubs turned into “mini casinos”

With the new changed, doctor Livingstone estimates that clubs in Queensland will be relying on poker machines for as much as 80% of their total income. This means they will eventually be operating “like mini casinos”. As if this wasn’t enough, the state keeps awarding perpetual poker machine licenses, so now operators don’t even have to renew their licensed every five years.

Out of all gaming machines operating across Australia, almost one quarter are located in Queensland. The state also has the highest “concentration” of pokies, offering about 14 machines for every 1,000 adults. In addition to these, local players have several other ways to spend their money, including online and mobile casinos and sportsbooks.

Livingstone recommends a re-examination of the local government’s harm-minimisation policies, as they were prior to the red tape reduction program. “The government needs to take a step back and reconsider where the balance should lie,” the doctor believes.

Moving in a dangerous direction

Peter Catt, chair of the Social Responsibilities Committee at the Anglican Church said the path Queensland was walking down was “deeply destructive”.

Peter Catt, Australia - GamingZion

Peter Catt: “The path Queensland was walking down was ‘deeply destructive'”

“The direct social and economic costs of poker machine addiction are devastating for the individual problem gambler,” he explained. “Those costs are multiplied when current and future impacts on family, friends and colleagues are taken into account. They are multiplied even further when broader effects on lost business productivity, crime, pressure on the health and welfare systems and other social and economic impacts are considered.”

At the beginning of July this year, Queensland had about 482 clubs and 747 hotels with licenses to operate a total of 42,674 poker machines. In the 2012-2013 financial year the state government has collected an estimated $594 million in gaming machine tax revenue. After the red tape reduction program, figures are expected to increase by 3.6%.

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