Shock gambling figures spur calls for reform

Is it time to reform gambling in Australia, particularly in relation to poker machines?

It would be hard to go a day in this country without seeing a gambling ad or a gambling location. And it’s portrayed as a glamorous pastime, a fun time with mates.

However, startling figures show Australians are losing more money than ever.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, last year in NSW gamblers lost more than $2.1 billion in just a 100-day period – up 11 per cent – and daily profits from pubs and clubs hit $23 million.

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Australia-wide, more than $11.4 billion was lost on poker machines in the 2021–22 financial year.

Are those figures because we’re awash with poker machines? According to think tank The Australian Institute, Australia has 0.3 per cent of the world’s population, but 18 per cent of the world’s poker machines.

Most other countries corral poker machines to registered gambling locations such as casinos, but Australia allows them in clubs and pubs as well as in casinos.

Per capita, Australians lose more money than any other nation, mostly on poker machines, with people who live closer to venues more likely to be problem gamblers.

The issue has hit the spotlight due to the NSW Crime Commission multi-agency report into the gaming industry. It found that criminals are funnelling billions of dollars of dirty cash into poker machines and clubs, but that there are no effective controls to identify or prosecute those involved.

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The NSW government has reacted by flagging several reforms, including banning political donations from registered clubs, cashless gaming and improved data collection to identify activities such as criminals gambling to launder money.

NSW Crime Commissioner Michael Barnes says poker machines offered criminals “safe havens” to launder cash.

“These basic reforms will help exclude vast sums of dirty cash that are primarily the proceeds of drug dealing. I’m sure venues won’t argue they should keep receiving that,” Mr Barnes says.

NSW already bans donations from gambling companies, but clubs are exempt as they are not-for-profit entities.

Wesley Mission Australia found that the average poker machine in NSW now claims almost $100,000 a year in losses.

Wesley general manager Jim Wackett says the figures should encourage even more reform.

“Behind these numbers are human beings suffering at greater levels than they ever have in NSW history. It is contingent on governments to stand up for the people of NSW and reduce harm.”

Read: Unspent gift cards now total $1.9 billion

Monash University gambling research professor Charles Livingstone told the ABC that poker machines exploited the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

He said increased regulation should be a priority, including a universal pre-commitment system allowing people to decide what to spend in advance.

It comes as Tasmanian RSLs vow to remove all poker machines in their venues by June.

RSL Tasmania chief executive John Hardy told the ABC that the machines could be harmful for veterans and RSLs should instead be focusing on support and welfare.

“It’s not a sports bar, it’s not a pokies den; the RSL should be about the wellbeing of veterans and the commemoration of service,” Mr Hardy says.

Do you enjoy a flutter on the pokies? Do Australians gamble too much? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

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