1 April 2024

'Dud' policy or 'absolutely essential'? Battlelines drawn over the best ways to reduce gambling harm

| Claire Fenwicke
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woman playing poker machine

A committee inquiry is considering the best way to introduce cashless gaming to the Territory. Photo: duallogic.

Things have become tense as Gaming Minister Shane Rattenbury was challenged about the government’s decision to run market sounding for a central monitoring system (CMS) for poker machines during public hearings into cashless gaming.

The ACT Government previously announced it was considering installing a CMS to monitor accounts using poker machines and eventually enable harm reduction features.

No other CMSs in the country have gambling harm minimisation features, but the ACT is the only jurisdiction without linked poker machines.

Harm minimisation advocate and Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson opposes a CMS in the ACT, feeling it locks the Territory into having poker machines and will not do anything for harm minimisation.

She asked Mr Rattenbury why the “dud” CMS policy was included in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement, which is expected to cost $70 million over 15 to 20 years.

“I fundamentally object to that proposition,” Mr Rattenbury countered.

“[The advice I have] is clear: the best way to implement harm minimisation is loss limits and a CMS. You need to be able to connect the machines together.

“If you don’t have a CMS, that benefit [of harm minimisation] cannot be [realised].”

He noted that Tasmania had implemented such a system and adopted a loss limit approach rather than bet and loading limits.

The state has a loss limit loaded into its cashless gaming cards of $5000 per year, $500 a month or $100 a day.

Dr Paterson didn’t agree this was the path to take either, arguing such thresholds would put 55 per cent of electronic gaming machine (EGM) gamblers on the poverty line.

“It’s not based on evidence,” she stated.

Mr Rattenbury said he wanted to ensure “guardrails” around using pokies and that options such as this were the reason there was a committee inquiry into cashless gaming in the first place.

“I look forward to the alternative proposition [from the committee],” he said.

“I think it’s necessary and vital to put loss limits in place in the absence of any other policy … why don’t you ask [poker machine operators] their view [on an appropriate limit]?

“[As for the CMS] you may not accept or agree with the proposal – if you don’t, you should state that.”

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Most other witnesses at the hearings agreed that a CMS would be the best way to introduce further harm minimisation features around EGMs in the Territory.

ANU Centre for Gambling Research director, Associate Professor Aino Suomi, said no trials needed to be held into a cashless gaming card in the Territory, as the “evidence is there” that it works.

“[But] it needs some kind of infrastructure … an account-based system,” she said.

“The system needs to be monitored, not by industry, but sit with the government [and] it needs to be universal.”

The argument was also made that a CMS system was more effective at identifying people who had self-excluded rather than facial recognition technology as it was linked to accounts, couldn’t be fooled by disguises, and didn’t have the same privacy concerns.

Dr Paterson asked a panel of gambling harm minimisation advocates if they thought the Territory should have a CMS that “ties” the ACT to having pokies for “decades to come” when it was the government’s aim to reduce the number of machines.

Alliance for Gambling Reform CEO Carol Bennett asked why the two had to be mutually exclusive.

“Why wouldn’t we aim for both?” she asked.

ACTCOSS CEO Devin Bowles added: “Having a system that encompasses the whole jurisdiction is absolutely essential if we want to minimise gambling harms.”

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Some didn’t see the harm minimisation benefits of a CMS along with cashless gaming.

Gaming Technologies Association CEO Jinesh Patel described a CMS as a “revenue collection tool” but said it could have harm minimisation features through “auxiliary technology” such as cashless gaming. However, this could also “can be done without a CMS.”

He felt facial recognition was better, especially for people wanting to self-exclude from venues.

“Faces behind a reception desk just don’t work.”

A panel of club representatives also voiced their preference for clubs implementing facial recognition technology as the way forward with cashless gaming.

ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon described the CMS as a “magical box” solution and didn’t see how it would help reduce gambling harm.

“[I just see] blunt regulatory approaches thrown up to offer solutions,” he said.

If this story has raised concerns or issues for you, the ACT Gambling Support Service can be reached 24/7 on 1800 858 858.

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A good start would be to ban them in clubs like they do in other states. The problem there is that too much revenue certain clubs are getting is lost, and those clubs are large donators to the current local government.

I’d be thinkin that it would be a brave person to front some bloke about the amount of cash they are putting through machines.

What say the player had recently patented a computer widget, and just picked up a squillion ?

Or what if the bloke turns out to be wanted known as
Madam ? the club then is in court by what ever guvy mob look after such matters

And the sex discrimination business ? could not someone claim to some guvy mob they were discrimated by ?

And then race discrimination ? someone with an Indigenous background could call out discrimination to some guvy mob, and the club is in trouble.

Many many years ago I did see 5c machines in clubs.
I wonder what happened to them ?

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