28 May 2021

Pokie reform a step closer in the ACT

| Dominic Giannini
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Poker machine

The ACT Government has established a new ministerial advisory council to reduce the harm of poker machines. Photo: File.

Gaming reform has been a slow-moving beast, but the fact that gambling harm is recognised as a public health issue and the ACT continues to review harm minimisation measures for pokies speaks volumes, according to gambling-reform advocate and founder of The Hope Project, Kate Seselja.

Ms Seselja almost took her own life nine years ago following a decade-long poker-machine addiction. She has been advocating for change in this space ever since.

Reform in the Territory has taken another step forward with a reduction of pokie licences, $5 bet limits and $100 load limits all on the agenda for a new ministerial advisory council that met for the first time last week.

Comprising gambling reform advocates, the United Workers Union (UWU) and club presidents, the ACT Community Clubs Ministerial Advisory Council was commissioned by Gaming Reform Minister and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury.

Ms Seselja said the ACT, or at least clubs, would become pokie-free in an ideal world due to the harm that they cause in a community space.

“Unfortunately, clubs are social spaces and you enter them without thinking, ‘you know what, today I am going to get a gambling addiction’,” she said after first being introduced to the machines because she wanted to spend more time with her then boyfriend.

“It is the engagement with a product that is harmful, that is dangerous and [it is about] helping people understand the impacts so they can seek help.”

Kate Seselja

Kate Seselja almost took her life because of her gambling addiction. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

President of ClubsACT Kim Marshal said clubs were committed to diversifying their revenue streams away from gaming but that the current revenue raised was being put back into the community because clubs were not for profit.

There was a low measure of gambling harm in the ACT, but clubs are not skirting responsibility on the issue, Ms Marshal said.

“We believe the measures in place in venues are right because we can intervene when we see something wrong,” she said.

Mr Rattenbury said he would need to work with individual clubs to tailor support packages through the transition process.

“The ACT Government recognises that community clubs play an essential part in the social life of many Canberrans, as a meeting place and sponsor of community events,” he said.

“We want to ensure clubs continue to support the community while introducing and strictly enforcing measures to further reduce harm from gaming.

“Based on their diverse perspectives and experience, council members will provide valuable insight into how we can support our local clubs while protecting vulnerable community members from gambling harm.”

READ ALSO ACT pushes ahead with static pill testing, safe injecting room

However, Ms Seselja raised some concerns about the gaming industry crafting its own harm minimisation measures.

“It has to be consumer-focused and not [focused on] the protection of the industry,” she said.

“As long as it is done with visibility and responsibility of registry bodies and consultation with lived experience, then I think we will all be on the same page.”

Shane Rattenbury

Greens leader Shane Rattenbury wanted to progress with gaming reform before the last election. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The issue has proved a wedge issue for Labor and the Greens in the past, with the smaller coalition partner wanting to go further, quicker.

The Greens tried to capitalise on the closure of clubs during the pandemic to lower bet limits and load limits, but Labor did not want to act ahead of the October 2020 poll.

Then-ClubsACT CEO Gwyn Rees called the proposal “unhelpful”, while then-Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the issue warranted community discussion after the election.

Mr Ramsay, who lost his seat at the election, recently landed a new role as CEO of the nationally based Alliance for Gambling Reform.

The Parliamentary Agreement between Labor and the Greens commits the ACT Government to introduce $5 bet limits and $100 load limits following a review and the creation of a transitional plan for clubs. The staged rollout of reforms is expected to commence by the end of 2022 at the latest.

OPINION If we can’t blow up the pokies, at least limit the damage

Pokie licences will also be targeted, with a proposed decrease from 4000 to 3500 in the ACT by 1 July 2025.

The government also committed to match or exceed any further harm reduction gaming reforms implemented in NSW.

The ACT Community Clubs Ministerial Advisory Council includes the founder of The Hope Project, Kate Seselja; CEO of the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, Yu-Lan Chan; founder and co-chair of the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance, Jeremy Halcrow; UWU Secretary, Lyndal Ryan; chair of Canberra Community Clubs, Athol Chalmers; ClubsACT president, Kim Marshall; and the presidents of the Canberra Bowling, Irish and Labor clubs.

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Yes, we should continue to form all of our laws around a fraction of the population who lack self control.
I enjoy my once or twice a year of putting $20 through the pokies. Why should I be impacted by this nonsense?

If you’d read it you would see it would have no impact on you at all champ. This isn’t aimed at $20 a session punters (as you claim to be). It’s aimed at those who are throwing hundreds of munny at a time through the things.

It’s their money and they are adults. I’m tired of the constant pandering to the lowest common denominator. If I want to press the button once at a cost of $20, I should be able to. People who lack self control should not be a reason I can’t.

If you only play the machines once or twice a year, the marginal ‘cost’ to you is equivalent to zero.

The marginal benefit to those who these reforms could help, individually, could be huge (in some cases worth tens of thousands of dollars perhaps).

And if you think addiction to poker machines is all about a lack of self control on the part of those who unfortunately get harmed from them, then your part of the problem in my honest opinion. Its a misnomer that is entirely unhelpful.

Don’t care. My freedom to bet as much as I like at 1 time should not be infringed upon because a few people who lack self control and common sense. You may be happy pandering to the lowest common denominator on a constant basis, but a lot of us are over it.

Only pokie reform for mine should be to blow them up. A long term, legislated pathway to zero machines would be true reform. Give the industry say 10-15, even 20 years to get out of them completely.

So you don’t support freedom of choice?

Or the ability of functional adults to make their own life choices and accept the consequences of their decisions?

Do you apply the same type of logic in other areas of society where a potential harm exists?

They are not mutually exclusive states chewy.

It is my opinion that poker machines are an absolute scourge on society, and do a huge amount of damage to a very vulnerable part of the community. I’ve seen over an extended period the horrendous harm they do first hand, and its absolutely awful for those unlucky to get caught up in it.

And knowing far too much about the psychology related theories that sits behind how poker machines are designed, I consider it is a complete misnomer to run the simple ‘make your own life choices’ argument.

If it was a plain black and white screen, where a completely random number popped up and money either got returned or not (i.e. the true essence of what a poker machine is – a random number generator), I would agree. But those machines are designed in every way possible to exacerbate the factors that mean for some, they don’t have control and get addicted.

All I am saying is that, I think we would as a collective community be far better off without them. And I certainly think the community club sector, if it truly was for the ‘community’ should be getting out of the business of an over-reliance on a product, which by its nature, destroys a part of our community.

They are mutually exclusive, and your entire argument is dishonest.
If you love Government legislating every aspect of your life, may I suggest that you move to North Korea.

Except your first reaction isn’t to regulate and control the harm to the absolute minority of people who become addicted to them.

You want to ban them.

So if you want to apply such logic here, why not do the same in hundreds of other areas of life that cause similar harm to a tiny minority of people based on the consequences of their own decisions?

“All I am saying is that, I think we would as a collective community be far better off without them”

And I think we would be far worse off as individuals and a collective community by allowing government to regulate our free choices so heavily based on the poor choices of a minority.

It’s lazy and counterproductive.

Where exactly am I being dishonest in any of what I’ve said KenM?
-My opening comment was purely my personal opinion.
-In the second comment, the first paragraph again is pure opinion.
-There is nothing dishonest said in terms of how poker machines are designed (they are designed to enhance triggers of addictive behaviours – the lights and noise and whatever else aren’t there for decoration).
– There is nothing dishonest about saying exactly what they are – they are a random number generator at the end of the day.

And the rest is just my opinion.

So what exactly is ‘dishonest’ in any of my argument then? It is simply my opinion at the end of the day.

And do show where I’ve suggested I want Government ‘legislating every aspect’ of anyone’s life? Talk about taking 2 and 2 and getting 465.

I simply believe there are some things we would be better off without, and poker machines are one thing that I consider would be better off being confined to history. Doesn’t mean I want every facet of life being regulated.

My counterpoint to your argument of ‘my first reaction isn’t to regulate and control the harm’ is just how many steps have already been taken to do that already? Significant evidence from decades of ‘regulation’ has shown many mechanisms have not at all effectively controlled the harm – go read the 2009 PC report if you want plenty of evidence of the failings of regulation in the space.

And like kenm, your trying to muddy the waters by suggesting I want everything regulated. I’ve never said that anywhere nor suggested it.

I stand by my opinion that collectively we would be better off without them. You disagree which is fine – but stick to the topic at hand, don’t try to turn it into I’m suggesting ‘regulate everything’ which I am not.

Happy to agree to disagree on this one.

The dishonesty is your very first sentence.
Freedom of choice and legislating ways to restrict that choice are absolutely mutually exclusive.
Making excuses blaming machines for peoples lack of self control and common sense is dishonest.

I would suggest the opposite is true, regulation and control measures have been extremely effective, with only an absolute tiny minority of problem gamblers that have significant negative impacts.

Could those regulations be better targetted at those individuals? No doubt and that’s where efforts should be directed.

And sorry, i’m not muddying the waters here, your reaction is to ban something because of that tiny minority of people who are significantly negatively affected by the consequences of their own decisions.

If that’s your position here, why wouldn’t you apply it on every other issue if you were being consistent.

Have a think about things that you personally enjoy doing that others may have negative outcomes because of. Why shouldn’t they be banned too?

It’s a slippery slope that allows government ever further control on our lives and ability to make our own choices as well as expecting to deal with the consequences of those choices. It’s the only way we learn and truly grow as both individuals and a society.

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