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Time to align EFTPOS and ATM rules in ACT Clubs

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 15 June 2017 3

There has been a lot of talk about gambling lately. And, yes, there’s more to talk about.

A current issue of debate is the different rules for access to cash in gambling venues. Surprisingly, while there is a $250 limit for ATMs, there are no limits on the amount of money that club patrons can access via EFTPOS facilities.

A couple of weeks ago the ACT Government released the results of an investigation into ACT clubs’ management of access to cash in venues, and clubs responses to these differing rules. The results of this report were alarming in that they found that while ACT clubs are not breaking the law, they are actively promoting activity that circumvents efforts to limit access to cash in gambling venues. This is concerning given limiting access to cash in venues is a strategy that is proven to reduce gambling harm and protect consumers of gambling products.

It’s well accepted that there is the need for regulation on products that are known to be harmful. Given what we know about the addictive design of the pokies, there are strong arguments for restricting access to cash in gambling venues. This strategy is based on strong evidence that shows that easy access to cash is one of the key reasons why people who are suffering gambling harm overspend. While limiting access to cash won’t help everyone, it can make a big difference by moderating the amount of money that someone experiencing gambling harm can lose on the pokies in a single session.

The ATM limit has been in place since 2013. Disturbingly, since the introduction of this law we have seen clubs in the ACT region actively promote access to cash through alternative means – including active promotion of access to EFTPOS facilities throughout venues, placing EFTPOS machines next to ATMs and designing EFTPOS machines that have the look and feel of ATMs.

After concerns were first raised about these practices in 2015, industry persuaded the government that this could be managed through a voluntary code of practice. There was scepticism at the time that this would be effective, and the results of this damning report highlight the inability of clubs to regulate themselves. It’s is now very clear that the current regulations fail to offer adequate protection to users of products that we know are harmful. This report also calls into question the ability of clubs to weight the safety of members above the potential profits that flow from the pokies, even when we know that almost half of these profits come from people experiencing gambling harm.

The Government has expressed their concern at the findings and is currently investigating how to respond. This is good news. It is hoped by advocates for stronger laws to reduce gambling harm that this response is swift and effective and results in an alignment of the rules around access to cash.

While we wait for the details of the Government response, it’s time for the clubs to step up and support alignment of ATM and EFTPOS rules for gambling venues. The Community Clubs group, a new industry peak group, is talking about the role to play in reducing gambling harm, and responding to this issue is an early test of how genuine they are in being part of the solution. The early signs are disappointing given they seem to be resisting calls for stronger laws and instead advocating the continuation of self-regulation and staff training, despite the evidence that these approaches are woefully inadequate in protecting consumers from gambling harm. While the actions of clubs themselves have actively undermined current rules, these industry advocates now suggest that tightening the rules is ‘well intentioned’ but won’t work.

If clubs are serious about protecting their customers, they will support calls for this loophole to be closed and introduce measures that are based on evidence. This is the only way that clubs can demonstrate to the community that they are prepared to be part of the solution.

Do you support restrictions on the amount of cash that club patrons can access from EFTPOS facilities to be the same as ATMs?

Rebecca is the co-chair of the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance, a community based alliance advocating for stronger regulations to reduce the level of gambling harm

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3 Responses to
Time to align EFTPOS and ATM rules in ACT Clubs
CanberraStreets 2:22 am 17 Jun 17

How do Government’s deal with conflicts of interest like this? I know what follows is old news, but it still seems relevant here.

The Labor Club most recent annual report shows that the club made $24.4 million from poker machines in 2015-16.

As I recall, the Labor Club Group is independent but 6 of the 9 Directors of the Board are appointed by the ALP’s Annual Conference, and the Group is required to pass all profits not required by the Group back to the ALP.

From an outsider’s point of view, it seems like a great opportunity for the Board of The Labor Club Group and the Directors appointed by the Labor Party to provide some leadership in this area, and demonstrate it is serious about protecting its customers without damaging the financial viability of the Club.

Rebecca Vassarotti 6:42 pm 15 Jun 17

CanberraStreets said :

I sometimes wonder how Governments can buy into the self-regulation model for Clubs when the issue to be managed sits so centrally to the business model and underlies the profit margins of the Clubs.

These businesses have a a long history in crying wolf over the adverse impacts of government regulation – including, memorably, that the implementation of no smoking would destroy the social fabric of civilised society. Surprisingly, smoking is no longer permitted and yet the Clubs seem as well patronised as ever.

I am not a big supporter of nanny-state regulation but gambling is one of the most hidden addictions in our society, and one of the more destructive. People ruining their own lives is pretty much their own business, but where a gambling addiction puts entire families at risk of homelessness and worse, then society has a reasonable right to step in – if only because these families then become a draw on the public purse (MY money!).

If self-regulation is effective, there are all sorts of aspects of my life I would like to self-regulate (driving, drinking and drugs . . .) but it is evident the Government feels those activities require formal regulation.

Perhaps the starting positions should be to remove ATMs from the clubs – meaning that patrons could bring the cash they intend to spend or access cash either by over the counter transactions or (even better) exit the club to access an ATM. There would be no limitation on people returning to the club, but often forced separation from the Club environment is sufficient to allow people to think more clearly on what is going on.

Victoria is one jurisdiction that has banned ATMs from venues and has a $200 withdrawal limit from EFTPOS machines. An independent evaluation that was conducted in 2013 found that the removal of ATMs from gambling venues was an effective harm minimisation measure due to the fact that it resulted in higher risk gamblers spending less time and money on the pokes, and higher risk gamblers reporting increased self?control over spending. It also found higher risk gamblers reported reductions in overspending and severity of problem gambling symptoms. You are absolutely spot on that providing the opportunity to remove oneself from the immediate venue appears to be effective for a group of people to reassess the need to gamble more funds. The current calls are not advocating to go that far but at least have the same rules for EFTPOS machines as ATMs so that the intention of the legislation is upheld.

CanberraStreets 8:58 am 15 Jun 17

I sometimes wonder how Governments can buy into the self-regulation model for Clubs when the issue to be managed sits so centrally to the business model and underlies the profit margins of the Clubs.

These businesses have a a long history in crying wolf over the adverse impacts of government regulation – including, memorably, that the implementation of no smoking would destroy the social fabric of civilised society. Surprisingly, smoking is no longer permitted and yet the Clubs seem as well patronised as ever.

I am not a big supporter of nanny-state regulation but gambling is one of the most hidden addictions in our society, and one of the more destructive. People ruining their own lives is pretty much their own business, but where a gambling addiction puts entire families at risk of homelessness and worse, then society has a reasonable right to step in – if only because these families then become a draw on the public purse (MY money!).

If self-regulation is effective, there are all sorts of aspects of my life I would like to self-regulate (driving, drinking and drugs . . .) but it is evident the Government feels those activities require formal regulation.

Perhaps the starting positions should be to remove ATMs from the clubs – meaning that patrons could bring the cash they intend to spend or access cash either by over the counter transactions or (even better) exit the club to access an ATM. There would be no limitation on people returning to the club, but often forced separation from the Club environment is sufficient to allow people to think more clearly on what is going on.

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