Aussie One Armed Bandits The New Big Brother

Written by:
Greg Tingle
Published on:

G'day punters, casino and gambling millionaires and billionaires, legal eagles, government and all. Today we further investigate the case of proposed mandatory betting limits and the like on Australian poker machines. Media Man and Gambling911 probe the Big Brother Australian pokier machine proposals...

It's game on as the Gillard - Labor government, independent MP Andrew Wilkie and a few more supporters try their best to force pokies players to commit to how much they plan to lose. Never mind about winning, but focus on the losing scenario ok.

The announcement that this mandatory plan for 'one armed bandits' will depend on smartcards (not biometrics), will go quite a ways in addressing concerns over privacy and the expensive of the rollout.

The Australian gambling sector that relies on the pokies pulls in some $12 billion in income a year.

Biometric tech was said to be a more comprehensive solution, but what's on the cards is going to be a lot easy to sidestep, says the word in the street and in and around the pokie dens.

Biometrics was going to cost the gaming industry many millions, if you believe the press releases. Punters and many media commentators also got a bit freaked about about the "New World Order" and "Big Brother" feel to the whole thing.

The smartcards are more user friendly and a bit easier to swallow

"The card is programmed and all the machine sees is: yes you can play," said Ian Donald, an executive with smartcard consultant Regis Controls.

He advised the joint Senate select committee on gambling reform that half of Australia's poker machines had smartcard readers. He placed the cost of full implementation at $500-$1000 a machine. All the information is contained on the card. That's the easy part. But how the cards are issued and controlled could produce unpopular recommendations when the committee reports to Parliament. One suggestion is that the cards be issued in the same way as a passport or driver's licence, with a 100-point identification system as well as a photo, to prevent card swapping among problem gamblers.

To the pubs and clubs bodies, such as Clubs local casinos already fighting to compete for high rolling VIPS with new casinos in Macau and Singapore - the concept of the casual gambler being forced to endure a ton of obstacles just to bet can be mind boggling.

These groups are leading the charge for a venue-based, voluntary, preset limit system.

One case put forward by the biggest poker machine beneficiaries, clubs and pubs, was whether the proposed system threatens the worst of all expensive system that would scare away casual pokie lovers while providing little help to problem gamblers.

"Registering to use an entertainment product, carrying around a device and preselecting limits will be a disincentive to play for all," Clubs Australia president Peter Newell says.

"If clubs lose their recreational punters, they lose an important source of revenue and will no longer remain viable."

The Australasian Casino Association's Chris Downey sees problems ahead. The gambler would face an "unnecessarily bureaucratic process" if the smartcard system relied on a government agency to regulate and issue cards, although this would only apply to the casino's OABs (one armed bandits) and not, for example, its blackjack, roulette or another gambling offerings.

Clubs Australia flat our rejects the Productivity Commission's findings that up to 40% of poker machine earnings are derived from problem gamblers, but is promoting another 40% statistic; it says this is the potential revenue loss pubs and clubs face if mandatory limits are enacted, leading to huge lay offs.

Clubs with gambling facilities get about 61% of revenue from gambling, with almost the entire amount sourced from poker machines, according to the Productivity Commission's 2010 report on the gambling industry.

Clubs Australia says this is actually down from 5 years back when clubs started diversifying their revenue base.

The commission noted that some "very large clubs with gambling services" predominantly in New South Wales, derive 80% or more of their income from gambling. This means they are more reliant on gambling for their livelihood than Australia's land based casinos, which sourced 78% of revenue from gambling in 2007-08.

Pokies snatch some 41% of casino revenue.

The 12 biggest clubs in New South Wales netted $580 million from poker machine losses in 2007, according to the report.

The state government taxes gouge get about 25% of gambling revenue every year.

Gambling accounted 9% of NSW state revenue in 2008-09 and 13% of Victoria's. That's  $1.6 billion for each state. Slots are the biggest money spinners.

The Victorian government has issues with the prop but it is seen to be tackling the problem with plans to remove ATMs from gaming venues by July next year, and the rollout of a voluntary scheme for gamblers by 2015-16.

Gillard and co are pushing hard since these sort of matters were a good part of the foundation of the much-needed support of independent MPs such as Wilkie. His written agreement with the Prime Minister includes the implementation of a national mandatory limit scheme to start in 2014.

Should problem gamblers set their own limits or should "Big Brother" keep out?

Speaking before the committee's public hearings last month, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, head of Sydney University's gambling treatment unit, supported the idea that limits can be effective if implemented properly but highlighted some of their flaws.

"Irrespective of whether you have a voluntary or a mandatory system, the real question in my view is for those problem and pathological gamblers who have impaired control: how do you stop them from increasing the limits?"

Blaszczynski says his biggest problem with the Productivity Commission report "is that it is based on an absence of effective research or evidence base".

This is not the fault of the commission or its findings, he says. "The difficulty is, of course, that the quality of research addressing many of these issues I think is lacking and, as a consequence, there is a lot of speculation about what the impacts are of specific gambling measures."

Australia is the 6th biggest gambling nation on Earth, and a number of experts think we may reach the top 3 within the next few years.

Readers... er, punters, how did you like our report? Tell us in the forum. 

Take the time to research and learn games before placing down money.

Greg Tingle, Special Contributor to the website has been serving the gambling community with news around the clock since September 2000.

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