Poker machine law in NSW has long been a contentious issue. Poker machines make a lot of money for clubs and hotels, so theyre understandably resistant to legislative changes that would affect their profits. On the other hand, an estimated 95,000 Australian pokie players are problem gamblers, so minimising harm from gambling needs consideration.
With the recent election non-result, pokie reform is in the spotlight. Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie is demanding nationwide pokie reforms, an issue that would influence his decision to back either Gillard or Abbott.
At the end of June 2010 the Australian Governments Productivity Commission released its Gambling Inquiry report, which made a number of recommendations for minimising harm.
In NSW the law surrounding pokies is contained in the NSW Gaming Machines Act, which was amended in 2008 and again in 2009, with the introduction of new measures aimed at more responsible gambling.
Its mandatory for gaming venues to place warnings about gambling at venue entrances and on machines, and to provide contact details for counselling services. And its illegal for venues to try to attract people outside to come inside for the purpose of gambling. Prize money over $2,000 must be paid by cheque or electronic transfer, so that winnings cant be immediately gambled.
ATMs and EFTPOS facilities are banned from gaming areas of clubs and hotels, and you cant get a credit card cash advance anywhere in the venue.
The maximum bet per spin (button push) is $10, compared to $5 in VIC and QLD. The Commission recommended reducing the maximum bet to $1 per spin, to limit the cost of play per hour in NSW to an average $120, instead of $1200.
NSW pokie players can put as much as $10,000 into a machine at the start of play, compared to only $100 in QLD. The Commission recommended reducing the cash input limit to $20.
There is a cap of 99,000 poker machines allowed in NSW (its 30,000 in VIC). Venues have to apply for permission to increase their number of machines, which may involve submitting a local impact assessment.
And there is a mandatory shut-down period for pokies between 4am and 10am. The Commission recommended that shut-down periods commence no later than 2am in order to more effectively minimise harm.
The Commission also recommended introducing pre-commitment systems, where gamblers can set limits, such as a maximum spend, which they would have to comply with once set. While this would be potentially costly to venues, requiring a new central monitoring system that stores private information securely, the Commission proposed a staggered implementation, to be achieved by 2016.
As yet, the NSW government has not initiated any of the recommended changes. There is a call for the federal government to weigh in.