SA-Best, led by high-profile former senator Nick Xenophon, has announced its gambling policy ahead of next month’s South Australian election. Xenophon has backed away from the “no pokies” policy that characterised his earlier approach to gambling reform. However, the evidence behind his party’s proposed suite of measures is reasonably strong.
What’s in the policy?
Key aspects of SA-Best’s proposal are:
a five-year plan to cut poker machines numbers in South Australia from 12,100 to 8,100;
- a reduction in maximum bets to A$1, from the current $5;
- a reduction in maximum prizes from $10,000 to $500;
- removing particularly addictive features such as “losses disguised as wins”;
- prohibition of political donations from gambling businesses; and
- the removal of EFTPOS facilities from gambling venues.
The policy would also empower the state’s Independent Gambling Authority to implement and evaluate these proposals.
The policy is targeted at commercial hotel operators; clubs, “community hotels” and the casino are exempt from the reduction provisions.
There are also proposals to cut trading hours from 18 to 16 per day, with the introduction of a seven-year pokie licence for venues, from January 1, 2019. Increased resources would go to counselling and support for those with gambling problems.
Notably absent from the policy is the introduction of a pre-commitmentsystem, which would enable pokie users to decide in advance how much they want to spend. Along with $1 maximum bets, this was a key recommendation of a Productivity Commission inquiry in 2010.
The policy has attracted the expected response from the gambling industry. The Australian Hotels Association argued the changes would “rip the guts” out of the gambling industry and attack the “26,000 jobs” it claims the industry directly creates.
Does evidence support SA Best’s policies?
We’ve known for some time that reducing maximum bets is likely to reduce the amount wagered by people experiencing severe gambling problems. This in turn reduces the harm they suffer.
Reducing maximum prizes reduces “volatility”, meaning pokies may have more consistent loss rates.
Reducing access to pokies is also an important intervention, since easy access is a key risk factor for developing a gambling problem. Reducing the number of machines, and the hours they are accessible, support this.
However, very substantial cuts in pokie numbers are needed to meaningfully reduce harm. A cut of the magnitude SA-Best proposes may not be sufficient to prevent those with serious gambling habits from readily accessing pokies. This is because pokies are rarely fully utilised at all times of the week.
Removing easy access to cash has also been identified as an important harm-reduction intervention. This had a positive initial effect in Victoria (especially among high-risk gamblers), when ATMs were removed from pokie venues in 2012.
The harms associated with gambling generally affect far more peoplethan just the gambler. The most recent study, from 2012 indicates that 0.6% of the SA adult population is classified as at high risk of gambling harm, 2.5% are classified as at moderate risk, and another 7.1% at low risk.
Based on census data, this equates to about 8,000 South Australians experiencing severe harm from gambling. Another 33,100 are experiencing significant harm, and about 94,000 are experiencing some harm.
However, each high-risk gambler affects six others; each moderate-risk gambler affects three others; and each low-risk gambler one other. So, the problems of each high-risk gambler affect another 47,660 South Australians. These are children, spouses, other relatives, friends, employers, the general community via the costs of crime, and so on.
Another 99,300 are affected by moderate-risk gambling, and another 94,000 by low-risk gambling. All up, this amounts to 241,000 people.
Of these, 190,000 are affected at high or significant levels. These harms include financial disaster and bankruptcy, divorce or separation, neglect of children, intimate partner violence and other violent crime, crimes against property, mental and physical ill-health, and in some cases, suicide.
Most gambling problems (around 75%) are related to pokies, and by far the greatest expenditure goes through them. Nothing has changed in this regard since the Productivity Commission identified this in 2010.
In this context, SA-Best’s policy has substantial justification.
Does it go far enough?
The South Australian Greens, like their counterparts in Tasmania and the Tasmanian Labor Party, want to get all pokies out of pubs and clubs. They argue gambling’s social and economic costs are far in excess of the benefits.
For Tasmania, the costs of gambling can be estimated at about $342 million per year. This is more than three times as much as the total tax take from all gambling in the state.
A similar calculation for South Australia suggests its overall costs of problem gambling are more than $1.6 billion per year. This is more than four times the total taxes from gambling the South Australian government derived in 2015-16 ($380.3 million).
With a cost-benefit ratio like that, some strong measures could well be called for. Xenophon says the proposals encapsulated in his party’s policy are the start. However, Tasmanian Labor has set the new benchmark for pokie regulation – removing them entirely from pubs and clubs.
It is remarkable that a party traditionally in lockstep with – and substantially supported by – the gambling industry has adopted such a position. Perhaps the harms have become too much to ignore?
How these policies might be implemented, amid the resistance they will face from a well-heeled and often-influential gambling industry, presents an intriguing prospect over coming months.
ASTRA is banning gambling ads during daytime live sports coverage
Radio concerned about uneven playing field
Provisions to ban gambling ads during the broadcast of live sporting events between 5am and 8.30pm have been included in the Commercial Radio Code of Practice following a period of community consultation, coming into effect March 30.
However, the industry has concerns about ongoing delays in imposing similar restrictions for online platforms.
CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, Joan Warner, said the new provisions were developed by the industry in consultation with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), as part of the Federal Government’s media reform package.
“The industry has taken community concerns about gambling on board and our members are implementing measures to ensure they comply with the new rules when they come into force on 30 March,” Warner said.
“We are concerned that similar restrictions for online platforms have not yet been put in place. In fact, the legislation that will underpin rules to be developed by the ACMA has not yet been passed by the Parliament.
“Even after the legislation is passed there will be a period of development by the ACMA and then a period of public consultation. This creates a real risk that gambling advertising will simply be shifted online for the time, possibly some months, during which no rules apply.”
The Federal Government announced in May 2017 that the restrictions on gambling ads would apply to commercial radio, commercial and subscription television, SBS and online platforms.
The new code implements a ban on advertising gambling, including betting odds, between 5.00am and 8.30pm from 5 minutes before the scheduled start of play to 5 minutes after the end of play.
Restrictions will also apply to advertising during long form live sports coverage such as tennis, cricket and the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
The changes supplement the existing rules that prohibit the promotion of betting odds during live sport.
Opposition parties in New South Wales dead set against new gaming law as it could sabotage the casino market
It seems the opposition parties in the Australian state of New South Wales are dead set against new gaming law. In the perspective of the opposition parties new legislation addressing slot machines could sabotage the casino market as it could escalate the number of machines in high-risk areas increasing the gaming industry profits by A$80 million (US$62.9 million) a year.
In view of this, Tim Costello, the Director of the Alliance for Gaming Reform, said the laws should be outright rejected: “This legislation is a disgrace and it looks like it was written by Clubs NSW. We need to instead look at Labor’s proposal to remove pokies from all pubs and clubs in Tasmania, the appalling industry response effectively buying the Tasmanian election and how we can start treating the gambling industry like the tobacco industry.”
“The NSW government has no specific mandate to amend 16 different pieces of legislation like this and should delay the whole process until after the 2019 NSW election, so the community can have a say on whether NSW should continue on as the most pokies-soaked jurisdiction in the world, with the exception of Las Vegas and Macau,” said Costello. “Rather than rushing through legislation which has clearly been heavily influenced by Clubs NSW, we need a parliamentary inquiry into how NSW residents have become the most gambling-harmed community in the world, and after that we need an official government apology to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been harmed over the decades by increasingly sophisticated and addictive poker machines.”
The New South Wales government commissioned a review that recommended that the mandatory probe that casino licensees must go through in order to review the activities should be abolished. The change would overturn the investigations conducted once every five years.
NZESF together with AESA announces the establishment of Oceania Esports Council
It seems that the New Zealand Esports Federation has decided to go hand-in-hand with the Australian Esports Association. Disclosing the shift of the two organisations from competing on the electronic playing field to cooperating on the international stage, NZESF accompanied by AESA publicised the establishment of Oceania Esports Council.
The OEC’s is structured centering the purpose of representing Oceania at international meetings, focusing on esports’ inclusion in the Olympics and co-operation on industry issues.
AESA had its inception in 2013 and NZESF in 2016. During this time both groups sent national representative teams to international competitions and have had regular dialogue. Both share common goals on esports integrity, governance, and the development of all esports, including amateur and professional.
Esports in Australasia have enjoyed robust growth recently. The AESA and NZESF have recognised a greater need to collaborate in the development of regulation, policy, anti-bullying initiatives, international cooperation and player opportunities for the Oceania region.
Ben Lenihan, the President of New Zealand Esports Federation said: “This is a big moment in trans-Tasman esports relations. We are delighted to have reached an agreement after 12 months of dialogue to formalise our relationship. The need for a common representative is of more importance now as the goal of Olympic recognition gets closer.”
Darren Kwan, the President, of Australian Esports Association emphasised Lenihan’s thoughts.
“A core value of mine is to ensure the players are given greater recognition and credibility for their skill and achievements.This is achieved by building access to platforms and programmes that share this value. Both the New Zealand Esports Federation and Australian Esports Association have been advocating for esports to be recognised as a sport since they were established, and these efforts are beginning to bear fruit.”
The council will include two voluntary representatives from each party and an independent nominated chair.
The council will seek an Australian or New Zealand candidate for the role who has experience in sports governance.
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