Monday, 22 February 2010
Private Members’ Business
Electronic Gaming Machines
Problem gambling is such a complex issue that clinicians, social workers and a number of professions have worked on it for generations now and we are no closer to a solution. In my five minutes today I want to focus on the medical and caring side of problem gambling, to look very briefly at the terms of reference and whether the Productivity Commission addressed them, and finally to make some ACT related points, because obviously we are in a territory where there is predominantly community gambling, and that gives it a very different profile to other states.
We have been working on the medical model with everything from SSRIs to opiate antagonists as medical treatments. You work your way through peer support and self-help groups and banning lists so that you do not enter areas of gambling. But still we are a long, long way from a solution. That is why the terms of reference were developed and the Productivity Commission addressed this very important issue. I want to make one very clear point, and that is that we have a range of different gambling challenges within the private betting sphere and the one that is of greatest concern to me is what is called the hyperlink machines—the multilevel jackpot systems that have multiple near miss outcomes. That is one small subcategory of betting machines that is of enormous concern to me. It has not been addressed in this report, as far as I am aware.
These machines are extremely damaging and are positively playing on some of the most addictive elements of gambling. What are those elements? They have been listed in DSM-IV. They have also been developed in a number of studies in the United States, but in essence it is the preoccupation and the thoughts about gambling that never go away. It is the fact that through tolerance—or toleration, as the Americans say—more and more gambling is needed to obtain the same rush. It is the irritability and the withdrawals, the sense that without gambling life is not complete. It is the need for escape, where the subject gambles to get away from the troubles of the day. It is chasing, where once one loses one feels the need to bet again to win those losses back. It is lying to hide the extent of one’s gambling. It is a loss of control where you unsuccessfully attempt to reduce gambling, and then of course there are illegal acts where one will actually break the law to obtain the money to gamble. It is the loss of and risking of significant relationships with family and those to whom you are close, be it relationships, jobs or other connections. Finally, there is the bailout, where you turn to family and friends for help. Effectively, have five out of 10 of those and you are a problem gambler.
Just to take a snapshot in the ACT, around $170 million is turned over every year in gambling. It is important to say that it is all community gambling here in the ACT. There are no private establishments like pubs that allow gambling. In those 5,200 machines we have about the lowest machine take of any state or territory at around $35,000 per machine. I think those who are operating in the ACT would be at pains to say that, as much of that money goes back into the community, we need to find a very, very careful balance between that money going back to the community and setting up enormously expensive transitionals such as trying to change hardware or even reprogram machines at mind-numbing cost to do something as simple as changing the maximum bet limit. Such button changes would be extraordinarily expensive to undertake. The turnover of the machines is, I think, in the order of every eight to 10 years, so the clubs certainly cannot wait for new machines to be installed. That is of concern to those who are operating community gambling establishments in the ACT.
The money does some really important things around the community, and we tend to forget that. We do not want to see a system where we have completely impotent increases in signs in establishments where it turns into something like Parramatta Road, and you end up ignoring all of the signs. In the end one element has to be small, affordable changes with the technology itself—and I have named one, the hyperlink machines. I know there is one company that holds the patent for them and it would be very, very disturbed to have that subcategory of machine banned. However, were that to be done, you would be addressing potentially 70 to 80 per cent of problem gambling because it is that machine category that is most damaging to problem gamblers. Another point to make is that community gambling is far less aggressively marketed than private gambling, from which every additional dollar gambled goes to the establishment. That is a far cry from community gambling.
In summary, we are hitting as hard as we can on medical solutions. We are looking at community support for problem gamblers. We know in the end that, no matter what card or identification system is introduced, problem gamblers will go to extraordinary steps to bypass them. I support some of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission but acknowledge that the one I support most strongly, which is the most damaging of all, is the recommendation for hyperlink machines. They should be the focus of this reform.