Pokies venues could ban problem gamblers reported by family members under proposed NSW legislation
Family members of problem gamblers could apply to have their relatives banned from gaming venues under a sweeping set of changes designed to reduce gambling harm in Australia’s biggest pokies state.
Under the proposed laws, NSW venues could also be charged tens of thousands of dollars if they fail to stop self-excluded problem gamblers from using their poker machines.
NSW Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello, said he wanted his state to lead the country on gambling reform.
“The reality is we are number one when it comes to how many poker machines we’ve got, but we’re the laggard when it comes to harm minimisation measures,” he said.
The Berejiklian Government wants venues to identify and assist problem gamblers in a way that’s comparable to responsible service of alcohol laws — placing more responsibility on venues to intervene with problematic gambling behaviour.
Poker machine attendants in NSW have told ABC Investigations they have seen problem gamblers urinate at poker machines and felt powerless to act under the current laws.
Among the NSW Government proposals, which will be released today for community consultation in the form of a draft bill, are:
- Fines of up to $27,500 for venues that allow self-excluded patrons to gamble
- A new third-party exclusion scheme that allows family members to ask venues to ban their relative from playing poker machines
- Requirements for venues to always have a gambling contact officer on duty who has advanced training in the responsible conduct of gambling
- New whistleblower protections for staff
Australia still world leader in gambling losses
Mr Dominello told the ABC he has been influenced by a number of factors, including the tragic suicide of Gary Van Duinen after a 13-hour pokies binge at Dee Why RSL and the social dislocation caused by COVID-19.
“We’ve got a pandemic and JobKeeper coming to an end in March; we’ve got anxiety and depression and stress on the rise, and then we’ve got an increase in gambling,” he said.
“We’ve got people using their super funds, and JobKeeper funds going into gambling. All of this amounts to a very nasty cocktail that we need to stay ahead of.”
Australia has the highest per capita level of gambling losses in the world. The majority of those losses come from poker machines.
NSW has around half of the country’s pokies and its clubs and pubs account for over $6 billion a year in losses.
NSW has always been the hardest jurisdiction to push through poker machine reform and Mr Dominello is under no illusion that the powerful lobby groups which represent clubs (ClubsNSW) and pubs (AHA) will automatically endorse his proposals.
“I’m expecting them to put their views and no doubt they’ve got their very robust views,” he said.
“But that’s what the purpose of public consultation is all about — they’ll have their views, other industry groups and stakeholders will have theirs, the community will have theirs and we will bring it all together and hopefully get some good legislation through.”
Neither ClubsNSW nor the Australian Hotels Association responded to requests for comment.
‘Watershed moment’ in NSW gambling history
Kate Da Costa from the Alliance for Gambling Reform said she was relieved there would be community consultation.
“We are pleased that the Minister has released a consultation draft, and intends to allow time for genuine engagement from all stakeholders, especially those with lived experience. Too often in the past, the industry has controlled legislative change,” Dr Da Costa said.
“This legislation is a watershed moment in gambling history in NSW. For the first time, in real terms, the industry will be held responsible and accountable for its role in a system that inflicts harm.”
Face ID for gamblers could be used
Dozens of problem gamblers and their friends and family members have contacted ABC Investigations to highlight the flaws in self-exclusion schemes around the country. The main criticism is that self-excluded patrons are being able to enter venues they have barred themselves from.
Gambling researchers from CQ University found in their 176-page report commissioned by the NSW Responsible Gambling Fund that the “monitoring of self-exclusion has numerous deficiencies”.
The report suggested that the use of technology could help improve the scheme, including introducing a system that could scan a patron’s ID and match it to the self-exclusion register or the use of facial recognition technology.
Mr Dominello said he was open to such suggestions.
“You can use technology to improve lives and reduce suffering. So provided there is privacy and security settings, absolutely,” he said.
“First and foremost, I think this is a type of dialogue we need to have.”