Brimbank City Council says its residents have lost $1.4 billion on electronic gambling machines in in the past decade. Now it’s calling for fines and limits on withdrawals.
After years of writing to state and federal ministers calling for stronger gambling regulation, working with clubs to help reduce their reliance on pokies revenue and running various community education campaigns, Brimbank City Council is now pushing for tougher enforcement of the state’s gambling code.
The council has lodged a motion to Victoria’s State Council meeting on Friday that would see the Municipal Association of Victoria lobby the Victorian Government to adopt a “public health approach” to reduce the harms caused by pokies gambling.
“We have the highest gambling losses of any municipality in Victoria, with a staggering $134 million lost on electronic gambling machines, or pokies, each year,” Mayor Margaret Giudice tells Government News.
As the third most disadvantaged area in Victoria, the Brimbank community cannot tolerate the devastating financial and social damage caused by these huge losses, Cr Giudice argues.
Under the motion, the Victorian Government would reduce the maximum cash withdrawal limit from EFTPOS facilities at gaming venues from $500 to $200 in a 24-hour period.
It also calls on the government to strengthen regulatory enforcement of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Code of Conduct.
The council points to government-funded research in 2015 that found people with gambling problems withdrew an average of $318 per gambling session, making the current daily EFTPOS withdrawal limit of $500 too high to have an impact on reducing harm.
“A limit of $200 would help reduce the harm to problem gamblers while having minimal impact on other patrons,” the council’s motion says.
While Victorian legislation requires gaming venues to have an approved Responsible Gambling Code of Conduct, the law doesn’t clearly identify minimum standards of conduct or specific penalties for breaches.
“A model of regulation similar to that covering venues with liquor licenses should be introduced for gaming venues in Victoria. This should include the provision of fines, and license cancellation/suspensions for specific action or inaction deemed illegal under the Act,” the council’s motion says.
A positive move, says expert
Angela Rintoul, research fellow at the Australian Gambling Research Centre, said Brimbank’s proposals were “a step in the right direction” and aligned with research findings which showed problem gamblers struggled to control their spending once inside a venue.
“Often what happens is they spend more than they planned to and keep returning to get more money. We’ve done research in venues where those people are losing money at quite a rapid pace, so this could be one way of trying to slow down some of those losses,” she told Government News.
Dr Rintoul said research also showed there was poor enforcement of the code of conduct.
“There’s a range of behaviours linked to gambling problems, such as returning to withdraw money repeatedly and using more than one machine at once. The code requires venues to intervene if they see someone in distress or experiencing harm, but they’re almost never enforced,” she said.
There was a range of measures that could be introduced to support problem gamblers, such as a universal pre-commitment system and encouraging gamblers to take breaks, Dr Rintoul said.
“At the moment we’re not aware of any venues in Victoria having been penalised for not enforcing the code, so there’s a lot that can be done to strengthen those documents,” she said.
Public health issue
Cr Giudice argues that since the harms caused by gambling are a serious public health issue and affect not only individuals but families and the wider community, a public health approach to the issue is needed.
“That would consider how gambling impacts on and is impacted by the social, economic, cultural and physical environment.”
She said the council has long been lobbying for better regulation of the gaming industry and now partners with the Alliance for Gambling Reform to pursue wider systemic change.
The council has also been calling for the cap on the number of machines to be lowered.
“Brimbank currently has 953 electronic gaming machines – the maximum allowable number of machines. We’re calling for a ‘sinking cap’ which would mean that as machines are moved from one venue they’re not made available for another venue to top up,” Cr Giudice said.