(Bills - Second Reading Debate, 13 March 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Problem gambling can have serious community impacts with disastrous costs for those affected including lost homes and jobs, financial ruin and broken families.
The 2010 Productivity Commission Report on Gambling found that between 80,000 and 160,000 Australian adults suffer from a significant gambling problem and a further 230,000 to 350,000 are vulnerable. It estimated that problem gamblers account for 22 to 60 per cent of gaming machine spending, which increases to 42 to 75 per cent when combined with use by moderate risk gamblers.
New South Wales residents spend the most on gaming machines in the country, with $5.4 billion going into machines every year. That’s more than double what Victorians spend, which is $2.5 billion each year, the next largest in the country. Australia has more gaming machines than any other country in the world and the largest number of problem gamblers. Indeed New South Wales alone has more gaming machines than anywhere else in the world except Nevada in the United States and our over 94,000 machines account for 10 per cent of the world’s poker machines.
There is a growing body of evidence proving how electronic gaming machines are addictive. The sounds and flashing lights from wins for example stimulate pleasure in the brain and machines use these sounds and lights to invoke that pleasure even when there is a loss for what are known as “near misses” and “losses disguised as wins”. This encourages punters to keep playing and develop a habit.
The odds are always stacked against the player, and the more one plays, the more one loses. A regular gambler will ultimately lose significantly more than they will win.
With our place as the state’s gaming machine and problem gambling capital, one would think that a detailed update of our gaming legislation would introduce serious reforms to start winding back the damage of gaming and reduce the state’s reliance on gaming machines for revenue.
Unfortunately the cognate bills before the house: the Liquor and Gaming Legislation Amendment Bill, the Casino Control Amendment Bill, the Gaming Machines Amendment (Leasing and Assessment) Bill and the Registered Clubs Amendment (Accountability and Amalgamations) Bill will continue the status quo and keep thousands of vulnerable people at risk of considerable gaming losses.
These bills are long and were only introduced last week. Detailed bills should sit on the table for more than a week to give members the opportunity to consult with experts and their community. I have not had the chance to do a thorough assessment and therefore my contribution will only be brief.
I acknowledge that the bills include some good improvements to local impact assessments like extended consultation periods, smaller assessment regions, red zones, new notification requirements and contribution to the Responsible Gambling Fund by clubs. But these are merely tweaks to what is a destructive industry. Improvements may even be offset by other measures in the bills that reduce regulations for clubs and pubs with poker machines.
There is particular community concern about new provisions that allow small pubs and clubs to lease out their gaming machine entitlements, allowing them to transfer machines without forfeiting them. In the second reading speech, the minister said the forfeiture system has resulted in over 8,000 fewer gaming machines in the state since it was introduced in 2002. This is not a large reduction – given the period and the large number of machines in the state – but we should not create loopholes to make the system even less effective.
Anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello has likened the gambling industry with the National Rifle Association in the United States. The community harm is blatantly obvious, but industry aggressively lobbies both sides of politics who keeps things as they are; we hear more about the work that clubs do in the community with a small fraction of their massive poker machine profits than the devastating impacts on very vulnerable people.
We know that people: who rent, live alone, receive social security payments or are migrants are most likely to develop a gaming machine problem. Surely there is a fairer way to collect funds for social infrastructure.
It’s hard to see how anything will change, but I hope this parliament will one day give gambling harm the attention it deserves and support some real reforms that scale back this destructive industry and protect our most vulnerable.
To read the speeches of other Members on the subject, click HERE