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Community groups outraged by gaming law changes

Tue, Sep 10, 8:10am by Staff Writer

Community organisations in Western Australia have been left bitterly disappointed after the state’s virtual gaming machine ban was relaxed to allow punters to bet on virtual racing machines.

Probono Australia reports that the Legislative Council of the Western Australian Parliament voted on Wednesday to pas a reform package for the state’s racing industry that will pave the way for the sale of the WA TAB.

However, the bill also included a provision to allow simulated gambling in TAB outlets, which community organisations fear could provide a pathway for the pokies.

Western Australian Council of Social Service accused the state Parliament of knowingly voting to increase gambling harm in the community.

Chris Twomey, policy and research leader at WACOSS said large numbers of public health experts and frontline community services – who deal directly with the consequences of gambling and financial hardship on a daily basis – had written to members of the council to raise their concerns about the impact of simulated racing machines.

“When more and more people turn up at their doors as a result of the harmful effects of gambling – as we have seen it in other states – it will be no comfort to us that we warned the state government that this would be the result,” Twomey said.

He told Probono News the big concern was that it was introducing another format, means and opportunity for gambling related harm.

“It’s certainly opening the door to more electronic gambling,” he said.

“We know there are concerns, and there have been stories from elsewhere in the world, where these kinds of simulated racing machines over time have evolved into something more like pokies.”

Stricter pokies in WA might be a thing of the past

Western Australia differs from the rest of the country in regards to the pokies, with stricter gaming legislation in place to prevent electronic gaming machines from being operated outside of the state’s only casino.

Twomey said there was an irony that the rest of the country was moving to reduce gambling, but Western Australia appeared to be moving in the other direction.

“That’s the thing that’s most taken us by surprise and disturbed us. And the rationale for it doesn’t really seem to make a lot of sense,” he said.

“From our point of view, anything that increases the opportunities for gambling and increases the rates of gambling related harm is not acceptable. And certainly, we don’t feel that there are protections in place to stop it from expanding and evolving into the future.”

He dismissed the argument that TAB’s animated racing game Trackside had more in common with genuine racing than pokies as a farce.

“Just like the pokies, simulated racing is an electronic gambling machine; the odds are generic and the winner is randomly generated,” he said.

“Trackside describes itself as having ‘the simplicity and payout characteristics of numbers’ games such as Keno’ – a product the government ironically recognises does not belong anywhere in Western Australia outside of the casino.”

The chief executive officer of Anglicare WA Mark Glasson labelled the move “a true disgrace.”

But he said while the battle to stop the inclusion of simulated gaming in the legislation had not been won, the war to stop the introduction of Trackside was far from over.

“It is not too late for the state government to do the right thing,” Glasson said.

The community service sector is appealing to the government to rethink its position.

“We urge those Labor MPs who know this is a step in the wrong direction to speak up in the party room and stand up for Western Australian families who will be harmed by this decision,” Glasson said.

“It’s shameful our state government is prepared to risk more WA children going hungry, more families being plunged into poverty, more relationship breakdown and even more family and domestic violence. This is what ‘problem gambling’ looks like.”

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