Gambling advocates call for poker machine changes 

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
NSW gambling card supported by Bergin inquiry

Gambling in the Australian Capital Territory has caught the attention of advocates who are calling for sweeping changes to address gambling in the territory.

The Canberra Times reports the ACT Council of Social Services chief executive Emma Campbell said ACT poker machines were the most dangerous in the country, due to the wide accessibility of cash in the venues and lack of regulations on bet limits.

“Research shows that gambling harm affects 47,000 Canberrans and costs the Canberra community $214 million every year.

“It not only impacts the player but also the people they love most,” she said.

Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance co-chair Kate Seselja said ACT clubs needed to find new sources of revenue to reduce reliance on gambling income.

She called for the number of poker machines in the ACT to reduce to 2500 in the next five years, a daily cash limit of $250 in poker machines venues to be introduced and a bet limit of $1 on poker machines with a limit of $100.

Ms Seselja said people should not be able to access poker machines between 2am and 10am every day and called for venues to be required to commit to locking them down overnight.

“While we recognise the important role that community clubs play in Canberra, more needs to be done by clubs to identify revenue opportunities from sources other than gambling,” she said.

When clubs closed down in the ACT due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was respite for many people, she said.

However, although the ACT was slow to reopen, across the border, Queanbeayan attracted hordes of people from Canberra and profits more than doubled.

“For some people, the COVID-19 period provided a brief respite from electronic gaming machines,” Ms Seselja said.

“As they reopen, more people than ever are at risk from gambling harm resulting from the economic and psychological pressures brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Gambling Harm Awareness Week helps people to recognise the signs of gambling harm. This week should also remind the incoming government of its responsibility to tackle gambling harm in the ACT.”

ACT gambling tax rakes in millions

One Australian territory government is raking in plenty of cash thanks to a new online betting tax.

The Canberra Times reported in August that the ACT government is taking in more than five times the cash it expected from the new tax.

While it will lose significant revenue from poker machines, forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, part of the losses will be offset by an increase in other gambling taxes.

When it introduced the tax, the government said it expected to make about $2 million a year from it.

However, in the month of May, the government said it had received $10.2 million in the 2018-19 financial year.

The full year’s takings are likely to be greater than that number, but the government was unable to provide the figure when asked.

While a proportion of pokies revenue in the ACT must go back into community organisations, the same arrangement does not exist for online gambling.

Community clubs and problem gambling funds reduced

Opposition gaming spokesman Mark Parton questioned whether the increased online betting revenue was behind the government’s refusal to allow pokies to reopen.

“They are the biggest bookmaker in town and it is no wonder that they want to shut down any of their competitors because this really is the goose that has laid the golden egg,” he said.

An ACT government spokesman said the additional revenue gained would indirectly help the community, industry and businesses from support provided through the territory’s economic stimulus packages.

“It will offset a portion of overall lost gaming revenue. It is however a fraction of the overall revenue decline the Territory is currently facing,” he said.

The spokesman said the initial $2 million prediction was a cautious estimate, based on assumptions around the level of online betting by ACT residents in the absence of any actual data.

“Revenue estimates have adjusted in subsequent years as we have more actual data,” he said.

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