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Harm Minimisation Debate Continues to Grow

Sun, May 12, 8:42am by Kevin Pitstock

RBA LogoMuch of the public debate on problem gambling focuses on buzzwords like “harm minimisation”. These words are tossed about by pro-gambling and anti-gambling advocates as a shorthand, but many citizens might not know what the concept of harm minimisation actually entails.

In an attempt to inform, Australia Gambling Blog wanted to reiterate the definition of harm minimisation provided in a recent government report on interactive gambling. The report was released by the Department of Broadband, Communications, and The Digital Economy Department after reviewing the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

The report offered 32 suggestions for amendments. Many of these centred on the harm minimisation. While the definition provided might not be quite the same distinction the various public policy groups might have for the term, it’s the official government terminology.

What Is Harm Minimisation?

The Department called for a minimum standard for the sake of consumer protection. That minimum standard would provide an identity verification system, so venues would know in a surer way the identity and age of poker machine users.

Identity verification is a good idea under any circumstances. This would help limit identity theft and underage gambling, even if other issues weren’t at stake. While important, the following three concepts are what people are discussing when they debate methods for limiting the harm caused by addictive gambling.

Pre-Commitment to Less Gambling

The debate also entails a pre-commitment system. Pre-commitment systems allow gamblers to pre-determine how much time they spend at a machine, along with the amount of betting which takes place. The system also would track their profits and, more likely, their losses.

One of the great fallacies of gambling is the ability of humans to remember the wins and forget the losses. Everyone knows a friend or aunt or neighbour who goes to the casino and brings back stories of what seems like an unbroken string of wins. That’s because they don’t talk about losses, but boast of victories. Over time, they come to believe their own bluster, because they’ve heard it enough times. A system of tracking wins and losses puts the lie to those claims, reinforcing what they know, but often won’t admit to themselves.

Self-Exclusion Database

A self-exclusion database lets a player opt out of gambling, but opt out on a national level. It’s helpful for a punter to self-exclude themself from their favourite local casino. If they then have second thoughts and decide to go to their second favourite casino, their first sound action doesn’t much help. A self-exclusion database allows local decisions to go national, barring the player from venues across the board.

Targeted Pop-Up Messages

You’ll often read news reports of proposed parliamentary amendments which require gaming machines to “support on-screen messages”. Readers might ask what that means, but what it’s referring to is the targeted pop-up messages which warn players when their activity is indicative of problem gambling.

Experts discuss warning signs of addictive gambling. This information is well-known to experts, so that information can be programmed into a machine. When a pattern starts to form of a possible degenerate gambling, a pop-up screen appears to warn the player they might be in a danger zone. This is just one more reminder the punter might need a reality check.

Harm Minimisation Reforms

Pre-commitment, self-exclusion databases, targeted messages and warnings, and identity verification systems all put together constitute harm minimisation. The next time you see that terminology used in a newspaper story, you’ll know what’s at stake.

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