Mon, Dec 3, 10:11am by Ed Scimia
One of the most overlooked portions of the recent poker machine reform bill was the limit on ATMs in gaming venues. Under the new rules, clubs and pubs with pokies will be allowed to have ATMs, but the machines will be limited to giving out $250 each day per individual. The idea, of course, is to limit how much players who want to chase losses have the ability to do so.
If you’re wondering where this idea came from, you need look no further than Victoria. If you missed it, Victoria banned ATMs in all pokies venues on July 1 in an effort to help curb problem gambling. Looking back on it, some government officials are heralding the move as a success, while some in the clubs industry believe it has done nothing to help problem gamblers – only hurt their own bottom lines.
Here are the numbers. Since July 1, the amount spent on pokie in the 511 venues that were impacted by the new law dropped by 6.7% when compared to the same period in 2011. That means that gamblers spent $62 million less than they did last year. In September and October, the most recent months for which data is available, that drop was even more pronounced: pokies revenue was down 8% in those months.
For anti-gambling activists, this figure is seen as a big win. As gambling spending goes down, it is reasoned, much of that lo comes from problem gamblers who would have tried to hit the ATM again and again in order to keep playing. And while that loss in pokies spending also costs the government – Victoria will receive about $50 million less per year in tax revenue should this trend continue – officials say that the social benefits outweigh that revenue decrease.
“I’d rather not take one dollar from problem gambling,” Gaming Minister Michael O’Brien told the Herald Sun. “Not only is it a better position morally, but even economically when you think about the impact of that issue to the state.”
Club Owners See Different Impact
However, owners of some clubs and pubs say that the loss of ATMs has only served to hurt them, and has done little to help prevent the spread of problem gambling.
A recent Herald Sun article told the story of Geraldine MacDonald, the owner of the Fairfield/Alphington RSL. According to MacDonald, her venue has seen an even larger reduction in pokies revenues: a drop of close to 25%.
“It’s a quite sizeable amount,” she said, “especially with clubs like us, where our main income is gaming.”
MacDonald went on to say that many venues in her area have reduced the number of pokies they offer in recent months. However, she believes that the impact is more clearly felt by causal gamblers rather than those with compulsive gambling issues.
“It has reduced [problem gambling] in the sense that once they leave the venue they don’t come back,” MacDonald said. “[But] the original effect was more than it is now that they’ve got used to it not being there. If they’re serious gamblers that doesn’t make any difference to them anyway.”
Instead, MacDonald said, it was casual gamblers who were driven away by the ATM removal. Those players may not come to the club with cash ready to spend any money on pokies, and now have lost a way to obtain funds for spontaneous play.
A Middle Ground
The national pokies reforms that were recently passed take something of a middle ground on this issue. While they do restrict how much players can withdraw from ATMs, they don’t remove the machines entirely. Even a $250 restriction should prevent problem gamblers from withdrawing obscene amounts of cash when they feel like chasing losses, but should be enough to allow casual players to exhaust their initial stake and know they can go back one more time for more money – or for players who arrive short on cash to get enough money for an evening of playing the pokies. Whether any of these measures will have an appreciable impact on problem gambling in Australia is something that may take years or decades to determine, but the impact on the clubs themselves has been immediate.
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