Civil society organisations launch 2023 State Election Platform, calling for leaders to ‘Put pokies in their place

Today, a growing coalition for gambling reform led by Wesley Mission will launch their official 2023 election campaign, Put Pokies in Their Place, at NSW Parliament House.

The launch will be hosted by Cate Faehrmann MLC and Helen Dalton MP and is endorsed by Arab Council Australia, Anglicare, Community Resource Network, Financial Counsellor’s Association of NSW, Indian Crisis & Support Agency, NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS), Older Women’s Network, The Salvation Army, Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Suicide Prevention Australia, Uniting Church Synod of NSW & ACT, and the NSW Council of Churches.

The platform includes five key areas for reform in NSW, where losses from poker machines in pubs and clubs hit a record $3.8 billion in the first half of 2022.

The campaign calls upon the NSW Parliament to implement meaningful reforms to prevent and reduce gambling harm:

1. Implement universal cashless gambling with harm reduction measures built-in 

The campaign calls for NSW to follow and improve on the Tasmanian government’s introduction of universal cashless and harm reduction payment systems for gambling. 

2. Power-down poker machines after midnight 

The campaign calls for all poker machines in pubs and clubs to be turned off between midnight and 10 am. 

3. Fund an independent State-wide Self Exclusion Register 

The campaign calls for the establishment of a single, state-wide self-exclusion register funded by gambling taxation revenue, managed independently from the gambling industry, and overseen by an appropriate independent statutory body.

4. Let communities have a say  

The campaign calls for Councils to have a statutory right to be able to make submissions on every poker machine application in their community, regardless of Local Impact Assessment (LIA) status, and appeal any decision made by the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority.

5. Greater transparency in NSW – publish venue data 

The campaign calls for all NSW poker machine data to be transparently published by venue at least every six months. 

Wesley Mission CEO and gambling reform advocate Rev Stu Cameron says every day, Wesley Mission sees the devastating and far-reaching harm of poker machines, as do many individuals, families and businesses.

“There is a real groundswell for real change and a broad and diverse coalition is forming and endorsing this election platform to put pokies in their place.

“NSW is home to just under half of Australia’s 200,000 poker machines. They are profitable, accessible and deeply harmful. Dotted in pubs and clubs across the state – they are dangerous and designed to addict. In no other place on earth is gambling so ubiquitous.

“We are coming together to protect our communities by keeping gambling harm and gambling reform on the political agenda. It is time for our leaders to take action.”

Time: 8.45am for 9am start, Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Location: Jubilee Room, NSW Parliament House

Event hosted by Cate Faehrmann MLC and Helen Dalton MP

Talent present for interview:

  • Rev Stu Cameron, CEO and Gambling Reform Advocate, Wesley Mission
  • Joanna Quilty, CEO, NCOSS
  • Very Rev Sandy Grant, Dean of Sydney

Following the launch, there will be an opportunity for media questions, interviews and photography.

Media enquiries

Anne Holt: 0418 628 342

For media reporting on gambling harm, please strongly consider including help-seeking information:

  • You can find support information on the GambleAware website: https://www.gambleaware.nsw.gov.au/i-need-support
  • Speak to a counsellor 24 hours a day via the GambleAware Helpline on 1800 858 858
  • Counselling is confidential and free of charge and is available to both individuals and family members experiencing gambling harm.

Detail from the platform:

1. Implement universal cashless gambling with harm reduction measures built-in 

NSW has been rocked by the uncovering of one of its dirtiest secrets – poker machines across the state are used by organised criminals to launder money. This is the moment when gambling reformers and law enforcement can work together to use one initiative to address two major problems. Removing the ability to put cash into poker machines will stop money laundering in its tracks. To do that requires every poker machine in the state to be modified to only accept a card or a digital wallet as the payment. Those payment systems must be linked to bank accounts or debit cards, which themselves are linked to a proven identity. This puts the power to manage gambling time and spending back into the hands of customers. A card or digital wallet can require people to set sensible loss limits – with the default being the Tasmanian model of $100 a day, $500 a week, $5,000 a year. People could choose to set their limit at $0 if they want. 

People can also set their time limits so that machines will stop working after a set time, and the person cannot just move to the next machine. If they are still within their limit but need to top up funds, the card/wallet cannot be used for 30 minutes to encourage people to take a break. Improved activity statements can be generated, and winnings quarantined. If someone has self-excluded, their card or wallet will not work. 

2. Power-down poker machines after midnight 

The evidence is clear, gambling after midnight is a significant risk factor for harm. As far back as 2010, the Productivity Commission recommended the earlier closure of suburban poker machine venues in recognition of the increased risk of harm during late-night gambling. Successive reports, including the NSW Government’s own research, demonstrate that people already significantly harmed are over-represented in pubs and clubs after midnight. [i][ii][iii]

There is no reason for suburban pubs and clubs to continue operating poker machines in the early hours of the morning when we know people are at their most vulnerable. It is abundantly clear that a simple measure can prevent and minimise harm from late-night gambling. It is also clear that most NSW residents support this measure. 

3. Fund an independent State-wide Self Exclusion Register 

The system of self-exclusion is fundamentally broken in NSW. Self-exclusion is a valuable tool to empower people to take control of their gambling. While every venue in the state is required to offer self-exclusion, they are under no legal obligation to honour or enforce such requests and are not penalised in any way if a self-excluded person gambles at their venue. 

The current patchwork system is ineffective at providing support to the people who need it most. A range of hurdles, from limits on the number of venues from which a person can self-exclude to a cumbersome application process, renders the current system deeply flawed.[iv] People who are experiencing gambling harm must be supported with effective tools to take control of their gambling, and venues must be supported to uphold their community obligations. The solution is to adopt a single, state-wide system akin to the federal online wagering model. 

4. Let communities have a say  

Councils are the level of government closest to people’s daily lives. They are the principal planning authority, deciding on the mix and nature of businesses that best suit their community. However, an unusual exemption exists within the Gaming Machine Act that allows poker machines to be excluded from the standard planning system. There is no other planning carve-out of this kind. Unlike their Victorian counterparts, NSW Councils are not automatically consulted when a venue applies to increase poker machine numbers and have no right to appeal a decision made by the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority except in rare circumstances.[v]

Councils are well-placed to act on behalf of their communities. They hold planning, economic, and social data that creates a more complete picture of community composition and should be considered in the determination of poker machine applications. They are also responsible for providing education, social protection and services to vulnerable community members and other public amenities. These services are affected by the harm gambling causes to the community. They must be given the right to comment on and appeal poker machine applications within their municipality, as is currently the case for alcohol. 

5. Greater transparency in NSW – publish venue data 

Transparency and accountability are central to a strong democracy. To effectively prevent and reduce gambling harm, we must first understand where that harm occurs. Although poker machine losses are an imperfect proxy for gambling harm, they are embedded in the formula which ranks communities at risk. The formula uses socio-economic indexes, the number of machines per capita, and machine loss rankings to rate an area. This determines whether a venue is in an area that is more impacted by gambling. The community has a right to also access this data. 

Currently, the Department of Liquor and Gaming only publishes the losses for an entire local government area (LGA). In many cases, when there are small numbers of gambling venues in an LGA, neighbouring LGA data is combined. This means it is impossible to determine the losses at any meaningful, granular level. The data is published half-yearly, and files are separated by venue type and released in overlapping cycles, making it difficult to analyse.

[i]  ILGA Guideline 16 Late-night gaming applications. 

https://www.liquorandgaming.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0010/936271/gl4026-ilga-guideline-16-12-May-2021.pdf  

[ii] NSW Government commissioned research into post-midnight gambling: Research into the late-night usage of electronic gaming machines – Liquor & Gaming NSW 

[iii] Shutdown periods for electronic gaming machines, RGF, 2019 Shutdown periods for electronic gaming machines (nsw.gov.au)

[iv] ABC investigation showing venues not stopping self-excluded gamblers from entering and losing thousands of dollars: Problem gamblers say pokies venues aren’t stopping self-excluded gamblers from losing thousands – ABC News

[v] Community consultation process under LIA system: Preparing an LIA – Liquor & Gaming NSW

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