I had planned for today to be a quiet day on the blog… no such luck. It’s been a week since the report on the proposed pre-commitment reforms for poker machines was released, and as the word coming back from the Independents still suggests that they hold a number of concerns, I thought I’d write them a letter. I sent the following email to Bob Katter, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Crook. Wonder if they’ll write back?
My name is Tom Cummings. My submission to the Joint Select Committee on Problem Gambling, which was extensively referenced in the report that was released last week, spoke of my past as a poker machine addict, how I’ve dealt with my problem and my thoughts on the proposed reforms.
I understand that you have concerns about the proposed reforms, and I appreciate your position on this matter. There is a lot of conflicting information flying around about problem gamblers in general, poker machine problem gamblers in particular, and the impact of poker machines on our local and wider communities. While I am not a recognised expert in this field, I do have something that most commenters do not, and that is intimate experience with actually being a poker machine problem gambler.
There are some points being raised in the current debate that I would like to clarify, and I would be more than happy to discuss them further with you if you so wished.
* Problem gamblers will circumvent any restrictions by buying or swapping additional cards or setting unreasonably high betting limits.
The point here is that the vast majority of poker machine addicts do NOT want to maintain their addiction. In general poker machine addicts do not wake up in the morning thinking “how will I gamble today?”; they wake up thinking “please don’t let me gamble today!”. Poker machine addicts are crying out for the tools to manage and ultimately beat their addiction.
I never walked into a gaming venue intending to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars; I almost always had a very clear idea of how much I was willing to spend. But once I started playing, those good intentions went out the window. I have spoken to a number of other former problem gamblers and the story is the same. Setting limits PRIOR to playing the pokies is something that would be embraced by poker machine problem gamblers. Naturally there would be some who would try and get around this, but they would be the exception rather than the rule.
* Poker machine problem gamblers will simply migrate to another less-controlled form of gambling.
This statement is widely repeated, and it is simply not true. All of the available research refutes this idea. Speak to any gambling counsellor and the message is clear: poker machine addicts are addicted to pokies, not gambling.
I have had no problem with any other form of gambling before, during or since my poker machine addiction. I play Powerball every week, I don’t bet on sports, I occasionally play poker, I very occasionally bet on horses… none of these activities has any form of hold on me. But poker machines are a different story. I simply could not stop playing the pokies. Once I finally did break free of my addiction, I wasn’t looking around for another form of gambling to take their place, for it wasn’t gambling that I was addicted to. It was poker machines.
* These reforms are anti-gambling, they are designed to hurt the clubs industry and will shut down small clubs.
In all honesty, ClubsAustralia and ClubsNSW are responsible for promoting this line of thought. They have a long history of attacking anything that may threaten their gaming operations, from the introduction of poker machines to NSW pubs, to tax hikes, to smoking bans… all were cited as spelling the end of the clubs industry. Clearly that hasn’t happened.
The reality is that these reforms have been tailored specifically to address these concerns. Giving smaller clubs more time to comply (until 2018) and setting up a transitional fund to help with implementation costs are two concessions that will go a long way towards ensuring the future viability of these clubs. Additionally, the extra time gives these clubs the opportunity to explore other revenue streams, so they can reduce their dependence on poker machine revenue. Many clubs are already doing just that; look at Revesby Worker’s Club, who are building a commercial centre which will slash their dependence on revenue generated by their poker machines. Such developments can only provide better facilities for the community, while minimising the reliance on poker machines for revenue.
I don’t expect you to take my word as gospel on any of this, but please be aware that these reforms have not been designed to hurt the gambling industry, or our clubs and pubs. They have been designed to give poker machine problem gamblers the tools to manage their addiction, and minimise the harm they can cause to themselves and others. More importantly, these reforms will have a significant impact on the development of problem gambling behaviours in future poker machine players. That is why they are so important; these reforms are the only measures being discussed that focus on prevention rather than cure. It is all well and good for the industry to talk about counselling, self-exclusion and other measures aimed at problem gamblers… I for one would prefer measures that help stop people becoming problem gamblers in the first place. That is what these reforms will do.
As a former problem gambler, I urge you to support these reforms… and I thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say. I would be more than happy to discuss any of these points further with you.