productivity commission report – recommendations

It’s been a week since the government released the final version of the inquiry into gambling. Of course, that event was kind of overshadowed by the leadership shenanigans that kicked off later the same day, but it’s important the government doesn’t lose sight of what’s contained within this report.

The initial government response to the report was to wait and see, as I discussed in an earlier article. That’s not good enough. However, the changes at the top haven’t been significant enough to suggest that this decision may be reviewed… still, I live in hope.

Now, I’ve had time to read the final version of the report (which can be found here). There are 48 recommendations, across a number of areas. The government has formally rejected one recommendation, formally endorsed another, and handballed the other 46 to the states and territories to be considered at a later date.

Without going to excruciating detail, the recommendations can be broken down as follows:

Category # of recommendations

Counselling and treatment support services 4
Gambling Information and Advertising 6
School-based Education 1
Pre-Commitment Strategies 6
Game Features and Machine Design 3
Venue Activities 3
Access to Cash and Credit 4
Accessibility of Gaming Machines 1
Online Gaming and the Interactive Gambling Act 2
Developments in the Racing and Wagering Industries 4
Regulatory Processes and Institutions 6
Gambling Policy Research and Evaluation 3
Implementation Issues and Transitions 5

I’ve identified a number of key recommendations; let’s take a look at those.

Funnel a greater proportion of funds spent by problem gamblers into gambling help strategies and services.
This makes a lot of sense. The report suggests that approximately 40% of money spent on gambling, comes from problem gamblers. For the government to continue to accept this revenue stream is akin to taking blood money. Far better that the lion’s share of this revenue be diverted to schemes that can actually help those who lost the money in the first place!

Gambling suppliers must not provide information that implies that future winning numbers can be inferred from past results.
Absolutely. Poker machines are random. Near-misses are just that: near-misses. They are not signs of things to come! Some of the biggest purveyors of this kind of misconception, unfortunately, are the illegal off-shore online gambling sites. In stark contrast to the wealth of information available via official channels in this coutry, these sites gleefully spruik the concept that machines pay in cycles, and that there are strategies that can beat the odds, and that you should play lots and for long periods of time to maximise your chances of winning… gaah! It’s obscene. They prey on the weak and the vulnerable, and it shouldn’t be allowed.

Revise the 2010 television industry code of practice with regards to promotion of lotteries, lotto, keno and sportsbetting during children’s viewing periods.
Gambling should be kept away from children. I defy anyone to try and explain otherwise.

Self-exclusion arrangements should be able to be initiated immediately (at a venue), as well as family members (subject to evidence).
I do like this idea. Problem gamblers should be able to walk up to a staff member at a venue where they’re playing, and say “I’ve got a problem, don’t let me gamble here anymore.” Sometimes, going through a waiting period means that the decision to self-exclude may be overridden by the urge to keep gambling.

Full pre-commitment systems for EGMs should be implemented.
Absolutely, although any voluntary system is, by it’s very nature, not going to be as effective as an enforced system. This is the only strategy that the gavernement is backing from the report, and I pray that they give it due consideration going forward.

Maximum bet per button push should be capped to $1.
This is an absolute must-have. If we’re going to change gambling behaviours and lower the incidence of problem gambling in the future, we need to make changes at the “point of contact”… the machines. A $1 limit on a spin of the tumblers will not drastically impact recreational gamblers, but may (will) have an impact on many problem gamblers.

Note acceptors (on machines) should only accept denominations of $20 or less.
Another “point of contact” change that needs to implemented as soon as possible. Making gamblers (recreational or problem) decide whether or not to spend another $20, on a note-by-note basis, rather than allowing them to load up the machine and then play, play, play, is an excellent idea and will help empower problem gamblers to take control of their habits.

Jackpots should be investigated with regards to their impact on problem gambling behaviours.
Yet another “point of contact” change. I believe that jackpots for poker machine venues should be banned immediately. They persuade players to keep playing in the hope that, regardless of how well or poorly their own machine is behaving, they could still take out the jackpot. I remember playing well beyond my means, because there was a jackpot that was going to “go off” soon and I was one of only a few players in the room at the time. I didn’t win.
Jackpots also skew the payout overages… when one person wins a big jackpot, it’s a mathematical certainty that the regular returns to other players are impacted. Seem strange? Well, if the machines at a particular venue return 90% to the customers, and the venue pays out 5 jackpots in a day (benefiting 5 customers only), then the regular payout figures for the machines at that venue (not including the jackpots) will be significantly lower than 90%.

Prohibit venues from offering inducements that may lead to problem gambling.
Venues should never offer anything that may contribute to problem gambling. Allowing players to eat at their machines, for example, or running child-minding facilities, or loyalty programs that reward gambling behaviour… anything that is designed to make someone sit at a poker machine for longer periods of time should be banned.

Prizes above $300 should be payed by cheque.
Prohibit gaming venues from cashing out prize cheques.

I’ve listed these two recommendations together, as they would need to be implemented together. It’s not a bad idea, and means that it’s harder for gamblers to re-invest their winnings. There are some kinks that would have to be worked out, of course.

Gaming rooms in all hotels and clubs should have a shut-down period, starting no later than 2am and lasting no less than 6 hours.
Definitely. 24-hour gambling venues are (I believe) a thing of the past, and so they should be… but many venues get around this by closing for the briefest of periods at the quietest time of day (say, around 4am). There needs to be a time when gambling venues have to shut their doors, and then remain closed for at least 6 hours. I’d actually like to see this standardised across the board… to ensure that ALL gambling venues closed at the same time of day, and could not re-open before a fixed time.

Amend the Interactive Gambling Act to allow the supply of online poker card games.
This is the only recommendation that the government has formally rejected, and I’m glad about that. This is an area that requires far more investigation before we can legalise this kind of gambling in this country. However, the illegal off-shore sites should be restricted from the business that they can do as well, as they are currently cleaning up in the absence of a local industry. Plans from such politicians as Senators Xenophon and Fielding to prohibit or restrict credit card transactions with off-shore gambling merchants, for example, are achievable and would not only cut the amount of gambling happening on off-shore sites, but would therefore reduce the amount of money heading out of Australia as a result of allowing these sites to conduct their business.

Impact of credit betting should be examined; advertising of credit betting should be prohibited; credit betting should not be allowed for TABs.
Credit betting is evil. I can’t be any clearer on this. Allowing people to gamble with money they don’t actually have is criminally negligent on the part of any government or industry that allows it.

What really galls me is that this report has given the governments (state and federal) a golden opportunity to prove that they are not beholden to gambling revenue, and that they actually place the welfare of their people ahead of the dollars they can make from gambling. So far, they’ve dropped the ball.

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