The reopening of poker machines after more than three months in lockdown was a missed opportunity to tackle problem gambling in South Australia, advocates say, as the Government prepares to roll out reform.
- Hotel gaming rooms reopen after coronavirus-enforced closures on March 23
- Reformed addicts call it a missed opportunity to tackle problem gambling
- Larger venues investigating facial recognition technology to identify banned pokie addicts
Phase three restrictions yesterday allowed for pubs to reopen their gaming rooms while also removing a cap on the number of patrons inside hotels and bars — provided they did not exceed one person per two square metres.
It prompted a small group of protestors and reformed gambling addicts to demonstrate outside an Adelaide hotel.
“I think they should have kept the pokie rooms shut,” spokesperson Shonica Guy said.
Ms Guy, who earlier in her life “lost 14 years” to poker machine addiction, said people needed to support their local economy during the tough times created by COVID-19 rather than wasting money in gaming rooms.
‘Slow them down’
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson, Tim Costello, said the organisation unsuccessfully asked the State Government to consider reopening hotel gaming rooms with reduced hours and bets limited to $1.
“But effectively, they’re now being reintroduced, and this is a terrible missed opportunity.”
He cited the 2010 Gambling Productivity Commission, which stated that for every $1 that went into Australian poker machines, about 40 per cent came from a problem gambler.
SA poker machines currently accept $1 coins and have a maximum of $5 bets.
Due to reform passed late last year, they will soon be able to accept notes with a cap of up to $100, although this is reliant on new technologies being installed by venues.
Reform package rolling out
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the hotel industry employed more than 26,000 people before COVID-19 and “we need to be mindful that this industry needs to thrive to keep people in jobs”.
She said the Government had ensured there were “numerous safeguards in place for problem gamblers” including reform that would enable people to be barred from venues indefinitely and immediately from the moment they are sought.
“In addition, the Government has supported the rollout of Automatic Risk Monitoring, that helps gaming room staff to identify behaviour from individuals who may be at risk of gambling-related harm,” Ms Chapman said.
“The Government did not consider any changes to hours regarding gaming machines.”
She said the reform package would come into effect later this year and also:
- Limit how much money can be accessed via EFTPOS in a gaming venue.
- Limit the the amount of money to be accepted by machines fitted with banknote acceptors.
- Expand the scope of the Gamblers Rehabilitation Fund and inject it with an extra $1 million annually.
Barry said he lost about $200,000 to pokies over 10 years, after what was initially “innocent” became an addiction when his wife passed away.
Suffering from depression, he said he “went off the rails and wasted so much money it’s not funny”.
“I had one across the road and used to walk there at 11pm at night for three to four hours, drink fairly heavily as well, go home to bed and then work the next day,” Barry said.
He described gaming as “zoning in on the machine in front of you”, where you didn’t have to “worry about anything that was going on”.
“You just sat there, and when everything was gone, you went home,” Barry said.
Facial recognition measures
Australian Hotels Association SA Branch chief executive Ian Horne said large venues had been in the process of investigating facial recognition technology to help identify problem gamblers who had been “banned and shouldn’t be there” when COVID-19 shut everything down.
Through Gaming Care and Club Safe, he said there were 10 full-time road officers whose principal role was to work with staff at hotels and clubs to ensure they were compliant and were abiding “by all the expectations in terms of supporting people with problems”.
“But these sorts of checks and balances are not available online, and what we do know is, that while gaming rooms were shut down in Australia, there was a massive increase, billons of dollars extra spent, on online gambling,” he said.
“A significant amount of it was in casinos outside Australia over which we have no jurisdiction, or on shonky websites from Vanuatu and the Caribbean.
“So at the very least, when they gamble in Australia, it will be at a regulated premises, whether that’s a casino, a club or a hotel.”