Victorian gambling reform pokie spending ATMs

After a seeming drop in spending and losses in 2012, pokie machine spending is up once more, causing many Victorians concern (Image: The Age)

In 2012, gambling reform supporters crowed about the success of reforms in Victoria that seemed to be limiting the spending and losses by players on pokies in that state. But the latest figures seem to show that the drop was only temporary, as spending was once again back up in 2013.

Law Limited ATM Access

The reform law – passed by the state government in 2012 – banned ATMs from being placed inside of clubs and other gambling venues in Victoria. Only the Crown Casino in Melbourne was exempted from the law.

In the immediate aftermath, the ATM ban appeared to be quite effective in limiting pokie play for Victorians. Over the 2012-2013 financial year, the state’s 26,000 poker machines saw $2.49 billion spent on them: a hefty figure, but down nearly 7 percent from the previous year. It was the lowest level of spending since 2005-06, and government officials attributed the drop directly to the ATM ban.

But it appears as though the move only provided a short-term drop in pokie spending, as the numbers came back up in 2013. Throughout Victoria, $215.5 million was spent on pokies in November 2013, up from $208.5 million in November 2012. The numbers for the July through November period were up year-over-year in a number of towns and cities where pokies are particularly prevalent, including Hume, Melbourne, Geelong and Glen Eira.

Call for Yet More Reforms

That has led to calls from anti-pokie campaigners for stronger reforms yet. According to campaigner Paul Bendat, the ban on ATMs has been largely ineffective, and should be supplemented by a $1 betting limit.

“The Coalition government has done nothing and its only proposal is to raise taxes and make machines more dangerous,” Bendat said.

Clubs Australia is actually in agreement with the poker machine reform movement on this issue, though their solutions are not exactly the same. They say that the ban on ATMs only covers up a symptom of problem gambling, and serves more to frustrate casual players than attacking the root causes of problem gambling.

“Problem gambling is a human problem that requires a human solution,” said Clubs Australia spokeswoman Carissa Simons. She also said that some of the drop in revenue from the previous year had been due to issues with machines that had to be switched off for days at a time.

Government officials, though, say that the ATM measure was effective, and that other measures – like increased funding for responsible gaming groups – were designed to help stop problem gambling at its roots. They also point to the fact that a voluntary pre-commitment program will be in place statewide by 2016.

If the ATM ban was only temporarily effective, that may be due to a loophole being exploited by many clubs. Cash withdrawals are still allowed at eftpos cash-back machines, which require gamblers to complete a transaction using a card with a member of the casino staff. These transactions are limited to $200 each, but there’s no limit on how many can be made in a day. Some anti-gambling advocates have suggested that extending the ban to these machines could once again cause a drop in pokie spending.

A Department of Justice report on the ban released last September found that gamblers spent less at hotels and clubs and spent less time in those venues since the ATM ban went into place.

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