Monash council calls for gambling reform

He Siyuan

The City of Monash has joined forces with Senator Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie MP in calling for gambling legislation.

The council is a member of the Alliance for Gambling Reform – a national collaboration of organisations which is concerned with detrimental impacts of gambling on vulnerable people in Australia.

Together with the Alliance it’s endorsed an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull which calls for a ban on sports betting advertisements during peak television timeslots and also calls for a Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform to educate the public.

AGR’s open letter also urges the federal government to pass “legislation that limits poker machine harm to a maximum $1 bet and maximum loss of $120 per hour”.

The Alliance for Gambling reform is suing Crown Casino for misleading conduct. Picture: Siyuan He
The Alliance for Gambling reform is suing Crown Casino for misleading conduct. Picture: Siyuan He

Rohan Wenn, director of strategy for the Alliance, says The Alliance for Gambling Reform is suing Aristocrat and Crown Casino for misleading and deceptive conduct.

“This is designed to expose the tricks that poker machine designers put into their machines to create an addiction in users,” says Mr Wenn, an independent communications consultant, and also an investigative reporter for both A Current Affair and Today Tonight.

Monash city council has calculated that more than $A111.3 million was lost on poker machines in Monash during the 2015/2016 financial year, which is the sixth highest amount of gambling related losses in any Victorian council area.

In May 2016, Monash council adopted a Gambling Policy Statement to oppose any relocation of current Monash poker machines to disadvantaged areas within the local council area and disallow gambling activity, promotion and advertisements.

It’s refused any proposals to increase the number of poker machines and are concerned that Clayton already has enough poker machines in comparison with other Melbourne suburbs.

The council says it’s dedicated to seeking legislative reform of the Gambling Regulation Act to protect vulnerable individuals, families and communities and support them to have a healthy lifestyle.

The Alliance describes poker machines as designed to mislead people and trick people into believing a win is more likely than it is.

They have also disclosed information showing Crown Casino and Aristocrat poker machines are designed to make people assume that each reel is the same size, when in fact, the last reel is oversized which reduces the odds of winning.

The Alliance says 11 billion dollars a year is lost on poker machines, and half of this comes from people who are addicted to these devices.

Mr Wenn believes problematic gambling in Victoria will trigger more social and economic harms on disadvantaged people and also lead to physical and mental health problems.

“This leads to suicide, marital break-up, fraud, violence crime and increased rates of domestic violence,” he says.

He says this is not about a lack of self-will in people who use these machines; but that these machines are designed by addiction specialists to create addiction.

“If the machines operate the way they are designed to operate, they create addiction,” Mr Wenn says.

“It’s not an accident”.

Cr Bill McArthur, President of MAV (Municipal Association of Victoria) which is a founding supporter of the Alliance, is strongly critical of the current system of pokies license allocation in Victoria, which he describes as ‘broken.’

“Big operators are far too easily able to place pokies into our most vulnerable communities,” Cr McArthur said.

“We know pokies are currently concentrated in areas of social and economic disadvantage. These are the communities that can least afford to carry the burden.”

He said the current system of approval of poker machine licenses favours the applicant “rather than prioritising the best interests of communities”.

The MAV considers the current regulatory framework for gambling in Victoria as providing little protection for vulnerable communities.

“We need reforms focused on identifying real community benefit and harm in a transparent and objective way that is fair to all, and that will give councils a fighting chance,” Cr McArthur said.

The association also provided evidence to explain how a reduction of maximum bets to $1 on electronic gambling machines has had little impact on so-called “recreational gamblers” and would be a positive influence for “problem” players who usually bet at levels over $1.