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Mandatory pre-commitment: no dice yet


The government announced last Saturday that due to a lack of Parliamentary support it would not proceed with legislation to require mandatory pre-commitment (MPC) on electronic gaming machines (EGMs). Instead it announced a trial of MPC in the ACT to test its effectiveness before committing to proceed down this path nationally, and introduce a raft of other measures to tackle problem gambling. In response Independent MP Mr Wilkie, whose ongoing support for the government required the introduction and successful passage of legislation implementing MPC by May 2012, announced he had withdrawn his support for the government.
The announcement by the government to not proceed with MPC nationally was met with disappointment from advocates, such as Get Up!, who argue MPC is urgently required to help problem gamblers. Unsurprisingly, opponents, including Clubs Australia which has mounted a vigorous campaign against MPC, have welcomed the announcement.
The government stated it remained committed to tackling problem gambling, including to introducing MPC if the trial finds it is effective. It also announced a number of other initiatives to address problem gambling and these include:
  • From 2013, all new poker machines must be capable of supporting MPC;
  • By end of 2016 all poker machines must be part of a state linked pre-commitment system, except eligible small venues which will have longer;
  • Introducing a $250 daily withdrawal limit from ATMs in gaming venues (excluding casinos) by 1 February 2013;
  • Electronic warnings and cost of play displays on poker machines by 2016;
  • Additional counselling support with 50 new financial counsellors to work with problem gamblers, and expanding the reach of Gambling Help Online;
  • Strengthening self-exclusion arrangements;
  • Improving training for staff in pokies venues;
  • Banning the promotion of live odds during sports coverage;
  • Extending pre-commitment to online betting services;
  • Banning online sports betting companies from offering credit and enforcing stricter limits on betting inducements; and
  • Increasing the powers of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to enforce these new rules.
Some problem gambling advocates have expressed cautious support for these measures, one, Tom Cummings has even suggested that taken together, these reforms may go further than the original proposal around MPC.

A number of these initiatives will require legislation to implement, notably: the requirement all new machines from 2013 must be MPC-enabled as well as networked, the trial of MPC in the ACT, the ban on online credit, the ATM limits, and the promotion of live odds.

Although the government has expressed confidence (see the PM's comments from the press conference) it has the necessary Parliamentary support for all these measures, nevertheless the support of the Parliament is not guaranteed. Some in the industry may yet seek to lobby against some or all of these measures. The Clubs Industry has been opposed to the ATM withdrawal limits, and online sports betting agency Sportsbet has already expressed concerns around the proposal to ban credit for online gamblers. Further, support from the states and territories is not assured either, meaning that the future of many of these reforms still remains uncertain.

Meanwhile the proposed trial in the ACT, which is yet to be agreed to by the clubs industry, may also raise concerns. The financial assistance package of $36 million announced, which includes compensating ACT clubs for possible revenue losses and upgrades of machines, may raise questions around whether this level of expenditure for the industry is entirely justified. This recent report from the Australia Institute suggests that industry estimates of the cost of upgrading to MPC have been significantly overstated. Some may also compare this level of industry spending to the amount of additional expenditure for Gambling Help Online the government also announced which is significantly less, just $300 000. Further, the design and evaluation of the trial is also likely to be of ongoing interest. If it is not seen to be completely independent of industry influence, then it would raise questions over the legitimacy of its findings. There are also questions about the validity of a trial in the ACT given the proximity to venues in NSW that will not be introducing mandatory pre-commitment.
Tags: gambling