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Who will pre-commitment help?
Before going to the specifics of the bill, the committee takes the
opportunity to briefly remind readers of the reason for the legislation: the personal,
family and community cost of problem gambling. Over a number of inquiries the
committee has heard from problem gamblers and their families, and the committee
hopes that people will take the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the personal
stories in its reports.
As this was a legislation inquiry, the committee did not receive many
submissions from individuals but a problem gambler wrote in to tell the
committee how he believed the legislation would assist him. It is worth
reproducing some of this submission here as it is representative of many others
who have experienced or are experiencing gambling problems.
I am 41 years old and I have a massive gambling problem with
pokies. I am also in debt where my commitments from this debt are quite high, I
find it near impossible to pay bills and living expenses on a weekly basis, I
am always, almost broke the day after pay day.
I am paid fortnightly and am on a pretty good wage, my take
home pay is $2806 per fortnight, now you would think that I would have a house,
car and be able to afford to go on holidays, I don't own a house, don't own a
car and don't go away on holidays because of gambling on pokies. As I am not
married and have no dependants, its very easy for me to do this. Living in a
new city (Brisbane) I like to go out and have a drink, but when I do, I'm always
drawn to the pokies, sometimes leaving a venue flat broke and not paying my
I believe that someone like myself would benefit greatly from
having a pre commitment card on the pokies and I would be able to manage my
life and self better, I would have money at all times...
With regards to the pre commitment cards, I would like to
propose that people who participate in this scheme would do so voluntarily. I
am thinking that if they walk into any venue with the card, that it would have
some sort of chip or something in it where the pokies would recognise that this
person has entered a venue and would automatically pick up how much of their
pre commitment is left, like for example, if I made a pre commitment of $250 to
gamble in a 24 hour time frame, then it would only allow me to play up to that
amount and if I left to attend another venue and if I had $60 left on my pre
commitment, then I would only be allowed to play that amount. Of course people
have to take responsibility for their own actions and there would be ways
around it, but if I was to have access to something like this, this would make
me more responsible for my own actions and make me conscious of the fact that I
have my own destiny in my own hands and make me think about what I am doing. If
I walked into a venue without making a prior commitment with the card in my
wallet, then the machines should not allow me to play any poker machines within
During the committee's first inquiry into mandatory pre-commitment a
number of former problem gamblers told the committee that they believed being
able to set a limit would have assisted them when their gambling was out of
When asked whether pre-commitment would have helped her, Ms Karpathakis
If there had been another option, there is no way I would
have been an addict. If there had been a precommitment card or an opt-out card
there is no way I would be an addict. You get your pension and you know you
have three kids and rent to pay, but you look at that money and it is not even
real—it is just something to play with. That is free rein. Your brain does not
think properly, but if there were a block there I would not think like that.
In her submission Ms Karpathakis outlined that she believed a
pre-commitment system would have the potential to prevent people becoming
addicted and would limit the damage done by those already addicted:
I believe that pre-commitment has the potential to help
people, especially the ones who can’t seem to stop. At least they will be able
to curb their addiction or at least not cause such extreme damage. I believe
that if we had had a pre-commitment scheme when I began to play I would have
been a recreational gambler and not an addict. A pre-commitment scheme,
including pre-commitment cards and the opt-out system, could result in many
benefits. These could include preventing new people from becoming addicted,
reducing the incidence of child neglect, as well as a reduction in crime. I
find the idea of preventing future pokie addicts with the help of the pre-commitment
Ms Sue Pinkerton told the committee that she believed pre-commitment
would have assisted her.
She offered the following view:
Had there been a precommitment system in place when I first
began playing the pokies, I sincerely believe I would not have become a pokies
addict. Before that habituation process took hold, spending $20 in one night
while playing the machines seemed excessive, almost decadent. Always when
entering a gaming room, even at the height of my addiction, I had the very best
of intentions to stay for...only an hour or two and to spend $50, $100 or maybe
even $200, before going home. By the end of my pokies playing career, spending
$200 in a few hours did not seem an unreasonable thing and leaving the venue with
cash in my purse almost never happened.
In the first few weeks of playing the pokies, had I been
unable to continue gambling once I had spent my $20 I would have gone home or
found other activities within the venue to amuse myself with.
Ms Gabriela Byrne also supported a pre-commitment system that would
assist people when they are in the midst of the urge to gamble:
When I blew a certain amount of money that I set as a maximum
that I could afford to lose, the urge to gamble ceased after 24 hours and the
next limit I would set would be just the same or less...When you want to continue
to gamble in the moment the urge is so strong that you would give anything to
continue. If you stopped...and then you walked out and had time to cool off you
realise that a measure like this is probably protecting you from losing a lot
more. I think it is a worthwhile thing.
Ms Byrne added that she felt a pre-commitment system would have stopped
her losing so much money and all the negative consequences that flowed from
I think I would have lost a lot less money if that had been
in place. And I probably would have saved my family and myself a lot more of
the other consequences that go with the loss of money, the loss of confidence,
the loss of relationships.
Ms Byrne also mentioned that a pre-commitment system would have provided
her with more time to work on recovery as:
When you are chasing the money that you lost the day before,
you are in this mode where nothing is more important than feeding the beast but
if you had 24 hours where you could sit back and say 'How much money can I
afford to lose?', it would have limited the losses. To give you some anecdotal
evidence, I saw a woman about three months ago, a single mum, who lost $7,000
in 45 minutes on a 1c machine. I just think that is criminal. I would not call
To be clear, the committee emphasises that the opinions listed above from
the committee's first inquiry were in response to mandatory pre-commitment, not
voluntary. During that inquiry, former problem gamblers expressed the view that
the system should be mandatory. However, the committee feels it is worthwhile
reproducing their views about how setting a limit could have helped them.
The committee notes that clause 33 of the National Gambling Reform Bill
2012, ensures that poker machines will be equipped for mandatory
pre-commitment, was not included in the exposure draft of the legislation
released in February 2012. In April 2012, the government agreed to the
inclusion of clause 33 which fundamentally changes the nature of the bill. It
ensures that mandatory pre-commitment can be turned on by a future government
at the flick of a switch.
Public opinion supports reform
Public support for poker machine reform has remained high over the
period since the committee's first report. A number of polls have shown
national support for action on gambling reform consistently over 60 per cent.
Although most of these polls cover mandatory pre-commitment, it is clear that
the public supports people being able to set a limit on the amount they can
lose before they start to play poker machines.
Support for the bill
Evidence to the committee was generally in support of the bill. For
example, the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce noted that, although the
taskforce's preferred option is mandatory pre-commitment and maximum $1 bets,
it supports the legislation as a first step to provide greater protection for
people living with a gambling addiction and people at risk.
Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, member of the taskforce, told the committee:
So voluntary [pre-commitment] is a step in the right
direction, but we are really pleased that this legislation will deliver
capability so that, in the future, when we have the next reform wave, we will
be able to flick a switch and move to mandatory.
...it is legislation that will make a difference. It has a
range of measures in it that will make a material difference on the ground
To conclude, Ms Dodds reminded the committee that across the UnitingCare
Network, one of the top three reasons that people access emergency relief
services, financial counselling services and family crisis services is problem
The committee also notes the support of the Council of Australian
Governments Select Council on Gambling Reform to support the infrastructure for
pre-commitment in every gaming venue across the country,
and that industry supports the intent of the bill although it has raised issues
around implementation which are covered in the next chapters.
The committee is grateful to all individuals who shared their personal
stories in relation to problem gambling with the committee to assist others
during this and previous inquiries. The committee has stated in previous reports
that there is no one solution to address problem gambling. It requires a range
of measures along the gambling continuum (low to high risk). This legislation,
along with the other measures announced by the government,
is an important step in providing more assistance for problem gamblers, their
families and communities.
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