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Draft legislation on pokies reform released

The Government on Friday released draft legislation on proposed reforms to address problem gambling, particularly related to electronic gaming machines (EGMs, or pokies). The release comes at the same time Clubs ACT have reportedly given in principle agreement to a trial of mandatory pre-commitment technology on EGMs in clubs in the ACT, pending further negotiations with the Government. The draft legislation does not address this pokies trial; rather it proposes technical modifications to EGMs to enable pre-commitment technology, a time frame for these changes, limits to cash in pokie venues and the introduction of new levies.
Implementation of a uniform mandatory pre-commitment system across all states and territories was a key aspect of Tasmanian Independent MP Andrew Wilkie's agreement to support the Government. However, this agreement was voided when the Prime Minister announced legislation to enforce this would not be introduced as promised, but instead the Government would proceed with a trial of mandatory pre-commitment and implement a raft of other measures to tackle problem gambling. The trial, expected to run for one year from next February, will require all EGM players in the ACT to preset spending limits before commencing play, and be locked out from further play once this limit is reached. The Government is offering clubs a package of around $37 million (mainly comprising compensation for lost revenues) to participate.
Specific provisions in the draft legislation include:
  • from 1 February 2013 a $250 ATM daily withdrawal limit, with exemptions for venues in communities with limited banking facilities
  • from December 31, 2013, all EGMs built here or imported must be capable of supporting pre-commitment technology
  • the pre-commitment technology must allow a player to register and set a loss limit (to any amount)
  • from December 31, 2016, all EGMs venues with more than 20 EGMs within a state must have pre-commitment and be linked. Venues with between 11 and 20 machines to join the system by 2020 and those with 10 or less to introduce the technology when they replace old machines 
  • Pre-commitment will involve a minimum time period for a player's loss limit of 24 hours, with players unable to play once they reach their limit
  • Displays of dynamic warnings on all machines 
  • Prohibition of the creation of a national database of information obtained from pre-commitment systems
  • Introduction of new gaming machine levies from 2017 (from 2021 for smaller venues)
The Productivity Commission (PC) will be required to review and report on the trial (although the evaluation will be done by another unnamed independent body).  The PC has previously produced two major reports into gambling including the 2010 report which proposed a trial of mandatory pre-commitment as a precursor to implementing full pre-commitment nationally. A short period of consultation will now commence. Submissions were due by 23 February 2012 but this date has been extended to 2 March. These consultations are expected to inform the development of the final form of the legislation to be presented to Parliament later this year. But the passage of these reforms through the Parliament is not guaranteed. As this earlier Flagpost notes, limits on ATM withdrawals have been previously opposed by clubs. Opponents of these reforms may yet seek to lobby against them, encouraged by the Government retreat on proceeding with full pre-commitment in the face of a vigorous campaign. And the implementation dates of some of the key features of these reforms at the end of 2013 (the year of the next election) and beyond raises questions as to whether, even if the legislation were to pass, it would be implemented.

Meanwhile, the details of the proposed trial in the ACT are yet to be agreed, pending further negotiations between clubs and the Government. Clearly, the design and implementation of the trial will be crucial to its outcomes. Monash academic Dr Charles Livingstone has raised concerns around 'leakage', if problem gamblers travel across the border to play pokies in NSW in order to avoid mandatory pre-commitment. If such leakage were to occur, the robustness of the trial findings would be eroded. That the PC will be reveiwing the trial is likely to be welcomed by those who are concerned that the evaluation be independent of the industry, but it seems likely that the industry will play a role in influencing the design of the trial.