Gaming Machines Amendment Bill

10 Nov 2004 archivespeech

This speech is to outline Michelle's position on gaming machines. It concludes with Michelle unsure of how she will vote on the Gaming Machines Amendment bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to outline some sort of position on gaming machines. I have struggled a bit with this issue; there is obviously a great deal of information to be read in relation to it, although, in many ways, it is inconclusive and some of the research highlights that we do not know enough about this issue to know where we are going. I spoke earlier this year in favour of the continuation of the freeze. However, at that time, I did not feel enough across the issue to more comprehensively state a position.

Personally, I do not like gaming machines, but the disdain and indifference I hold towards them is perhaps a selfish one in that I recall some otherwise very good rooms within pubs being taken over by these rather inane machines with their noise and flashing lights. I am pleased to note that the noise is now less of an issue, although the flashing lights remain. Like many other people in the community, I do not under¬stand their appeal or how people become hooked on them, or why they bother playing them in the first place. The Inde¬pendent Gambling Authority report refers to a group of people, who are quite prevalent in our community, who are against poker machines for the following reason. This relates to people who are concerned about gaming machines, and it states:

A third, broader and more difficult to define, group is those members of the South Australian community who are not direct beneficiaries of the prosperity of the gaming industry, are not problem gamblers or gamblers at all, but citizens who use government services and pay taxes. For this group, it would appear to the Authority [that] there is a great deal of distress and concern

I interpose to say that I have not personally felt a great deal of distress and concern because I do not really know anybody and I had not had a great deal of contact in this area until yesterday when I spoke to a lady called Frances who has had considerable experience in this area
as reflected in the newspapers about the impact of gaming machine gaming and its related problem gambling and the apparent inability of the community to address the issue.

Judging from my conversations with people outside of this place, I would have to say that that is true. I do not think that many people would be worried if gaming machines disappeared from the pubs. I think that we do need to separate what can be described as some urban myths that might circulate around our community from some of the facts of the situation. Some urban myths circulate amongst people I know who do not have much contact with gaming machines and do not understand their appeal. Every poker machine is doing you damage, to paraphrase the quote from a non-smoking advertisement, and a very high number of problem gamblers are tearing their families apart. For me, problem gamblers are a very real concern and, so, I have been very interested to try to work out what the level is and what sort of problem this is for us as a community.

There is basic agreement on a few areas among the different stakeholders; one of those first basic agreements is that recreational gambling is legitimate, and I note that the so-called concerned sector has stated that itself. Respected and independent bodies, including the Productivity Commission and the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, have undertaken public policy research. They have also agreed that the expansion of gaming machine accessibility (both by numbers and venues) has contributed to the increase in problem gambling. This was cited in the IGA report. It appears that gaming machines are not necessarily a substitute for other forms of gambling in that people have not switched from other areas to gaming machines but they have created their own market. If it becomes a toxic habit, the particular feature of continuous play makes it harder to break.

Historically, I am quite sure that, if I had been in this place when it was first mooted that we introduce them, I would not have voted for their introduction. However, that is not the question that we have before us. In South Australia, there has been a unique history in the areas where gaming machines have been introduced in that they were made available to hotels and clubs at the same time. The South Australian Centre for Economic Studies points out that the clubs in South Australia have a level of 12 per cent, which is markedly different from other jurisdictions in Australia. For the record, on that basis, I would not support any moves to put clubs back into the equation, which is not out of any form of pity but purely based on the numbers. It is also said that the cap in 2001 led to a disproportionate introduction of new gaming machines into provincial cities.

As a Liberal, one of the key principles in which I strongly believe is that we are all responsible for our own actions and free to make our own choices as long as they do not harm others. So, for this reason, I am not personally concerned about gambling, even though it is not an activity that I indulge in. According to the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, the average South Australian gaming machine player spends some $470 per annum or $9.07 a week, which is of no concern to me at all. We can all make judgments about how other people spend their money, and this has been quite well articulated by our Liberal parliamentary leader, the Hon. Rob Lucas, who gave a number of examples on ways in which people may spend money on other forms of entertainment. So, I will not give any further examples.

As I said, I have a real concern about problem gamblers who number more than two per cent of the population or 23 000. Fifteen per cent of gamblers are problem gamblers, and they account for 40 per cent of revenue from gaming machines. I have sought some information, which I am yet to receive and look forward to receiving, about the psy¬chology of problem gambling which might help me to understand this issue more deeply. However, I suspect that someone would not have a gambling problem unless there were other underlying issues. In the popular literature, people with addictive personalities are often referred to as those who might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, and I suspect it is some subset of that. I am yet to be convinced that this bill would do anything about that group of people.

There has been some research and commentary about harm minimisation. The consistent message from the Productivity Commission and the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies is that there is a lack of research into what works. For instance, the South Australian Centre for Econom¬ic Studies has undertaken some research in Victoria into the success of self-exclusion and abstinence from gambling after a two-year period which is about seven per cent compared to alcoholics which is much closer to 100 per cent; obviously that is not working. I think that that says there is no evidence to support the presumption that counselling is an effective measure to counter problem gambling. Yet, we are spending significant sums on this and on other measures, and we are not sure whether it even works; in fact, the evidence says that it does not.

Another area, in which there is no evidence to say that it works, is that of caps. The Productivity Commission's publication of 2002, entitled `The Productivity Commission's gambling inquiry: three years on', states:

The commission was at best ambivalent about caps as a harm minimisation mechanism for two reasons. One is that, if binding, they impact on the accessibility of services to recreational gamblers. The second is that their effectiveness in limiting the extent of problem gambling is unclear, depending on the size and reach of the cap. . .

One obvious problem in constraining supply is that it can place upward pressure on the `price' of gambling (compounding problem gamblers' spending difficulties). Another is that it provides strong incentives on both the demand and supply sides of the more intensive use of available machines.

I hold some concerns about a provision in this bill in relation to transferability. I believe that non-performing machines will become performing machines, and it will be another hypocritical provision within this bill. The IGA report cites some research which comes from Dr Paul Delfabbro of the University of Adelaide and which shows that where there is a high number of machines (that is, 40 machines) the revenue is generated; and at the low end, where the average number of machines per venue is nine, there is a much lower level of revenue. If we have transferability, obviously if those machines are not generating revenue and the proprietor decides to offload them, they will go somewhere where they are in high demand. I am not sure how that measure will assist in the aim of reducing in the incidence of problem gambling.

In conclusion, there has been a bit of `them and us' in the way in which this debate has unravelled. I think that the way in which the hotel sector has been treated by this government and its ministers, and also the Independent Gambling Authority, has been not only unprofessional but also unhelpful in the debate. The hoteliers I personally know are hardworking, honest and responsible people, and I do not think it assists in achieving a workable solution to make them the scapegoats in this debate, particularly when we consider that up to 74 per cent of gaming revenue goes back to the state or federal governments through gaming taxes and GST.

One could come to several views on how we should progress this issue. The first I will call `wind back', which is `let's go back to where we used to be'; if we get rid of machines, the problem gambling goes away. The Premier gave the impression that was a tangible possibility and that this reduction would be the first step. I have to say that, with the 10-year moratorium that has been placed on this bill, that has evaporated. Secondly, there is the `we must do some¬thing' approach, which has become the `we must do anything approach' and which is what this bill is before us. The third approach, which is the one I subscribe to and endorse to others, is the `we need to know what the hell we're doing' approach.

In some ways this bill is win-win for the govern¬ment because, as the Treasury figures show, it loses no revenue and it still gets the great headline. If this bill gets through, it may give the impression to some people, who do not appreciate how complex this issue is, that something has been done. I am not interested in letting the government off the hook, if it is not going to address the real issues of problem gamblers.

The Productivity Commission's publication to which I referred earlier, in relation to priorities, states:

First, there is a burning need for more research on what actually works among the many possible harm minimisation measures. (This is particularly important for those which can involve significant compliance and other costs.) If we are serious about doing things that are effective, rather than just being seen to be doing things which is what this bill is trialing and testing of different approaches is critical. In many cases, this needs to be done before measures are introduced. There is a particular need to devote attention to pre-commitment strategies and the ability to cost effectively harness new technologies.

A second and related issue. . . is the need for more follow-up analysis on what forms of remedial treatment (counselling) work best. Significant resources are being directed at help services, but there has been little `performance auditing' of programs or detailed analysis of outcomes over time that I am aware of. (This is itself not without resource implications, but would nonetheless represent good investment.)

This leads me to my third priority: the need for much greater transparency about what research is being done and, more importantly, what results are emerging. Lack of transparency can encourage suspicions that only `convenient' research sees the light of day.

My fourth priority, therefore, is the need for governments to establish arrangements designed to promote independent research and, fifth, much greater coordination in data collection and research methodologies across jurisdictions. . . Sixth, there is a need to have effective arrangements in place to monitor and enforce industry compliance.

I am not sure whether that clarifies my position because, in all honesty, I have not decided how I will vote on this bill. I will support the second reading because I think it is a debate we need to have, but I will be looking very closely at any amendments; in particular, the Hon. David Ridgway mentioned smart cards. Certainly I think we need to look at that matter. If we are going to be serious about these things, we need to be objective and realistic, and we cannot just say `Well, great, we have done something,' and pat ourselves on the back and allow these problems to continue.