Rev Tim Costello
9 Aug 2023
Australia is approaching a tipping point on gambling reform. After decades of inaction, that has allowed Australian’s to be fleeced of $26 billion a year in gambling losses, there is now a chance of real reform.
And while there are several fronts where the war on gambling is being fought across Australia, Tasmania is at the forefront of the battle.
The commitment of the Liberal Government to introduce a mandatory pre-commitment cashless gambling card for all players by the end of 2024 was a landmark announcement.
But this groundbreaking reform could well be lost amid the turmoil of Tasmanian politics in which an early election is beginning to look likely. .
While Labor offered the government bipartisan support for the changes, I fear that Labor in more recent times have becoming more equivocal on these reforms. We know that the Tasmanian Hospitality Association is lobbying hard.
Of course, it's ironic that history has reversed. There was a time when the Liberals campaigned against Labor moves to introduce gambling harm minimisation measures.
If the proposed reforms succeed this could set a valuable precedent for the country. It is not unlikely the ACT may soon follow with a similar scheme, reforms in Victorian and NSW could well be influenced by events on the apple isle.
I have welcomed the recently announced crackdown on poker machine operations in Victoria by Dan Andrews, but it does fall short of a mandatory pre-commitment gambling card, subject to consultation … with the gambling industry.
In NSW the Liberal’s election loss was a setback for the introduction of a cashless pre-commitment gambling card in NSW. Premier Minn’s trial of a cashless card is both an unnecessary and also a shambles.
All efforts to reduce gambling harm in Australia are fought bitterly by the gambling industry. Not surprisingly, given their very business model generates profits off people’s financial losses.
For those who lose, the impact is not just financial but devastating for families and communities. It has enormous health and welfare impact, including in some cases leading to suicide.
Personally, I have attended the funerals of six people who took their lives out of shame due to their gambling on poker machines.
Tasmania has more than 3,300 poker machines in 95 venues. The proposed reforms will not remove a single machine. It will just give people a chance to minimise the harm they cause.
Players will be able to set daily loss limits of up to $100, monthly limits of up to $500 and annual limits of up to $5,000, which can only be set higher should the person have a proven capacity to afford it.
Once the limit is reached, the player will have to wait until the next period starts before they can play again.
These are reasonable reforms.
Those 3000 odd machines in Tasmania led annual losses of almost $190 million in pubs and clubs and in the casino, according to the latest figures which relate to the 22/23 financial year.
There is always uncertainty in politics and at this time politics in Tasmania is especially volatile. Yet at least on this issue, Labor Leader, Rebecca White, can remove any uncertainty by fully committing to a cashless gambling card.
It is a move that would greatly benefit communities across Tasmania who are already struggling. It would stop a predatory industry preying on vulnerable people and struggling communities that are devastated by gambling losses.
There is no doubt that behind-the-scenes big gambling’s interests are attempting to exert maximum pressure to shoot down these reforms.
But here, Labor support would provide bipartisan support – as well as the support of the cross benches – and thus totally neuter the power of the pubs and clubs lobby.
The reforms in Tasmania would be a significant beachhead for reform in Australia.
They are too important to fail.