The Alliance recognises that like tobacco, poker machines are designed to addict, are harmful to the health of Australians and are legal. Both are public health problems that have public health policy solutions.
Our goal is to reduce and prevent the damage done by poker machines. There’s no acceptable level of harm, so we advocate for ongoing reforms. There are a wide variety of evidence-based policies to achieve this. The first steps we support are:
- Reducing the maximum bet down to $1. This is like setting a speed limit for poker machines. In SA the maximum was reduced from $10 to $5 a spin in January 2017. The average losses are currently $600 an hour.
- Banning addictive designs in machines. Poker machines use a number of tricks to make the machines more addictive, such as disguising a loss as a win. These some states which already ban some of these designs, but every state could be doing more.
- Empowering communities. Everyone should be able to have a meaningful say to cap or reduce the number of poker machines in their community or state.
Poker machines are regulated by state and territory governments, and every state is in a different situation. Different states have very different numbers of poker machines per person, different tax rates and different regulations. The patheay for reform will vary from state to steat, so the Alliance has different policy asks for each state. Read more about the national solutions we propose at http://www.pokiesplayyou.org.au/solutions
In South Australia there are 12,337 poker machines in over 526 venues that took $680 million from South Australians in 2016-17. Tax revenue from pokies in SA is around 40% of machine losses and 10% of state government revenue - much higher than Tasmania and even NSW which has the lowest national tax rates.
South Australians will have a say on the future of gambling reform in the state election on March 17. Our analysis of the policies proposed is below, in order of when they were announced.
The Greens party have announced that their policy is to remove all poker machines from pubs and clubs within five years. At the time of writing, the policy is being costed and the Alliance will post details of the costed policy once they are available. There is no gambling reform policy for sports or online gambling.
Alliance analysis – Removal of machines does remove the problem. This policy would reflect the current policy in WA, where poker machines are restricted to the casino and the level of gambling harm is dramatically lower than in other states.
Nick Xenophon’s ‘SA Best’ party has released their gambling policy, which they summarise as:
The poker machine policy seeks to dramatically reduce the harm caused by a number of measures including:
- Reducing the number of poker machines in hotels by 50% over five years (for venues with more than 10 machines) which will reduce the number of machines by approximately 4000 from the current figure of approximately 12100 in hotels and clubs.
- Implementing $1 maximum bets per spin (as recommended by the Productivity Commission) and reducing maximum jackpots to $500, so losses per hour are dramatically reduced.
- Having a 'buyback' scheme of poker machines in the over 140 venues with 10 or fewer machines.
- Making machines 'con-free' by removing misleading and deceptive features such as near misses and 'losses disguised as wins'.
- Poker machine licences to be converted to seven year licences, commencing 1 January 2019, with consideration of licence extensions beyond that seven year period to be considered by the parliament by the end of 2022 (so it becomes a key issue for the March 2022 election).
- Providing for an orderly economic and employment transition for the changes through the Independent Gambling Authority with a transition fund established, with preference given to those smaller poker machine operators, and those in regional areas.
- A $3m increase in gamblers' rehabilitation funding and community education, given that only 10-15% of those addicted are currently getting help.
- EFTPOS to be removed from poker machine rooms.
- A ban on political donations from the gambling industry.
SA-BEST will also seek to tackle the exponential increase in online gambling by:
- Enhancing the power of the Authorised Betting Operations Act to restrict the types of bets that can be offered in SA, including 'exotic bets' and 'ball by ball' betting.
- Allocating resources to prosecute and geo-block illegal online casinos in cooperation with federal authorities.
The full policy is available at https://sabest.org.au/state-policies/gambling-reform/
Alliance analysis – This policy is evidenced based, and would result in a very large reduction in gambling harm from poker machines and online gambling. Policies such as $1 bets and removing EFTPOS machines from venues would trigger an immediate reduction in gambling harm and set an example for NSW, Queensland and Victoria where these policies are urgently needed.
Concentrating the 10% reduction per year on the larger venues does focus the reduction on the venues that cause the most harm. South Australian has the most hotel-dominated pokies industry of any mainlaind jurisdiction with the 456 pubs generating close to 90% of all losses. There are 50 South Australian pubs which generated gambling losses of more than $3.5 million in 2016-17 compared with only 4 of the 70 clubs.
The distinction between clubs and hotels does not have a clear evidence base and the policy would be stronger without a blanket exemption for clubs. We acknowledge however that all pokies cause harm and so more policies will be needed as part of ongoing reform.
The shift from perpetual licenses to a 7 year license is significant. A pertual license means they never expire, and this prevents the community from having a say about how many licenses there should be. The 'SA Best policy' explicitly requires any new licenses to go to a Parliamentary vote and is designed to make this an election issue, giving South Australians the option of not creating any new licenses for pubs and clubs.
At the time of writing the Labor party has not announced a gambling reform policy, and has not said if they would negotiate with SA Best on their policy to form government.
If the Labor party does not announce a policy, we can only assume the current policies remain in place. Those policies are causing many South Australians terrible financial stress and contributing to relationship breakdowns, family violence and alcohol problems.
Without any policy change, the losses would almost certainly exceed $5 billion over the next 7 years.
At the time of writing the Liberal party have not announced a gambling reform policy, but have said they oppose the policy of SA Best.
If the Liberal party does not announce a policy, we can only assume the current policies remain in place. South Australian communities are currently experiencing the significant harm from gambling that leads to violence and financial and drug problems, and existing policies do not act to reduce these stresses.
Other parties and independents
We encourage other parties and independents to announce their gambling reform policy, and when they do we will link to those policies from here.