27 May 2020
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian must enact urgent poker machine reforms to prevent gambling harm or risk “having another Ruby Princess on her hands”, according to the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
Alliance Chief Advocate, Rev Tim Costello, said gambling harm was a significant public health issue and needed to be addressed as a priority as we emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We have seen some tremendous leadership from the NSW Government through this crisis, and Premier Berejiklian has wisely sought and taken advice from public health experts,” he said.
“It’s impossible to calculate how many lives have been saved through these measures, but it’s undoubtedly been a significant number, while we still have sadly had 102 deaths in Australia.
“Unfortunately, we know there are around 400 deaths by suicide every year where gambling harm has been a factor, along with the other public health issues often associated with gambling harm, including family violence, mental ill-health and homelessness.
“That’s why we are encouraging the Premier and her Ministers to once again heed the advice of public health and other experts and act now to prevent what could be a tsunami of gambling harm if ClubsNSW is allowed to proceed with restarting machines in NSW on 1 June.
“If she doesn’t, Ms Berejiklian risks having another Ruby Princess on her hands -- a gambling one.”
Rev Costello said poker machines should be the last thing turned back on in NSW - on the government’s timetable - accompanied by three key reforms to reduce gambling harm in the state.
“First of all, the NSW Government must reduce the ridiculous opening hours of poker machine venues, currently up to 20 hours a day,” he said. “No good is happening at a poker machine venue at 4am, and people who are coming off a period of ‘cold turkey’ since the 23 March shutdown will be extremely vulnerable to once again spending hours on machines specifically designed to addict them.
“Secondly, all loyalty programs with any connection to gambling must be banned. Again, we don’t want pubs and clubs deliberately targeting their best customers, that is people losing the most, with incentives to come and gamble. Both of these changes can occur at a stroke of the Premier’s pen.
“The third reform is the introduction of $1 maximum bets. That will dramatically slow the rate at which someone can lose on poker machines, which can be as high as $1200 an hour in NSW.
“All of these reforms have been repeatedly recommended by public health experts, gambling counsellors and even the Productivity Commission, but have been ignored by governments to now.”
Rev Costello said COVID-19 had presented the NSW Government with a real opportunity to reduce gambling harm in the state that experiences the most harm, in the country with the highest gambling rates in the world, and it would be unconscionable to ignore this chance to help people.
“The people of NSW have saved more than $1 billion since poker machines were switched off, and continue to save $18.1 million per day while they remain off,” he said. “That’s how big of a problem poker machines are in NSW; how much they drain from the pockets of families, and local economies.
“I know of an ex-soldier in his 30s who says he feels safe for the first time since he was 18 as he is no longer at risk of succumbing to the call of the pokies at his local, and of a mother who for the first time in more than a decade is not worrying about her son dying by suicide after spending his income as soon as he gets it on the pokies. There are thousands more people like this around NSW.
“The NSW Government has shown they care about people through this crisis. Ignoring the absolute need to introduce reforms to reduce gambling harm would be nothing short of heartless.”
Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or [email protected]