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New council to advise government on problem gambling, poker machines

Problem gambling and poker machines could disappear thanks to the ACT Government’s new advisory council. Social services and community clubs alike have welcomed the establishment of the ACT Community Clubs Ministerial Advisory Council today, chaired by Minister for Gaming, Shane Rattenbury.

“Community clubs play an essential part in the social life of many Canberrans, as a meeting place and sponsor of community events,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“We want to ensure clubs continue to support the community, while introducing and strictly enforcing measures to further reduce harm from gaming.”

Decreasing poker machines has long been an ACT Greens ambition. The party promised at the 2020 election to create a network of poker-free community clubs across Canberra by offering financial support and incentives for poker-free venues. Some clubs rely on poker machines for up to 80% of their revenue, the Greens stated, and take almost $18 million of gross gaming revenue each year from poker machines.

Under the Greens’ Parliamentary & Governing Agreement with Labor, the government intends to reduce the number of electronic gaming machine licences to 3,500 by 2025, and limit the number of bets to $5 and load-ups to $100.

“Gambling harm doesn’t just affect the person sitting in the pokie lounge,” said Dr Emma Campbell, CEO of ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS). “The ripple effect touches their family, their social circle and their colleagues.”

The single most effective predictor of problem gambling, Dr Campbell stated, was the amount of time spent playing a poker machine. The ACT had one pokie for every 100 adults; most of these were in clubs.

On average, every year, Canberrans lost $507 each on the pokies. A lack of regulation on bet limits, the accessibility of cash in gambling venues, and no pre-commitment on the amount that could be gambled made the ACT’s poker machines particularly dangerous.

The council comprises representatives from the clubs sector (ClubsACT, Canberra Community Clubs, Canberra Bowling Club, Canberra Irish Club, Canberra Labor Club); organisations working to reduce gambling harm (the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance, the Financial Counselling Service and Consumer Law Centre of the ACT, the Hope Project, the Youth Coalition of the ACT); the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission; and the United Workers Union.

“Based on their diverse perspectives and experience, Council members will provide valuable insight into how we can support our local clubs while protecting vulnerable community members from gambling harm,” Mr Rattenbury said.

ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon said the Council would be a solid foundation to address issues affecting the industry, and to ensure clubs continued to serve and benefit Canberra.

Dr Campbell said ACTCOSS would like the government to implement all recommendations of the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance including a $1 bet limit and mandatory pre-commitment, but considered this a strong and appreciated start.

The Council will meet regularly, beginning tomorrow (Wednesday 26 May).

The ACT Gambling Support Service provides free professional counselling to people experiencing gambling harm and to their family members. Call 1800 858 858 (24 hours a day). Financial Counselling is also available Monday to Friday 9.30am-4.30pm on 1800 007 007.

ACTCOSS’s Stories of Chance describes the costs of gambling to the community, and the resilience of those who recover.

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