Australian Group Pushes for Reduced Wager Maximum on Victoria Pokies

Australian gambling reformers in Victoria are seeking to make video slots terminals (pokies) a high-profile issue in upcoming elections.

An anti-gambling group in Australia’s state of Victoria is mounting a political effort to have the maximum wager allowed on the state’s pokies slashed to AU$1 (US$0.74 or £0.56), just one-fifth of the current cap of AU$5 (US$3.7 or £2.8) per wager. The campaign’s launch comes four months before this fall’s general elections in Victoria and is an attempt by the group, the Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGR), to place the topic of addictive-gambling behavior front and center during this upcoming election cycle. Victoria, on Australia’s eastern side, includes the major metropolitan center of Melbourne.

The AGR’s anti-pokies push is a parallel to the high-profile FOBT (fixed-odds betting terminals) clash in the United Kingdom, which resulted in a severe slashing of the wagering cap for the terminals across the UK a few months ago. The term “pokies” itself is a misnomer, unique to Australia, and it refers to video gaming (slots) terminals, exactly the same type of device at the center of the UK furor.

Besides the reduction of the maximum allowed pokie wager, the AGR also seeks other restrictions on the machines, including reduced hours of allowed operation for the devices at hotels and clubs. Casinos would be excluded from the hoped-for reduction. The group is also pushing for a daily cap per gambler of $200 in electronic funds transfers (EFTs), and desires the removal of many programmed slot-machine features that it believes contribute to problem gambling, including (1) losses disguised as wins, (2) linked jackpots, and (3) free spins.

Victorian mayors support pokie reform

As part of the election-cycle push, the anti-pokies group assembled a half dozen mayors from major municipalities in Victoria who generally support the group’s aims. The group convened on the steps of Victoria’s State Parliament to announce their “Councils Unite For Pokies Reform” movement and called on all parties to unite to enact gambling reform in Victoria.

Joining AGR spokesman Tim Costello at the State Parliament press opportunity were Moreland mayor John Kavanagh, Whittlesea mayor Kris Pavlidis, Darebin mayor Kim le Cerf, Yarra Acting Mayor Misha Coleman, Hume councilor Joseph Haweil and Greater Dandenong councilor Matthew Kirwan.

“Councils such as Moreland, Darebin, Whittlesea, Yarra, Hume, Brimbank, and Greater Dandenong are at the coal face of gambling harm and I sincerely welcome the commitment of their mayors and councilors to the cause of fixing this blight on Australian society,” Mr. Costello said. “A record 18 Victorian councils have signed up to financially support The Alliance in 2018-19, up from 12 in 2016-17, and we are all committed to ensuring the next election delivers real reform.” That number does not include Melbourne itself, home to the prominent Crown Casino, which has previously battled the AGR’s efforts. The list of 18 Victorian municipalities includes Banyule, Brimbank, Darebin, Glen Eira, Greater Dandenong, Hobsons Bay, Hume, Kingston, Knox, Maribyrnong, Melbourne, Mitchell, Monash, Moreland, Mornington Peninsula, Whittlesea, Wyndham, and Yarra.

“We call on the State Government and opposition parties to commit to $1 maximum bets, clamp down on losses disguised as wins, reduce venue operating hours, and ensure venues and staff have a greater responsibility to protect customers from harm,” Mr. Costello added.

The AGR’s Costello has previously assailed both Crown and Australia’s gaming industry. When Crown was embroiled last year in a scandal involving pokie tampering, Mr. Costello offered his own take, including hyperbole: “The casino and gaming industry in Australia is the equivalent of the [United States’] NRA — we have 20 per cent of the world’s pokies, just like Americans have so many guns.”

Family violence link claimed

The Alliance for Gambling Reform also asserts in a recently published manifesto that the pokies are responsible for an uptick in family violence. “Recent Australian research,” the group claims, “indicates that people who have significant problems with their gambling are more likely than people without gambling problems to be victims and perpetrators of family violence and over half of people with gambling problems report perpetrating physical violence against their children. Research indicates that family violence is three times more likely to occur in families in which there is significant harm from gambling than in families in which there is no gambling-related harm.”

However, the claims are offered without any hard link to the cited research, thus making those claims subject to further analysis. Instead, the related quote offered by the AGR and Mr. Costello resorts to fearmongering: “We need urgent reform to prevent the needless suicides, family violence, bankruptcy and fraud which flows when $2.7 billion a year is ripped from the community through addictive poker machines in 470 suburban pubs and clubs.”