Study questions gambling program

Monday, 7 July 2003

The excitement of the first few payouts, the sound of money pouring from a pokies machine and the electric atmosphere in the gaming room is enough to seduce many into returning on a regular basis.

But, what was once fun and entertainment, quickly turns into an obsession and then an addiction, with personal, family and financial devastation soon to follow.

The lure of the casino table or the pokies machine and the millions of people it attracts each day, is no different in Australia, Canada, the United States, or the United Kingdom. Individuals lose huge sums of money; lives are destroyed while industry and government are the major benefactors.

To better understand this problem, a recent study by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies - a joint University of Adelaide and Flinders University venture - and under Mr Michael O'Neil's directorship, researched the efficacy of self-exclusion programs for the Victorian Gambling Research Panel.

Self-exclusion is a program that enables problem gamblers to "prohibit" themselves from entering nominated (by the individual) clubs and pubs with gaming machines. By signing a deed, the onus is on the individual, who has identified his/her gambling problem, to honour the program.

However, according to Mr O'Neil's study, the program has numerous flaws, which he and his team have converted into solutions.

"It is a contentious program that has been criticised because of the numerous loopholes," says Mr O'Neil. "Being identified is a major issue and the pubs and clubs do not have the personnel to monitor their patrons."

Mr O'Neil says although those in the program have their photograph taken, which is appropriately displayed at the nominated venues, it's not always possible to identify someone, especially if they disguise their appearance.

"Another drawback is a gambler may nominate five to six hotels, but choose to attend a venue not nominated, meaning that person is not self-excluded or exercising their responsibility," he says

Mr O'Neil said although the program is supported by industry, it has not been evaluated, measured or monitored.

In his report, Mr O'Neil concludes that the program has limited effect and coupled with the administrative concerns, changes are required.

"Our principle recommendation is the creation of a smart card that would immediately identify a self-excluded patron.

"The card we are proposing would be swiped on entry into a gaming area or to use a machine. Those in the self-exclusion program would be immediately identified, their card will be rejected and they'll be required to leave what is after all a restricted gaming area," Mr O'Neil says.

Like anything, Mr O'Neil says, there is a cost involved. "However, government and industry should consider the proposal for the self- exclusion program to have any effect."

The study says that many cities in Holland use a card system and in cases where younger people visit a casino frequently, the relevant authorities have the ability to intervene.

"This may impede on civil liberties, but it does indicate that the technology is available."

The report also recommended that self-exclusion be broadened to encompass a range of behaviours including self-exclusion from venues and other voluntary measures such as pre-commitment betting limits; the Victorian Government and industry cooperate to develop cost effective, technology-based capabilities for pre-commitment betting limits.

Other recommendations include:

  • Venues should have the capacity to issue a reminder of self- exclusion notification at the time of detection and a copy should automatically be forwarded to a central authority;
  • Provide additional staff to support venues in implementing the program including data management, monitoring and compliance;
  • Introduce a research development and evaluation budget to improve the day-to-day management of the program.

The report recommends that if a system of uniform identification - the smart card option - is introduced, management and operation of the program should reside with the Office of Gambling Regulation. And such a system should be made a condition of a gaming licence.

South Australia, meanwhile, is not sitting idle on this issue and legislation is being considered where family members will be able to seek court orders stopping problem gamblers from entering gaming rooms.

State Gambling Minister Jay Weatherill says the proposed legislation would empower families to stop problem gamblers from diverting money from buying groceries and paying household bills.

South Australians spent more than $450 a head annually on the pokies last year while SA gaming machine turnover was $4.6 billion in 2000- 01.

So what does the future hold?

"The Centre for Economic Studies has been contacted by international researchers, experts in this field and government regulators to discuss the findings of the report.

"Our report has been circulated to State governments across Australia and other parts of the world with what we believe are meaningful and manageable recommendations," says Mr O'Neil.

But for now... everyone's winning except the problem gamblers.


Contact Details

Associate Professor Michael O'Neil
Executive Director, SA Centre for Economic Studies
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 4545
Mobile: +61 (0)408 812 032

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814