Attempts to limit problem gambling have gone far enough, the gaming industry has warned on the eve of the introduction of new poker machine laws.
From this morning, poker machines – except those in Sydney’s casino – will have to be shut down from 6am to 9am every day, and pubs and clubs may no longer advertise their gaming machines.
The measures, part of a reform package introduced last year, would lead to job losses and reduce revenue, while their impact on problem gamblers was largely untested, club and hotel organisations said yesterday.
But the chairman of the Casino Community Benefit Fund, the Rev Harry Herbert, said the measures should have gone further. “If closing down the machines on some hours proves effective it ought to be extended,” he said.
The shutdown of gaming machines, which will be extended to four hours in May 2003, was a compromise after the Government initially proposed a six-hour closure. Across the state, about 40 clubs and 50 hotels will be affected.
Clubs estimate they would lose about 5 per cent of revenue, according to the chief executive of Clubs NSW, Mark Fitzgibbon.
Shift workers were the main patrons in the mornings, while problem gamblers did not necessarily gamble at that time, he said.
“The biggest frustration is the fact that there is no evidence, anecdotally or empirically, to support the argument that shutting the machines down for three hours is going to improve the lot of problem gamblers,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Banning all gaming machine ads by clubs and hotels – in newspapers, cinemas, on radio, television, the Internet and on flyers – would be a drawback in a competitive industry, said the president of the Australian Hotels Association NSW, John Thorpe. “If you don’t promote your business you are going to go under,” he said.
The measure, designed to “aid the minority” of problem gamblers, would cost jobs and reduce revenue, but would hopefully also reduce problem gambling.
Other measures, which come into effect today, include a ban on cash prizes and a $1000 limit for non-cash prizes from loyalty schemes and Online Casino Singapore promotions.
The number of poker machines is capped at 104,000 and from today clubs with more than 450 machines will have to reduce their numbers, while both clubs and hotels can sell machine licences – if they forfeit one machine for every two sold.
Social impact assessments are needed if operators want to increase the number of their machines – within allowable limits – by more than four machines over three years.
Later in the year all outside gaming signs will be banned.
Mr Thorpe said the measures had gone as far as they could.
“If you want to talk about the collapse of the industry this is about as far as you can go,” he said. “We’ve gone to the nth degree. There’s no margin left in signage, in advertising, in harm minimisation. All those things are now mandatory.”
But a spokesman for the Gaming Minister, Richard Face, said the measures were “of course not” the last to control problem gambling.
“The Premier and the minister have always said that harm minimisation is always under review,” he said.