Ben Hamilton from Ballina-based gambling reform group Kickin’ the Punt has reacted to NSW Minister Victor Dominello’s proposal of a gambling card to be used by gamblers in poker machine venues. Under the proposed sweeping reforms, NSW will move to completely cashless poker machines and all gamblers will be required to register for a government-issued gambling card, and pre-load money to the card in a similar way to the Opal cards for public transport.
The card would be linked to the state’s exclusion register, to ensure self-excluded gamblers could not use their cards.
The Indue-style ‘pre-commitment card’ is proposed as a way of controlling pokie losses, which have skyrocketed since clubs and pubs were re-opened following the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Hamilton said, ‘There’s been lots of talk about the proposed legislation the last few days. It’s encouraging that reform is on the table, but I would stress to everyone not to get their hopes up.
‘The single best “solution” in my eyes is a digitised self exclusion policy that is law and enforced. If venues do not comply, they receive a substantial fine. There will be some people that refuse to self-exclude, that’s the reality of the situation we are all in.
‘There are a lot of us who hit rock bottom, see the truth of the situation, be honest and accountable with ourselves, and self-exclude.
‘That’s what will break the cycle for a lot of people and help them conquer the gambling demon.
‘Pre-commitment cards aren’t a good idea in my opinion. While I see some merit in the idea, it really does complicate the issue and open the reforms up for scrutiny and abolishment,’ said Mr Hamilton.
‘If the gambling industry did what it should do, i.e. monitor their punters, have a duty of care, make sure people aren’t f**king their lives up, and utilising the self-exclusion program, a lot of people will be spared from the misery of the gambling demon.
‘Keep it simple to start off with,’ Mr Hamilton suggests.
‘A person at the door, checking ID, making sure you’re not self-excluded. A trained person on the floor to spot gamblers who are hurting themselves and others, it’s easy to spot. Helping people self exclude and get treatment once they have self excluded. That’s my two cents anyway.’
Pokies in parliament
Mr Hamilton recently spoke via Zoom to a NSW Parliamentary Committee chaired by Greens MLC David Shoebridge, looking at venue recovery plans from the perspective of a ‘lived experience advocate’.
He told the committee that he’s only now starting to recover financially after giving up the pokies a year ago. Mr Hamilton said the addiction, ‘takes everything, and so much more’ than just measurable financial losses.
‘The machines are designed to condition people, and they do that well, particularly when people are very vulnerable, and people are particularly vulnerable since COVID.’
‘People are gambling more and it’s a recipe for disaster,’ he said.
In response to industry claims that clubs and pubs would collapse without pokie revenue, the Alliance for Gambling Reform’s Dr Kate Da Costa pointed to the example of a pokies-free Western Australia, where no such collapse has occurred.
Kickin’ the Punt are currently putting the finishing touches on their first documentary, which covers the tragic story of Gary Van Duinen, and was crowd-funded by the general public.