Billions of dollars are being fed through poker machines across NSW each year, with the state government announcing this week a plan to cap machine numbers in the state’s most disadvantaged areas.
It’s being touted as the most significant reform to assist with problem gambling in more than a decade, but critics are already saying it does not go far enough.
Among the regions being targeted as “no-go” zones for additional machines are Bermagui/Narooma and Eden.
New Local Impact Assessment bands use statistical boundaries set by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, classified into three bands of “risk” – with Band 3 high risk regions subject to a cap on poker machine numbers.
Bega and Merimbula are classed as Band 2 “medium risk” areas.
INTERACTIVE MAP: Local Impact Assessment bands
“Local community caps are an appropriate response to concerns that some areas have too many gaming machines,” Minister for Racing Paul Toole said this week when announcing “a package of reforms”.
“These areas will be capped at their current number, ensuring no additional machines can move into these areas.”
Mr Toole said this and other reforms would “deliver more transparency, more community consultation and greater certainty for industry”.
However, Greens MP Justin Field said the reforms retain the harm being done by pokies rather than working to actively reduce it.
He said $80.33billion was pumped though poker machines in the state’s hotels and clubs last year – an increase of $11.4billion since 2013-14.
He said NSW has the worst pokies problem in Australia, with the most machines and the largest profits taken.
“The community is being played by the announcement today of a local community cap on poker machines and other measures by the NSW Government and Minister Toole,” Mr Field said.
“Any pokies plan that fails to rapidly reduce the total number of machines in NSW continues to lock in increasing harm to people and communities.
“These measures don’t stop the addictive features that exploit people, they don’t rein in predatory behaviour from clubs and hotels to maximise profits and they don’t keep people and communities safe.
“A cap on poker machines in vulnerable areas won’t have a real impact on harm if pokies remain embedded in our communities in clubs and hotels and these addictive machines continue to exploit vulnerable people.”
Other aspects of the state government’s gambling reform package introduced to Parliament this week include:
Broader community consultation during the impact assessment process for longer periods;
A leasing scheme for gaming machines held by small hotels and clubs, providing a new pathway for them to go machine-free;
Streamlined regulation of clubs and tougher penalties for directors who do the wrong thing; and
A tenfold increase in fines for wagering operators offering illegal inducements.