Poker machine reforms: Victorian clubs push for review of ‘dated’ self-exclusion programs

Poker machine reforms: Victorian clubs push for review of ‘dated’ self-exclusion programs
Poker machine reforms: Victorian clubs push for review of ‘dated’ self-exclusion programs

Victoria’s clubs lobby is pushing for a beefed-up self-exclusion program that would allow problem gamblers to block themselves from all poker machines across the state.

Earlier this year, Gaming Minister Melissa Horne announced plans for new poker machine laws that would limit player losses, introduce a mandatory pre-commitment system and force players to use a card to sign up and play.

Clubs are pushing for an improved self-exclusion scheme in Victoria. Credit: Flavio Brancaleone

The state is now consulting about the final details of these changes, and The Age can reveal the government has also added a review of self-exclusion to the process.

Self-exclusion registers allow problem gamblers to voluntarily ban themselves from gaming areas at venues to reduce their exposure to pokies.

The rules are up for review because they have not been altered in five years and anti-gambling advocates want major improvements.

There are multiple registers under the current system, as Community Clubs Victoria (CCV) and the Australian Hotels Association run their own programs for patrons of pubs and clubs.

Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne.

Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne.Credit: Gus McCubbing

People on these registers can only exclude themselves from a maximum of 20 venues because staff have to memorise the faces of every person to enforce the exclusion.

There is no way to self-exclude from all gaming venues in a single application, and there are separate registers for other types of gambling, such as TAB wagering, online betting and gambling at Crown casino.

CCV will write to the state government calling for an overhaul of this “disjointed” approach for people trying to avoid harmful gambling behaviour.

The organisation will ask for funding to expand its self-exclusion scheme, which is currently bankrolled by members.

“The current system for pubs and clubs is quite dated,” CCV chief executive Andrew Lloyd said.

“There have been some developments in other jurisdictions, like South Australia, that have introduced facial recognition.”

Lloyd said CCV wanted a “joined-up” system approach that included casinos, TAB and BetStop, the new federal system for exclusion from online gambling.

“For consumers [who] need help, we don’t want them to … be retraumatised, to continually tell their story to multiple organisations and to be put through the wringer with giving more and more information,” he said.

A national self-exclusion register for online gambling has launched in Australia.

A national self-exclusion register for online gambling has launched in Australia.Credit: iStock

“Clubs very much understand their social licence in this space.”

But Lloyd said he did not believe in trying to “hyper-regulate” the industry, and that more should be spent on education – including to children of primary school age – to combat gambling harm.

He said venues had trained staff to spot problem gambling, but similar protections did not exist online despite the shift of punters there.

Government consultation papers for the pokies reforms ask respondents whether cards for using the machines could be used to strengthen self-exclusion programs.

Critics of the current self-exclusion system want a more unified approach.

Critics of the current self-exclusion system want a more unified approach.Credit: Reuters

Locking people out of machines using their cards would remove the need for staff to recognise those on the register, but could require expensive technology upgrades.

The government has also asked whether it should explore other types of exclusion systems such as temporary orders, which are used at Crown, where gamblers can be blocked from playing for up to 24 hours.

Alliance for Gambling Reform chief executive Carol Bennett said her organisation would welcome improvements.

She said a mishmash of different jurisdictions and gambling companies running their own programs had led to huge failures.

“There is a mismatch between the technology and some of these very outdated schemes that don’t really do what they were intended to do or have found to be in breach of the very purpose they were set up,” Bennett said.

“It really is an area that is very important to people who are harmed by gambling … They need to feel confident in the system and, at the moment, it’s hard to say that.”

Bennett said BetStop was working “incredibly well” so far, and she hoped all forms of gambling could eventually be included in the national model.

“Instead of inventing the wheel and having eight different registers in different states, let’s get on board with the national one and make it broad,” she said.

A government spokeswoman said: “We will work closely with venues, including the clubs sector, on these reforms over the coming months so we can support them through these significant changes.”

A survey by Resolve Political Monitor, conducted exclusively for The Age, found 57 per cent of Victorians back the state’s pokies reforms, while just one in 10 oppose them.

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