In the late 1970s I attended a law conference at Wrest Point Casino. At the time, it was fairly new, and the only casino in the country. It was then - and still is - the tallest building in Hobart.
To enter the gaming room, patrons dressed in dinner suits and evening gowns. Everyone tried to look sophisticated. There were no poker machines, but gamblers tried their luck at roulette wheels, or played hands of black jack or wagered on dice.
The glitz was a little too garish, the attendants a little too bored, the carpet just a little too tired. The impression was tarted-up tawdry.
I watched one man play black jack. He had a stake of $1500 - a lot of money then. I speculated he had resolved to win enough to buy a new Holden Kingswood - or lose what he had. He lost it all very quickly, and left the table looking devastated.
Nowadays it's all poker machines, and to my eyes a desperately sad place to visit.
Here in Victoria the harm caused by poker machines is well documented. A significant proportion of the revenue of large gambling companies comes from problem gamblers. These are people who cannot control their gambling. To take financial advantage of such people is like selling liquor to an alcoholic. It is not only immoral, it is illegal. It constitutes "unconscionable conduct" under the Trade Practices Act, (see section 51AB).
There are many procedures available to casino owners to identify problem gamblers so that no gambling arrangement is entered into with them. Those procedures are not being taken with sufficient vigour.
What should we require them to do? It sometimes seems the gambling establishments hold all the aces.
Lost in the flurry of 23rd June - the day Julia Gillard announced she would challenge Kevin Rudd's leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party - the government released the Productivity Commission's Gambling Inquiry Report.
It is a fine piece of work, and details the high cost to the community of problem gambling.
Key recommendations include
- limiting electronic gaming machines to a maximum $1 bet
- allowing patrons to see their transaction history
- showing on machines the cost of playing (this can be tailored to take into account the individual's style of playing)
- prohibiting venues from offering inducements likely to lead to problem gambling, including offering free alcohol to a patron who is gambling
- prohibiting venues from cashing out winnings (which can then be gambled away)
- providing a range of simple means by which players could voluntarily set personal spending limits
The gambling industry should not be permitted to dice with the future of vulnerable people. Problem gambling affects the whole community, and the Productivity Commission provides us with a practical way forward.
- Productivity Commission Recommendations and Findings