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Queensland gaming regulator urged to consider mandatory pokies preset spending limit, review underway

A prominent gambling researcher is urging the Queensland government to make it mandatory for gamblers to preset a spending limit on poker machines, saying it is a powerful harm reduction measure.

Charles Livingstone, who heads the gambling and social determinants unit at Monash University’s school of public health and preventive medicine, said a mandatory pre-commitment requirement on pokies players should be implemented across the more than 40,000 machines in the state’s pubs and clubs.

Dr Livingstone said this would mean losses never exceeded an amount decided by gamblers before they sat down in front of a gaming machine.

A spokesperson for Queensland’s Office of Liquor and Gaming (OLGR) said voluntary pre-commitment technology was already available in the state’s gaming venues and that it was one of a range of issues being considered in a review of the gambling code of practice.

But Dr Livingstone stressed it was essential to make pre-commitment mandatory for it to be effective.

This would require gamblers to set a maximum loss limit before sitting down at poker machines.

Dr Charles Livingstone says it would also provide real-time data on losses posted by gambling addicts.(ABC News: Mary Gearin)

He said it would be “a really good step” for Queensland authorities and not difficult to implement.

“If you’ve got a monitoring system, which you do in Queensland, that means all the machines are networked, they’re all connected to a system,” Dr Livingstone said.

“That system can be re-jigged to put in place a pre-commitment system.”

Dr Livingstone said this could be done without revealing the identities of gamblers, and would have the added benefit of providing real-time data on losses posted by gambling addicts.

It comes after the ABC last month revealed Queenslanders lost a record of more than $300 million on pokies in pubs and clubs in July.

Regulators fail to recognize harm

Dr Livingstone said the federal government recently enacted a requirement for online betting companies to send their customers monthly statements on wins and losses.

“We’ve got quite good interventions being put in place for online gambling and almost nothing being put in place to equal it for terrestrial poker machine gambling,” he said.

“What we’ve got is a situation where almost every survey globally tells us that the most harmful form of gambling is poker machine gambling.

“I think all of the regulators around Australia… have largely failed to recognize the harms that are associated with local poker machine gambling.”

A sign advertising a hotel gaming room hours seven days a week
Researchers say the widespread availability of pokies contributes to harmful gambling.(ABC News: Marton Dobras)

He said pokies in pubs and clubs still seemed to be able to operate without too much intervention and oversight.

“There is a cohort of people, people in serious danger, who are literally losing thousands of dollars a month,” he said.

“Now that’s what the industry relies on – there is a small core of people who are losing a fortune and that is where the industry’s profits come from.”

Dr Livingstone said the requirement that venues set codes of conduct on “responsible gambling” would be good if they were supervised and monitored and effectively enforced.

“But it is none of those things. The research literature actually indicates it’s quite the opposite,” he said.

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