Poker machine numbers capped in 'high risk' areas including Hunter

RACING Minister Paul Toole says it’s the biggest gambling reform for a decade: a cap on poker machine numbers in parts of NSW that the state government considers to be “high risk”.

NO MORE MACHINES: Detail from a state government map dividing the state into low (green), medium (yellow) and high (red) risk areas, using Bureau of Statistics 'statistical areas. The cap on poker machine numbers applies to high-risk areas.

NO MORE MACHINES: Detail from a state government map dividing the state into low (green), medium (yellow) and high (red) risk areas, using Bureau of Statistics 'statistical areas. The cap on poker machine numbers applies to high-risk areas.

NSW has about 100,000 poker machines, and pokie turnover totals about $80 billion a year, much of it put through by problem gamblers.

On this basis, there will be a sigh of relief from many that at least the government has done something to curb pokie-mania.

But has it?

One of the industry’s most persistent critics, Greens MLC and gambling spokesperson Justin Field, says the reforms do not go far enough.

Mr Field says: “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. 

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.”

The legislation introduced to the NSW upper house on Tuesday contains a significant change in the way the government defines “high risk” areas.

Previously, it used local government areas, which were, admittedly, a fairly blunt tool given that Newcastle local government area, for example, stretches from Merewether Heights to Beresfield.

As part of its reform package, the government will now use “statistical areas”, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

These areas are generally much smaller than local government areas, meaning the pokie caps will not be as far-reaching as they would have been under the old classification system.

Under the new rules, poker machine numbers will be capped in “high risk” Mount Hutton and Windale, for example, but not at neighbouring Bennetts Green and Belmont North (medium risk) or Warners Bay and Gateshead (low risk).

The government has also confirmed that existing applications for extra machines – such as those by two hotels in the high-risk Cessnock area – will be treated under the old rules.

At the end of the day, there is only so much a government can do to protect citizens against their own poor decisions, but there is little logic, either, in allowing an industry that causes misery to many of its participants to flourish and grow.

It takes more than just a harmless flutter to account for the billions that pour through our pokies every year.

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