Our Say: State says no more pokies in high risk areas

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”.

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, a fairly blunt tool given the size of some LGAs.

The government will now use “statistical areas”, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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

But, under the new rules, pokie numbers will be not be capped at “medium risk” or “low risk”  areas.

The outcome is that no extra gaming machines will be allowed in a vast tract of Western NSW. Dubbo won’t be affected. But Wellington, Coonabarabran, Walgett-Lightning Ridge, Nyngan-Warren, Bourke-Brewarrina and Far West areas will carry the pokie cap.

At the end of the day, there is only so much a government can do to protect people 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.