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Speech: Poker Machines (Matters of Interest)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:37): I rise today to speak about the profound harm caused by poker machine gambling. Australia has 76 per cent of the world's non-casino poker machines. Each year, Australians lose over $25 billion on a range of gambling products, and at least half of these losses are through poker machines. In South Australia, a record-breaking $831 million was lost on poker machines in hotels and clubs in the 2021-22 financial year.

Of course, poker machines, have changed quite significantly in recent decades. Today's digital poker machines have greater addictive potential and are designed to maximise both the amount of time users spend on those machines and the revenue gained from the player through their losses. This has led to severe harm to some users of poker machines.

Gambling disorder is a serious addiction and mental health condition which has major impacts, not just on the person gambling but on the people around them. These harms range through psychological distress, financial losses, bankruptcy, losing their job, homelessness, breakdown of personal relationships, crime, drug and, of course, alcohol abuse, and even self-harm. The scale of the problem is huge.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has said that around 1.1 million Australians experience or are at significant risk of experiencing gambling-related problems, and for each person directly harmed, another five to 10 around them are also affected. The Australian Gambling Research Centre has found that harm is intensified in disadvantaged areas where many residents already experience social and economic stress and have less capacity to cope with gambling losses. People who already experience other problems such as mental illness are also at higher risk of becoming addicted to poker machine use, further compounding those health and social harms.

Not only do poker machines contribute to problem gambling, they are also closely linked to criminal behaviour. The New South Wales Crime Commission has recently examined money laundering via poker machines in hotels and clubs in that state. It found that, while criminals are funnelling billions of dirty cash through poker machines in pubs and clubs every year in New South Wales, there are no effective controls or data collection to identify or prosecute those involved. Government inquiries, advocacy organisations and academic studies have all consistently advised that a mandatory, registered cashless gambling card system has significant potential to address gambling harm and criminal activity through poker machines.

The harm minimisation benefits from mandatory cashless gambling cards are many. They include the ability to implement precommitment systems where gamblers are required to set a binding limit on the amount of money they wish to spend before a gambling session starts. They also allow for criminal behaviour connected to poker machines to be identified and prevented. As far back as 2010, the Productivity Commission actively recommended the adoption of full precommitment systems for poker machine gambling right across Australia.

Recent royal commissions into Crown Perth and Crown Melbourne casinos, as well as the external review into Star casinos in Queensland, have also recommended mandatory full precommitment systems for poker machines. The Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission reported in June 2022 on its investigation into the use of both facial recognition technology and cashless gambling cards as a tool for harm minimisation. The Tasmanian government is now working towards implementing the cashless gambling card by December 2024.

The New South Wales Crime Commission inquiry into money laundering has also recommended the introduction of a mandatory cashless gambling card and enhanced data collection methods to minimise criminal activity through poker machines. In response, the New South Wales government has announced a plan to make every poker machine cashless by the end of 2028, and this month the Alliance for Gambling Reform urged all state and territory governments to commit immediately to a mandatory registered gambling card system for poker machines. The alliance noted that doing so has the potential to positively impact the lives of millions of Australian families, both now and in the future.

The momentum and public support for this reform cannot be ignored. The South Australian government must listen and take urgent action to implement mandatory cashless gambling cards here to address the harm that poker machines are causing right now to so many people across our state. This is urgent and the Malinauskas government must act.

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