Gambling times restricted

Measures: Pokies will have their spin rate slowed down to reduce the pace of gaming. Photograph Stefan Bradley



THE state government has announced restrictive policies to poker machines, including an identity-linked cashless card and closure of gambling facilities between 4am and 10am.

The reforms also included a pre-commitment limit, and a new ‘load up limit’ – which caps the amount of money that can be put through an electronic gaming machine (EGM) at one time – of up to $100, down from the current $1000 limit.

All new EGMs will have their spin rate slowed down to three seconds for each game, up from its current rate of 2.1 seconds. This is intended to slow down the pace of gambling and reduce potential losses.

By the middle of next year, all gaming machine areas will be subject to mandatory closure between 4am and 10am. Crown Casino is exempt.

Currently, venues must have a four-hour break from gaming every 24 hours. But the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission’s (VGCCC) monitoring has observed in Melbourne where 24-hour gambling is available to the community because of staggered closing times adopted by venues.

Mandatory closure at the same time will be able to close this loophole that allows gamblers to hop from a closed venue to an open one, and continue gambling for 22 hours or more.

Use of a cashless gaming card also allows the money to be tracked, in a crackdown on money laundering in gaming venues.

The cashless gaming card, as well as mandatory pre-commitment and load up limit will be introduced while consulting with industry through an implementation working group.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Melissa Horne revealed the reforms on Sunday.

“Everyone loses when it comes to gambling harm, and it’s not confined to money – people lose their relationships, their jobs and their wellbeing,” Ms Horne said.

Mr Andrews said they were the “strongest” measures in the country.

“These reforms will provide the strongest gambling harm preventions and anti-money laundering measures in Australia – we owe it to all Victorians to take this stance and help those experiencing harm turn their lives around,” he said.

“I look forward to the implementation working group’s input and effort.”

The government said an estimated 330,000 Victorians experience harm as a result of gambling each year – costing the state around $7 billion annually and leading to significant financial distress, mental health concerns and relationship issues.

Data from the VGCCC shows that Latrobe residents lost $39,035,646 to poker machines in 2021/22. In 2022/23, it’s $46,035,265 over an 11 month period.

In the Wellington Shire, residents lost $20,999,867 in 2021/22. In 2022/23, residents lost $23,723,740 over 11 months.

Michelle Ravesi, who is the Partnerships and Prevention Manager at Latrobe Community Health Service, reacted positively to the reforms.

“We know the harm that problem gambling can cause, from financial distress to relationship breakdowns, increased alcohol and drug use, and violence against loved ones,” Ms Ravesi said.

“In 2021/22 (financial year) alone, people across Bass Coast lost over $14.6 million on the pokies – worsened in 2022/23 when losses stretched north of $18 million.

“Latrobe Community Health Service welcomes any measures that minimise harm and keep players safe. We applaud this package of government reforms to do just that – to slow down the pace of games and limit how much a player can lose.

“We see first-hand how indiscriminate gambling harm can be and urge anyone who is feeling down – with gambling a potential cause – to speak to a loved one or seek free, confidential therapeutic and financial counselling from Gambler’s Help Gippsland.”

Former problem gambler Libby Mitchell, who is the secretary of Living Well Yallourn North Inc, also welcomed the announcement.

“The mandatory poker machine consumer card is the most exciting reform ever to be introduced to reduce community harms, now caused by pokies,” Ms Mitchell said.

“The card brings self-protective tools that pokies gamblers have long needed to slow up spending before they develop an addiction. Gamblers will receive the safety warnings they deserve, when using a potentially lethal gambling product.”

Ms Mitchell said the proposals were a “win-win”.

“The Australian pokies industry has essentially run as an ‘all cash/no proof’ industry. This card will ensure accountability and will better protect taxpayers and communities,” she said.

“More money may be spent on housing, education, and other services. These cards will not push gamblers online either. To register online there are already consumer registration requirements, including giving bank accounts details.

“We just need safer gaming products all around.”

Ms Mitchell also hailed the slow down of EGM spin rates.

“Fewer games per minute will mean fewer dopamine hits per minute and that in itself will help to avoid gambling addiction,” she said.

Shortly after the proposals were announced, Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien – who is also the Shadow Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation – said he wanted to see more detail on the policy.

“The Liberals and Nationals will always have a strong focus on reducing harm for those who suffer from problem gambling and supporting their family and friends,” he said.

“We have a strong track record in this area, having introduced the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) when last in government.

“Following today’s announcement from the Andrews government, we look forward to seeing the details and call on the government to provide clear evidence that the changes will help those who need it most, and not cause significant job losses and harm to the hospitality sector across the state.

“We are very concerned at the apparent axing of the VRGF – merging the foundation with the gaming regulator threatens to see harm minimisation play second fiddle to regulation.

“This decision must not simply be a cost-saving measure from a government that has sent the state broke, rather than one that is designed to limit gambling harm.

“The Liberals and Nationals will have more to say once further details are provided and have been considered.”

The government has not guaranteed the funding of the VRGF – a body that tackles gambling harm in the community – beyond 2023/24. The new body, the VGCCC, regulates the gambling industry.

The government said this year’s state budget contains $71 million for the VGCCC to take on a larger role in gambling harm minimisation, and took over many of the roles performed by the VRGF from July 1.

If you are affected by your own gambling, or the gambling of someone you know, phone Latrobe Community Health Service on 1800 242 696

Latrobe Community Health Service provides the Gambler’s Help service across Gippsland

You can access free and confidential financial and/or therapeutic counselling to help you get your finances back on track, and/or give you strategies to take back control of your gambling.

Gamblers Anonymous can be phoned at 9696 6108, and Gamblers Help 24/7 Line on 1800 858 858

Lifeline is available 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.