The reopening of Australian poker machines following over two months of lockdown has been a missed chance to address problem gambling in the country, opponents argue, as the State Government plans to roll out further reform. If there is to be an increase in the number of machines, the state must ensure they are available to all the licensed casinos. The introduction of machines into the public sector should happen in phases, so that existing operators can gain from them before being replaced with new ones. The current government’s response to the problem of excessive gambling has been slow, but the introduction of online casinos should be welcomed by proponents of the industry.
In South Australia there are currently eleven government-owned casinos, and three private operators who are required to abide by the National Lottery and Gaming Act 1998. They cannot operate poker machines unless they have an agreement with an approved operator, who must also provide an equivalent amount of gaming revenue to the state. This system has meant that a number of operators have had to close their machines or convert them to electronic gaming devices because of financial difficulty. Many of these operators would also like to see more competition in the industry, and the reopening of Australian poker machines would be seen as an opportunity for that to happen. There have been some concerns about the increased availability of machines at sites, and some have suggested that they are an invitation to organised crime. This may be true in other areas of the industry, but there is no evidence of this in the South Australian market, where there has been no major increase in crime reported in recent years. In fact, a report issued by the Department of Planning and Development in May concluded that there has been no increase in the use of machines, even though there has been an increase in the number of operators.
In the UK, where there have been very similar problems, the introduction of online casinos has helped resolve the issue of excessive gambling. Legislation was introduced to allow online operators to operate machines in licensed casinos and the introduction of the ‘passenger rail’ system has meant that machines can be used more effectively at tourist attractions, such as casinos and theme parks. It also means that operators do not have to buy gambling equipment from the Government. An independent review of the legislation concluded that the changes were a real improvement and recommended that they be maintained. The introduction of poker machine re-entry into the public sector should be seen as an opportunity for the responsible regulation of this popular pastime.