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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Adeshola Ore

‘Should be closed after midnight’: experts warn 4am pokies closures in Victoria will do little to stop harm

Pokies sign in a venue window
Experts are warning Victoria’s proposed reforms to force 4am closure times at pokies will do little to tackle gambling harm. Photograph: Fairfax Media/Getty Images

More than 360 Victorian poker machine venues will be allowed to stay open past 2am, with experts warning proposed reforms to force 4am closures will do little to tackle gambling harm.

The Andrews government on Sunday announced widespread proposed gambling reforms, which include requiring all venues to close for at least six hours each day, from 4am until 10am.

Currently, 107 venues with electronic gambling machines can remain open after 4am, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) confirmed.

The premier, Daniel Andrews, dubbed the proposed measures – which also include a new $100 load-up cap, mandatory pre-commitment limits and carded play – the toughest electronic gambling and anti-money laundering restrictions in Australia.

But harm reduction advocates have criticised the lack of clarity over the timeline and say the measures – which will not introduce cashless gaming – do not go far enough.

In Victoria, 361 venues – out of about 600 – have electronic gambling machines available after 2am, according to the VGCCC.

Prof Samantha Thomas, a gambling expert at Deakin University, said the crackdown on hours after 4am did not “stack up” against evidence, which shows a higher risk of problem gambling after midnight and particularly after 2am.

“There needs to be questions asked about why the government has chosen a 4am mandatory closure rather than what the evidence suggests, which is that venues should be closed after midnight,” she said.

Thomas pointed to a recent report commissioned by Liquor and Gaming NSW that found more than half of people gambling on pokies after midnight were classified as meeting the threshold for problem gambling or at moderate risk of problem gambling.

Dr Charles Livingstone, a Monash University gambling expert said he did not believe there was any evidence to back a 4am-10am shutdown.

“By 4am in the morning, most people who have a serious problem have already dug themselves in pretty deeply, and even if you send them home at 4am the damage has been done,” he said.

Under the government’s proposed measures, gambling venues would be required to introduce a mandatory pre-commitment system for all poker machines, meaning players must use an identification card to set a loss limit. Gamblers would also have the “load” limit – the amount that can be put into an electronic gaming machine – cut from $1,000 to $100. Machines will also be slowed to a spin rate of three seconds a game – down from the current 2.1 seconds.

By mid-next year all poker machine venues – excluding Crown Casino – will be forced to close their gambling areas between 4am and 10am.

Last year, the government announced pre-commitment rules for the more than 2,600 machines at the casino – a key recommendation from a 2021 royal commission. Crown will also introduce cashless gambling before the end of the year.

The City of Brimbank has the highest gambling losses in Victoria, and independent councillor Virginia Tachos said she supports a reduction in venue hours and slowing down the speed of “spins” on machines.

Andrew Lloyd, the chief executive of Community Clubs Victoria, said there was no existing evidence that the planned reform for Crown Casino would work to reduce problem gaming and reduce losses.

The government has vowed to consult with the industry through a working group.

But Livingstone and Thomas said opening up the measures to industry consultation was a mistake.

“We wouldn’t see the tobacco industry being consulted about mechanisms to reduce the harms from smoking,” Thomas said.

The opposition’s gambling spokesperson, Danny O’Brien, said the Coalition would formalise its position when there was further detail from the government, but called for the evidence behind the proposals to be released.

The Andrews government said about 330,000 residents experienced harm due to gambling each year and estimates it costs the state’s economy $7bn a year.

Victoria’s proposed reform has sparked calls for New South Wales to follow suit.

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