Education could be key to gambling woes

Most Tasmanians have an opinion on poker machines – good or bad for the community.

There are those who believe a person’s free will should always be protected. If someone wants to gamble on a gaming machine, they should be allowed to. It’s their money and gambling is a lawful pastime enjoyed by millions of people.

Then there are those who believe the machines are extremely harmful and detrimental to society and they should be banned or severely restricted.

You don’t find too many genuinely sitting on the fence in this debate, such is the polarising effect gaming machines have.

There’s little doubt that problem gamblers need protection. The issue with problem gamblers is that if you remove one vice, ie poker machines, they may simply find another avenue through which to enjoy, with online gambling becoming a growing issue. It’s actually quite surprising how little thought is given to the growing problems with online gambling given its widespread availability – much more invasive than any poker machine. Anyone with an internet connection in their home can join the faceless mass.

The recent Parliamentary inquiry into gambling in Tasmania has heard from a number of gaming machine opponents.

They tell tragic tales of families torn apart, people so consumed by the ‘evils’ of gambling they have wasted their entire life savings and some go without food and clothing money – their incomes splashed down the coin slots of their nearest gaming lounge.

There’s no doubt more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable. Shifting the concentration of the machines away from lower socio-economic regions of the state would be a good start.

The industry itself has made many credible suggestions such as mandatory staff intervention at venues for problem gamblers or the installation of technology that restrict users to a set time or spending limit.

The Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission estimates that there are up to 3200 problem gamblers in Tasmania. The government does need to do more to protect those people from themselves as much as anything.

The government, too, could help in the short-term, perhaps through education campaigns. It could easily be funded by the $35 million the state government receives a year in taxes from gaming machine revenue.