PM - Anti-gambling law loophole
[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2003/s837787.htm]
PM - Tuesday, 22 April , 2003 18:42:00
Reporter: Paula Kruger
MARK COLVIN: Anti-gambling groups in New South Wales say new laws aimed at reducing problem gambling are being watered down even before the come into effect. Research suggests that enforced breaks can help reduce addiction.
So from the first of May, there'll be a six hour blackout on poker machine use in the state's pubs and clubs. But it seems there's a loophole in the law. If clubs get support from their local council, the ban can be reduced to three hours.
Paula Kruger reports.
PAULA KRUGER: Fairfield Council in Sydney's West has 43 clubs and pubs under its jurisdiction. Each night they must turn off their poker machines for three hours between six and nine in the morning, a measure introduced to encourage problem gamblers to go home.
From next Thursday the shutdown will be extended to six hours. Some clubs have successfully lobbied Fairfield Council for exemption from the longer ban, a move that has angered councillor Thang Ngo.
THANG NGO: We're not just testing the loop hole, we seem to be running in to fall over ourselves to help the clubs beat the six hour shutdown. It hasn't come into effect yet, it won't happen until next week, but we've rushed everything through to try and help the clubs as far as possible to reduce their shutdown from six to three hours.
Now let me say, we've consulted with the clubs, but we have not consulted with the community, and I think that's outrageous.
PAULA KRUGER: A special meeting is being held tonight so those who oppose the plan get a chance to have their say. The meeting comes as the local government and shires association seeks legal advice about whether councils have the expertise to assess harm minimisation measures.
Thang Ngo says his council doesn't.
THANG NGO: That's not the role of councils. We're about footpaths, libraries, we're about rubbish collection. We're about all those very important key issues. We don't want to be diverted into assessing into whether a club should be able to make more money by reducing the number of shut downs from six hours to three hours.
PAULA KRUGER: Efforts by clubs and pubs to get exemption from the six hour ban have outraged anti-gambling groups who have spent years lobbying state governments to limit access to poker machines.
The Reverend Harry Herbert from the Uniting Church.
HARRY HERBERT: The gambling industry, hotels, clubs and casinos are a powerful political force and they'll always put pressure on governments. They don't like the six-hour closure. I think it's an excellent idea.
PAULA KRUGER: It was also hoped a ban on smoking at poker machines would discourage continuous gambling by forcing punters to have smoko breaks. But that campaign has also taken a blow.
Sydney's Caringbah RSL plans to reintroduce smoking areas, eleven months after declaring itself a smoke free zone. But some gambling experts question whether large scale bans on poker machines and smoking limits will have an impact on problem gambling.
Paul Symond is the president of Bedsafe, an organisation that helps problem gamblers.
PAUL SYMOND: Well there's no evidence that proves that a reduction in the time that clubs or pubs or casinos are open has any effect on the issue of problem gambling. What we do know works, that the government has made mandatory for the industry in New South Wales, is the ability for gamblers to self-ban.
PAULA KRUGER: The clubs have also dismissed bans on poker machines as ineffective as a harm minimisation measure.
David Costello is the CEO of Clubs New South Wales.
DAVID COSTELLO: All we have is a whole range of legislation that certainly gets in the way of trying to run a good business and doesn't really help a problem gambler.
PAULA KRUGER: Fairfield Council will have another vote tonight on whether it will support the shorter ban.
MARK COLVIN: Paula Kruger.