Urgent regulation needed to reduce pokie-fuelled problem gambling, say psychologists

Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs), known as pokies, are a major contributor to problem gambling and they should be regulated to reduce gambling harm to the community, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

The APS will advise the Government’s Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform today in Canberra that the evidence supports the introduction of strong consumer protection and gambling harm prevention measures.

Evidence shows Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) are the product most linked to problem gambling and gambling harm, with 30% of users engaged in problem gambling.  Sixty per cent of the $19 billion per year spent on gambling is lost to EGMs, mostly located in clubs and hotels.

“From a psychological perspective, we know that the environmental conditions in venues and the design of the games themselves make it difficult for people to make informed choices about how much they spend and how long they play,” said  psychologist and APS manager of Public Interest, Ms Heather Gridley, a co-author of the submission.

In its recent submission to the Inquiry, the APS said that gambling is a significant public health concern associated not only with financial losses but depression, self-harm and anxiety.  Also, it is estimated that for every one person with a gambling problem, five to ten other people are affected by it.

“The problems with gambling are not just isolated to problem gamblers,” said Ms Gridley.  “We need to look at the impact of gambling on society as a whole, and what we can do to reduce the potential for gambling-related harm.”

The APS is recommending stronger EGM consumer protection measures such as:

  • reduction in the number of EGMs, including caps per community or location,
  • alteration of the characteristics of EGMs, such as slowing machines down and lowering cash input rates,
  • full provision of information to consumers about products, such as ‘cost per hour’ of playing EGMs,
  • modifying the gambling environment, such as limiting access to cash and reducing hours of operating machines, and
  • the introduction of an effective policy of mandatory pre-commitment.

The APS submission notes the concentration of EGMs in lower socioeconomic areas, and recommends caps for the number of EGMs per community or location.  “Remote and regional areas, Indigenous communities and urban growth areas are more likely to have a range of factors making them vulnerable to the negative impacts of problem gambling,” said Ms Gridley.

“We can’t rely on written materials alone to reduce problem gambling,” she said. “The evidence shows we need strong consumer protection measures to help people control their gambling. The Government needs to exercise their social responsibility to protect the public from gambling products that cause harm.”

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The APS submission on gambling also covers the role of advertising in gambling, the need for research into the impact of gambling marketing, particularly on young people, and possible approaches to treatment of problem gamblers.

The APS Submission on gambling: www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/APS-Submission-into-the-Inquiry-into-the-prevention-and-treatment-of-problem-gambling.pdf.

The APS position statement on gambling-related harm:

The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples’ lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.