Late last week, New South Wales (NSW) Gaming Minister Graham West announced that the government would cut the cap on poker machines from 104,000 to 99,000 per reforms to the Gaming Machines Act. In addition, another 3,000 machines would be cut over the next five years.
West claims the cuts will occur as bars and clubs trade machines, or as a result of buybacks in which one poker machine is returned to the government for every three traded. He claims the reforms will keep any establishment from increasing its number of poker machines in NSW.
However, a gaming opposition spokesperson by the name of George Souris claimed that the cuts were a hoax. He asserted that there are only 97,000 machines in use, so the figures given by West included 5,000 machines that were already traded away and out of use, giving pause to the numbers given by the gaming minister.
Souris said, “The cap has already been reduced and there will be no fewer poker machines out there tomorrow after this comes into practice than already is the case.”
The debate in NSW has been fueled of late by a research report that showed half of the money spent on gambling was coming from welfare payments. Numerous advocates began speaking out as a campaign to reduce the number of machines in clubs and pubs. Russell Crowe, who owns a local sports club, was one of the most outspoken on the issue.
The problem was that revenue raised from poker machines was too significant for many to overlook in the discussion. Billions of dollars in tax revenue is accrued by state governments annually. This makes the dilemma a moral and financial one.
While West maintains that the numbers will decrease due to the Gaming Machines Act reforms, there were also a number of other changes to current law as the result of pressure on the government to focus on the social problems said to be associated with gaming.
There is now a ban on credit card cash withdrawals from automatic tellers and EFTPOS facilities located in venues containing poker machines.
In addition, a Local Impact Assessment will be introduced to restrict increases in gaming areas with significant activity, specifically Fairfield, Wollongong, and Newcastle.
West noted, “The community has been saying that they realize that most people gamble responsibly, but they are concerned about too many poker machines in some areas. This is about getting rid of the poker machines in those areas, and also driving down the state cap overall.”