Transcript: Responsible gambling codes of conduct: What purpose do they serve?

AUDIO transcript (edited)

AIFS seminar: Responsible gambling codes of conduct: What purpose do they serve?

Dr RINTOUL: Thanks Alister and thanks to Laurie and John also for coming down to Melbourne to participate in this discussion.  It's a great way to bring our research to life.  Before I begin I'd like to just also comment that my colleagues Julie Deblaquiere and Anna Thomas contributed to this study and are co-authors on a paper which this webinar is based upon.  I am employed by the Australian Gambling Research Centre as Alister just mentioned, which is funded by a Commonwealth Government appropriations.  I do not work for any organisation that would benefit from the findings of this study financially and the views are my own and don't reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Family studies or the Australian Government.

So this study was part of a larger project that we undertook here called Gambling in Suburban Australia and this is an incidental finding from that study.  We were conducting observations in two local areas of Melbourne, one in the East and one in the West, which was looking at what it is about the local environment that influenced gambling expenditure and we noticed when we were attending poker machine venues in both of these sites that venues weren't implementing their code of conduct.  So we developed a more systematic approach, which I'll explain in the methodology in a moment to look at this questions in a bit more detail.

So responsible gambling codes of conduct are a requirement of licensing of poker machines in Victoria and they're actually used around the world.  Responsible gambling is a somewhat contested term, increasingly so, because it places the responsibility for gambling problems often on the individual, rather than exploring what could be done with the operator and also by government through regulation.  The codes of conduct as they're called in Victoria - I know in other States, such as ACT they're referred to as code of practice but the codes of conduct in Victoria describe passive strategies, such as the display of signage to warn people to, for instance, limit their spending on poker machines.  They also describe protocols for payment of cash to patrons in venue if they are to have a win on an EGM machine and also describe the venue's self-exclusion program.  But there's also active strategies, which are the focus of this presentation that discuss how staff should interact with gamblers who are showing signs of distress and how they might interrupt their EGM use if they observe this happening.

So the code of conduct in Victoria is valued by the regulator, the VCGLR, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation and it considers the detail of the code of conduct when they're deciding whether to grant licences or increase the licence holding for EGM operators.  And they're important because venue staff are often the first to notice if gambling problems are escalating by gamblers in their venue.  So we know that often gamblers experience a lot of stigma because of their problem escalating and they might hide it from their family and friends and so the venue staff are really at the coal face of where this problem is beginning and have a lot - the venue itself has a lot of potential to intervene to prevent problems from escalating.  So the research questions for this study were what does the code of conduct actually say venues will do in the event that a gambler is showing signs of distress and are these protocols actually implemented in practice.

So for this study as I mentioned it was part of a broader study, Gambling in Suburban Australia, which looked at two local neighbourhoods in Melbourne's East and West and un each of those neighbourhoods there were 11 poker machine venues in total.  So we looked at the code of conduct documents for each of those venues and in total there were eight individual code of conduct documents because some venues were owned by the same operator or used the same code and we also looked at what the scale of the venue was, so the number of machines and how much was lost by gamblers each year at that venue and whether it was a club or a hotel.  We then went to these local neighbourhoods and looked at what was happening in the venues, who was there, what they were doing, whether staff were interacting with patrons in line with their code of conduct descriptions.

So this is an excerpt from one of the hotels in the area from their code of conduct document.  So it says that staff should approach a gambler displaying signs of a problem, such as gambling every day or finding it difficult to stop gambling, gambling for extended periods, avoiding contact while gambling, making requests to borrow money or displaying aggressive or emotional behaviour while gambling and so that staff in the event that they observe instances should suggest that the gambler take a break from the machine or offer them a refreshment in a quieter part of the venue, so to encourage a break in their gambling.  When we went out to the venues we used a checklist that had been developed by Paul Dalfabro and Anna Thomas and Andrew Armstrong that lists around
30 behaviours that could be considered indicative of a gambling problem.  And so on this list they're colour coded to show that purple behaviours are highly probable that a person might have a gambling problem.  Red indicates that gambling problems are probable.  Orange possible gambling problems and yellow is an early warning sign.

So you can see here that behaviours such as spending more than $300 in a session, getting cash out on two or more occasions from the EFTPOS machine are all indicative signs that someone might be displaying a gambling problem.  As well as the observations we also interviewed gamblers.  So we spoke to 40 gamblers and 20 professional.  So the professionals included venue support workers in Victoria, who go to venues to train staff in ways to provide responsible service of gambling.  We also spoke to staff at the regulator, venue staff and a venue manager and we coded the transcripts of those interviews using NVivo software and triangulated the findings with what the researchers observed, what the gamblers told us they experienced and what the professionals had also heard from gamblers or from venue operators and we also coded the codes of conduct as well to explore what exactly each venue said that they would do.

Many of the codes are very similar so they seem to be taken from a template.  This slide shows the venues that we observed.  As I mentioned there are 11 of them.  So five clubs and six hotels and they're varying in scale in terms of the number of machines that they have from 18 machines with a gambler loss of half a million dollars, which is the smallest venue to eighty-eight machines and a loss of 13.6 million dollars at one of the hotels.  We observed the venues for a total of 34 hours and went back multiple times to each venue.  We interview 40 gamblers, as I mentioned.  Eighty per cent of those reported a primary problem with poker machines and all of the gamblers used poker machines in local clubs or hotels.  So we didn't include any gamblers that we'd interviewed for the larger study who were using poker machines only at the casino for instance or had only engaged in sports betting.  This was a concentrated sample of the 40 who used local EGMs.

So coming to the results, we observed staff regularly on the floor in the gaming area at the venues but we noticed that they were focused on customer service activities.  So they might be refilling the hopper with coins, providing book pays, which are paper tickets to gamblers who'd had a win of over $200.  Most venues have a protocol that they can provide a paper ticket and the gambler can cash that in at the cashier, rather than take 200 coins or providing food and beverages, so serving gamblers who are using the poker machines.  And we found very limited and only isolated evidence that staff interacted to support or reduce harmful EGM use.

So we found that that was also reported by gamblers themselves, not only was it that we observed it in the 34 hours that we were in these venues.  So this is what one gambler told us.  She said that when she was distressed she actually approached the staff member herself and she was actually grateful when the staff member said to her "Why don't you go home?  What are you doing out this late?  It's time to leave."  And so this gambler said that there was on instance in her many years of gambling where this had occurred but it was isolated and this was the only time she could remember.  I think it was over a decade this gambler had been gambling excessively.  This was the only incidence that she could remember where she'd been provided with some support.
On the whole most gamblers reported that they didn't receive any supportive interaction from staff in venues.  This gambler described how he would go in with a list of all the things that he had to do and to spend his money on and with a note saying, do not spend this money.  It's not spare.  And he'd describe that to the staff in the venue and said, I've got this list here.  I'm not going to spend all my money.  And he'd walk out at the end and say, so much for that note and the staff member was just kind of saying, oh, you know, oh well.  So not really going beyond that and directing him to some help services or suggesting that he might try to sign up to the self-exclusion program for instance.

In other cases gamblers said to us they would have like to have had the support but it was never provided.  So one person described they'd go into a venue sometimes and say this is the last $50 and that $50 would be spent quite quickly and that they would have really appreciated having someone come up and ask them do they need assistance and maybe just that one time it would have been enough for them to change their gambling.
We also found that venues often encourage gambling.  So they'd offer people refreshments whilst they're sitting at the machine, rather than encouraging them, for instance, as the code of conduct describes to have a coffee in a quieter, different part of the venue, they'd come around and provide Coke or food.  And we also observed in some venues say a Tuesday morning promotion where the cake and coffee trolley would come around to the machines at the venue at 10.30.  So, really ensuring that people are well served whilst they're at the machine and not really encouraging a break in their use of the machine at all.  However we did hear from some people that they would have found it embarrassing, had staff identified them and tried to have an intervention.  So this person said that they'd be quite negative if a staff member approached them and they'd be a bit upset and embarrassed.  So this is something to consider in the mix of how to deal with this problem.

Many people described that there should be better regulation around cash withdrawals and I'm sure Laurie and John will speak to this in the next part of this webinar.  But we also heard from gamblers that they often found that with the ATM removal in Victoria - so this happened several years ago where automatic teller machines were taken out of poker machine venues.  That was quickly replaced with the EFTPOS machines.  So people - there used to be a $400 limit on the ATM withdraws at poker machine venues.  Whereas EFTPOS has a $200 limit but you can go back multiple times.  So people could spend whatever their bank allowed them to take out in a day.  Often it's one or two thousand dollars.  So instead of limiting it to $400 previously at the ATM people might go through $1000 in a session.
A professional that we spoke to also said that it didn't really make sense that there was a $400 limit previously and now that's actually increased rather than decreased people's access to cash in venues.  But we also found it's not just about staff training.  So a staff member reported to us his disappointment after having conducted responsible service of gambling training and getting a job in a poker machine venue, when he realised that a gambler in that venue was displaying problematic signs of gambling and he spoke to his manager and said "Should I refuse this next withdrawal of cash?"  His manager actually indicated that that was certainly not something that they would practise in this venue and that he should continue to give him money.  So this was a gambler who'd come back three times for a $200 in a short period of time and when he wanted to, he wasn't supported by management to do that.

We also had reports of breaches in self-exclusion, where one gambler reported calling a venue after she'd lost all her money that she'd been self-excluded from and requesting that staff next time look at her photo and prevent her from coming into the venue.  Another gambler reported that the security guard on the door had recognised that he was self-excluded gambler but had just let him in anyway.

So the problem seem to be that we know that significant harms result from gambling problems.  We know that it's associated with family violence.  We know that there's the financial distress that's caused by gambling can lead to relationship problems.  It can lead to all sorts of stress, poor health, suicidal ideation.  There's a whole list of problems associated with gambling and codes of conduct are meant to be one measure to help prevent the escalation of gambling problems.  But our research shows that venues aren't adhering to these codes.  We also looked at the regulators annual report last year and found that there were no reported formal warnings issued to venues by the regulator in that year.

So why are code of conduct given so much weight in regulatory settings?  This is a question that perhaps people might like to write in about but not all gamblers welcome an interaction and staff may not be comfortable navigating that interaction or they might be discouraged by management in intervening with a gambler.  And we don't even know if these interventions would be efficacious.  No one's actually evaluated whether a venue implementing its code of conduct as described would actually help gamblers in the long term.  So that's something to consider as well but they're given quite a lot of weight by the regulator.

So coming to some potential solutions.  In order to reduce the burden on gamblers and on staff there could be legislation that ban practices that don't reflect the spirit of the code of conduct.  For instance, the cake and coffee trolley that goes around to the machines in venues could be prohibited or the service of food and drinks to gamblers at machines could be prohibited to encourage a more natural break in use of the machine.  We could also limit the multiple cash withdrawals from the ATM.  However, staff need the legislative support to implement the code of conduct.
So perhaps penalties should apply to venues that breach their code.  At the moment these are self-regulatory and compliance isn't really monitored much by the regulator.  But aside from the code there's also modifications that could be made to the EGM itself.  So the technology is available to develop algorithms to identify problematic or escalating gambling problems and if those were implemented, messages could be sent from the machine to the gambler to let them know that their pattern of use is escalating or to remind them how much money they've spent for instance.

In Victoria we now have a voluntary pre-commitment system.  This could readily be converted into a universal and binding pre-commitment system that would provide further technological support to gamblers and this would actually help to reduce potentially awkward interactions between gamblers and staff in venues.  It would provide an additional cost effective way to help gamblers to monitor their use of EGMs.  At the moment it appears that self-regulation is somewhat ineffective and that legislation requiring venues to adhere to their self-exclusion programs and their code of conduct could help to improve compliance.  But the regulator would need more resources to monitor compliance.  At the moment that's not something that they're set up to monitor.

So I've got some further references here and this is the paper upon which this presentation was made.  So if you'd like further detail you can have a look at this paper.  The link is also on our website and I will hand over now to Laurie and to John.  Thank you.

Prof BROWN:  Thank you Angela.  And thank you to the Australian Institute for Family Studies to allow John and I to participate here.  I'm a recovering addictive gambler.  I now use the term addictive gambler rather than problem gambler because the latest research clearly indicates that addiction on poker machines is similar to other forms of addiction, such as use of cocaine or heroin, acts in the same place in your brain.  I just happened to be - a Professor at the University of Canberra indicating that these issues can effect anyone within our community.  In some ways what I'm presenting and John is participating with is if you like a phenomenological study with two observations John and I and what we want to do is just highlight some of the key themes that have emerged from our experience over the last six months.
I live during the week in the ACT working at Uni of Canberra.  John and I have a farm property.  John live on the farm two hours, two and a half hours from Canberra and we currently have a complaint with the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission and in looking at this we've gone back to look at the regulations governing licensed clubs within the ACT and their responsibility.  And highlighted on the slide is the particular legislation that we're going to draw on.  As Angela said in the legislation of the code of practice in the ACT problem gambling is defined in terms of the amount of time people spend within the venues and how much money.

Also under the legislated regulations a licensee will commit an offence and therefore can be held responsible for that if they contravene various codes of practice.  And I've just given you a couple of examples, such as failing to have a gambling contact officer or if they have incidence reports, not making those available.  So I guess what I'm saying is from the perspective of an addictive gambler, there are legislated requirements within the ACT governing the behaviour of clubs and I firmly believe and I think John will strongly endorse that the clubs failed in my particular case to adhere and implement those.  So fundamentally, our experience in talking to the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, what we found out is that really and it again endorses what Angela said that the commission who is the regulatory body does not have the resources to appropriately check on the implementation of the regulations.

So they really just undertake paper audits of the clubs and seeing if they do for example, have the gambling contact officer - they have the signs.  What we are strongly arguing for is that clubs are not adhering to the letter of the law.  Nor are they actually following the spirit or the intent of this legislation and the ACT commission is not policing the implementation of the code of practice regulations.  John, would you like to briefly comment on your feeling in terms of the commission's activities?

JOHN:  Well, I'm more interested in commenting on the clubs.  What the clubs did was ignore Laurie's problem gambling completely and said they couldn't see any problem with it.  Well, she was actually showing ten of the thirteen signs of a probable problem gambler that Angela referred to earlier.  So what they're doing is just ignoring this.  Laurie was there till four in the morning.  She was returning to the ATM or the EFTPOS up to 11 times a night.  She was taking out large sums of money in front of the staff and she didn't stop for food or drink.  She sat in front of a machine for six hours a night.  Well, you know, they don't want to see that.  It's invisible.  So something more has to be done and I would suggest limiting machines to a dollar a spin for a start.  Because we can't depend on staff who are dependent on their income, their salary to the club to do anything about problem gamblers.  Because what they do is bring them drinks, in fact.  They don't do anything about the problem gambling.  So much more needs to be done to prevent people like Laurie losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in what is an uncontrollable addiction.

Prof BROWN:  Yeah.  So in my case the clubs have argued, yes, our staff undertake training in terms of issues around responsible gambling and so they have to do that within a sort of three year period.  Now the regulations in the ACT code of practice, as you can see on the slide also say each staff member is made aware of his or her obligations under the code of practice.  So - and they're trained in the indicators that John has said and Angela pointed out and I showed a significant number of those indicators of having a major addiction to the poker machines.  I went to one single club, usually two to three nights a week.  I'd go from about 10 o'clock at night.  I'd ring John up on the farm at eight, 8.30 to catch up with what he'd done across the course of the day.
After that I'd do some of my university work.  When I thought he had probably gone off to bed, I then jumped in the car, drove five minutes down to a single club and then spent six hours from ten, 10.30 till I was thrown out at four in the morning.  By that time when you're at two or three in the morning there are very few gamblers on the venue.  The staff would interact with me.  They - we had - staff had to make payouts when you had a win of $1500 or more.  Otherwise you could just get a ticket and cash that back in.  As John said, I went to the ATMs and EFTPOS numerous times during the night.  So the question is, why do staff not put these - your training into action and as John said, it's a conflict.  In the ACT problem gamblers or I prefer the term addictive or compulsive gamblers, contribute to about 60 per cent of the income generated through the poker machines.  The club I gambled at is one of three venues owned by the Raiders Sports Limited organisation.  In their last financial report they had a total revenue of around twenty-six million dollars.  Nineteen and a half million dollars came from gaming and the majority of that came through from the poker machines.    

So on the slide I'm just highlighting a copy of point, which again if you like are the key themes.  So they are required
- the clubs are required to report or record problem gambling incidences.  And highlighted in red is one of the key signs of problem gambling, making multiple ATM cash withdrawals in the gambling facility.  You can extend that to EFTPOS.  In the ACT there's a $250 daily limit on the ATM withdrawals.  Most of the clubs provide EFTPOS facilities which are a direct means of providing cash.  As John said, I used to three or four times to make withdrawals of four or five hundred dollars.  On average, I was spending over $1500 a night.

The most I ever withdrew out of the facilities in this club was over five and a half thousand dollars one night going night going back eleven times to either the ATM or EFTPOS.  It is one indicator.  The club was required under this to report an incident and so then it comes down to well, dealing with people with gambling problems.  So they must issue a - the gambling contact officer for the facility is told about people that have issues.  The ACT training is based around those indicators Angela showed.

I had multiple signs and as you can see here, I've highlighted the words reasonable grounds.  If someone had intervened, yes, I would've been embarrassed but it would've given me an opportunity of taking a break and reassessing what I was doing.  Having cash withdrawal facilities on the premise provided no opportunity for me to have a break.  But I'd like to iterate or re-iterate that as an addictive gambler, I needed external controls.  They are some rules and regulations within the existing code, which would've provided for some of that intervention; that didn't happen.  The licensee must keep deeds and notice of exclusion.

I had an issue back in 2011, 2012, I self-excluded.  It was within the same organisation and not the same venue.  Again the venues, the license venues have to keep copies of self-exclusion notices for seven years.  That's not utilised in any way; after my first period of problem gambling, I excluded – even though the exclusion was up, we would strongly argue this because it was all part of the same business organisation, should've been aware of my problems and at least asked me, is there something I want to do, come back into the club and certainly intervene and query what was happening.  I'd also point out this one club after my latest bout where I lost a significant amount of money; that was over $230,000.  So it's a lot of money.

I self-excluded and I actually went back into one of the venues owned by this business and I was allowed straight in, even though they're highly aware that we'd made a complaint.  I walked in, I was absolutely horrified I was allowed in, walked straight out, rang John, just teeming with the thought even despite what had happened.  We had been contacting the club and we'd made a complaint with the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission.  I was still allowed back in.  So from our point of view, from our lived experiences, we see issues around compulsive, addictive gambling on the poker machines.

People have argued they are designed to be addictive.  They're misleading, it impacted on me and John and we are strongly arguing there were some regulations that have not been adhered to and we would like at least some greater policing of these regulations.  John would you like to quickly add any other comments?

JOHN:  Well, my comment would be that the clubs are selling an addictive product.  They have a social license to do so but it is an addictive product to a large number of people and any addictive product needs to be very strongly regulated and it is not strongly regulated.  It's passively regulated and the clubs don't do anything about problem gamblers, unless they're violent or abusive or start hitting the machine.  That's how they describe a problem gambler.  Now Lory was very quiet but despite being quiet, she showed 10 of the 13 signs of a problem gambler.  So if the clubs won't self-regulate, then they have to be limited in some other way and my limitation would be to make it a dollar a spin and put limits on the amount that people can spend on any visit.

Prof BROWN:  Thank you.

Discussion

MR LAMONT:  Well thanks Angela, Laurie, and John for that and thank you Lory for sharing your personal experience; that was great.  So now I've got some time for some questions.  We've got a few that have come through already.  The first one we have is, "Given your research findings, do you believe that codes of conduct should be mandatory and enforced?  Angela?

Dr RINTOUL:  I think looking at the research, self-regulation isn't working.  If the codes are a requirement of licensing and the regulator wants them to be enacted, I think having them as part of legislation is probably one of the only ways that we can ensure that they're actually a real and living document, rather than something that's ticked off at the application point in time and put on the shelf and forgotten about.  I think unless it's legislated and unless penalties apply, I don't have a lot of confidence that venues will implement them.  What about you?

Prof BROWN:  Our experiences, even though the ACT – there is legislative requirements under the code of practice, these are not being policed in terms of the implementation by the regulatory body; that is the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission.  In addition, some of the clubs do have some voluntary codes of practice.  They're not adhering to those and they're certainly not adhering or complying either in terms of the letter of the law or the spirit of the law.  Part of the voluntary code of practice was in terms of providing cash withdrawal facilities.  So as I said, ATM's and the ACT are limited to 250.

The majority of clubs introduced EFTPOS facilities, the voluntary code of practice said, a staff member had to activate that.  But a recent report has come out to say a number of clubs actually had signs next to the ATM, to say if you've superseded your ATM limit, just come to us.  These are the facilities available to withdraw cash.  I was going out one night at about 2.00 in the morning to get – to leave the venue because I didn't realise about the EFTPOS facilities, to go to a local ATM.  The area I live in, Canberra's not one of the better suburbs in terms of socioeconomic status.
I was very cautious about withdrawing money in the middle of the night; however, one of the staff actually said to me, "Lory, are you going out to get more money?  You don't need to.  We've got this facility right here" and that really was the beginning of a very slippery slope for me.

JOHN:  There is an issue called "regulatory capture."  I don't know whether this relates exactly to what Lory is saying.  But part of the reason that the clubs aren't regulated properly in the ACT is that there seems to be a fairly closed relationship between the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission and the clubs.  So that they're somewhat – particularly the first time Lory had a problem in 2012, the Gambling and Racing Commission was incredibly defensive of the clubs and they were basically advocating against me and for the clubs about what had happened to Lory in her first less major episode.  So I think to some degree, this can be explained because they have too close a relationship with the clubs.
And the other thing is the clubs seemed to have established this little empire of their own, where they are more or less self-referential.  So they decide to what extent they're going to take notice of the regulations and that needs to stop.  The Gambling and Racing Commission needs to be – have a bomb put under it basically to regulate much more strongly.  But I still think the answer is a dollar a spin.

MR LAMONT:  Okay, thanks John.  Another question we have is, "In the first study, were there EGM venues that seemed to stand out with regard to actually trying to follow the code of conduct?"

Dr RINTOUL:  Unfortunately, we didn't notice differences between the venues because overall, the observation and the reports to us from gamblers was that they're not implemented.  As I mentioned at the start of the presentation, the only examples of at least – sorry, the active strategies was staff were acting with gamblers.  The only real examples we got were very isolated recollections from gamblers, sometimes years in the past where they'd approached a staff member, distressed and the staff member had encouraged them to go home.
So overall, I think my – my sense of it is that they're not seriously enforced at all or practiced and certainly that seems to be Lory's experience as well in the ACT.

Prof BROWN:  Yes and I don't quite know why I attempted to go back into clubs after being if you like, gambling freeform three or so years.  And I only tried two clubs.  The first one I went in and they – the person on reception called the Night Manager who came out and said, "Look, you've got a history, a previous history of self-exclusion.  That's actually expired.  But we will not let you back into this club unless you have supporting documentation from your family agreeing for you to be allowed back into the venue."  The second club is the one that was actually only five minutes from where I stayed during the week in Canberra.  Even though it's part of the same organisation I had the previous problems with, had the complaint, they just allowed me back in, no questions asked.

John and I met with the CEO and Manager and we said to them, "Look, you could be proactive.  Why don't you take a stand and be seen within our local community as being proactive in the way in which you deal with people who have issues in terms of playing the poker machines?"  They take absolutely no responsibility; they certainly show no interest whatsoever in being proactive and in fact, they argued that they couldn't implement the procedures that the club I had actually experienced with in limiting re-entry, and they said no, it wasn't feasible.  It was actually against privacy and it was limiting people coming in to gamble and we're going, well that's exactly what we're trying to do.  So, no.

MR LAMONT:  Okay.  Moving on to another question, "How would you propose placing the responsibilities on venue staff to recognise someone self-excluded?"  A common complaint for gaming room staff is that there are too many self-excluded photos to remember them all and be held accountable for that recognition.

Dr RINTOUL:  I think this is a really important point.  The problem for many staff is that – I agree, that there's often a large number of photographs to remember and people don't often look like their photo from a couple of years ago as well.  So at the moment, I think – I mean, in cases like Laurie's case, obviously the club knew her and staff knew her and there are people that are spending a long period of time there.  So there are certainly instances where staff are able to make those observations and when they know they're patrons.  But I agree that it's difficult in other places that are larger, where they've got a large volume of people coming through.  Certainly, some of the clubs in New South Wales which are massive, I imagine they would have a problem with large numbers of photos to identify. However, people have to sign in to get to the club.  There are mechanisms in place where it could – identification could occur.  What would be ideal is if using a poker machine required some form of identification on every machine, so that – such as a universal and binding pre-commitment system that would mean that every time a gambler tried to log on, there would be a record of who they are and certainly, whether they have a self-exclusion order in place and the machine wouldn't be activated, if that user tried to log on.  I think in the – the technology is certainly available, readily available and I think that it would be fantastic if we could implement something like that to support people and to support staff as well because I agree, it would be quite overwhelming when you've got such a large number of self-excluded people.

Prof BROWN:  I agree in the sense that ACT Gambling and Racing Commission has to by legislation have an electronic register of people who have self-excluded or indeed, been excluded by the club.  So clubs in the ACT can exclude; there are clauses that allow clubs to exclude individuals and there are various conditions around those.  And it seems to me given modern technology, as Angela said when you enter a club, certainly in the ACT, you've either got to be a member, you're supposed to show your membership or you have to show something like your driver's license.  And therefore in doing that it should not be a difficult issue to have an electronic register within each club, that would identify people who have self-excluded and it's – an alert comes up when you enter the club. But I also endorse the view of limiting the amount of money that can go through the poker machines and if you did have some sort of card that a machine couldn't be activated if you were self-excluded, then I think that's also a pathway.

Dr RINTOUL:  I should also mention that as part of the Consumer Protection Framework, the Commonwealth Government is planning to introduce for online wagering a National Self-Exclusion Register.  So I guess that's demonstrating the capacity and capability for that to be adapted for other products as well.

MR LAMONT:  Okay.  We've got another question here that's centred around restricting hours of operation and whether you have an opinion about that?

Prof BROWN:  I have a strong opinion, John probably does too.  It's a conflict because I gamble from 10 o'clock at night to 4.00 am and usually, the club – and the clubs shut in the ACT at 4.00 am.  Now there's me plus maybe a couple of other people who no doubt were addictive gamblers as well.  I thought the club was – well, I was going to say the club had to employ two or three people, staff, at that time; from a business point of view, I guess they were making so much money out of me, they remained open.  But I don't see why a club has to – a community club.  So these are called community clubs, I don't see why they need to be open until 4.00 am.  I can't see why a closing time of like, 12 o'clock. 
The argument is oh, there are people on shift work.  There are taxi drivers, people who want to come in.  Well look in all honesty, there was me and maybe a couple of other punters who probably all were addictive gamblers; we didn't need to be there, the club could've easily shut at midnight.

MR LAMONT:  Okay, we've got a bit of a long question here but I'll go to a shorter one.  "Venues use secret shoppers for catering to check quality; what if Government-funded compliance checkers for self-exclusion and codes of conduct adherence?"

Prof RINTOUL:  That's a good idea and I believe that there is a mystery shopper style program that has operated in Victoria in the past.  But it seems that they rarely come up with any findings I guess against – around breaches in codes of conduct.  So that's certainly something that could be initiated more readily and perhaps if it had some – some tighter conditions around what they were looking for specifically.  I'm not familiar with the detail of what they looked for in Victoria.  But given that there's been no recorded breaches or warnings issued by the regulator, perhaps there needs to be a sharper focus of those.

JOHN:  My experience in the ACT; I've had this discussion with the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission and they basically say they don't want to go to the venues and police what's going on.  They go there when the venue's almost empty.  You know, like 10.00 in the morning.  But they – they say we don't want to go and police the venues.  So that's their position.  So you'd have to make some sort of shift to get that accepted by them.

Prof RINTOUL:  Yes and actually the regulator did say to me that this is something – this would require a shift in what's been traditionally expected, if they were to go and start checking compliance with codes of conduct; this would not be something that venues were expecting or had experienced in the past and so their sense was that they would need to give them some sort of warning that these documents have been taken seriously now.

Prof BROWN:  Yes and my experience is the ACT clubs and I think John said this; essentially, re-interpreting the legislative requirements.  And so, I'm really of a firm opinion of trying to hold not only the clubs, but also the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission to account, because they are the regulatory body.  So they should be overseeing that there aren't breaches and in my case, I think there have been significant breaches.

MR LAMONT:  Okay.  I've got a few more questions coming through.  "You know that the codes of conduct are given credence by the regulator when approving applications for increased EGMs or new venues; should this reliance be treated with more scepticism?"   

Dr RINTOUL:  I suppose it certainly seems so if the regulator doesn't really have the resources to check compliance or monitor whether they're actually implemented.  They are a condition of licensing but in the current set of circumstances, where there's no real legislative power I suppose for the regulator to administer warnings or penalties if any (indistinct) in breach of those codes, then I suppose it's not going to be something that they're investing resources in monitoring compliance with.  So yes, I think it probably should be re-considered, the value that they're given.  They probably are overvalued.

Prof BROWN:  In the ACT part of – when a club applies to get an increasing number of poker machines, that a social impact assessment is undertaken, however, the whole process surrounding that social impact assessment seems to be somewhat blurred and new requirements are coming into force over the sort of coming months, to try to make that process far more accessible to the local public to have some input.  Also the environment in the ACT, the political environment is actually to reduce the number of poker machines, because the ACT has the highest number of poker machines per adult population than any jurisdiction in Australia. So I think it will be difficult for clubs to get an increased number of poker machines but also, if you – if you have confidence in the social impact assessment process, than that's one mechanism.  But again, the commission needs to have the resources to undertake that assessment and the local community has to be able to access it and have their input as well.

MR LAMONT:  We have another question here that sort of centres on the role of banks and making banks accountable.  This person just describes how they've had a client that has been given a large – like an increased credit card limit and then they've just increased it again and then they've just gone and spent all their money the next day.

JOHN:  Well, I could talk about this.  We had a retirement savings account with a bank with specialises in farming activities.  I don't know whether I can name them but I won't.  They allowed money to flow out of this account for 18 months straight into Raiders Belconnen, without ever notifying us that this was happening.  And I would've thought it was blatantly obvious to any bank employee that this money was not – as they knew the purpose was, this money was not sitting there waiting for our retirement any more.  It was being spent in Raiders Belconnen and $230,000 flowed out of this account and others before a machine at the bank eventually discovered that this was happening. So for a bank which prides itself on individual service, there wasn't any.  Nobody noticed.

Prof BROWN:  Yes and in this particular situation, we had interaction with the bank when I had it – my gambling issues back in 2011, 2012.  I limited – or John and I, limited with the bank my excess to funds we introduced – like a new account, where I could get money out purely for sort of personal expenditure.  You know, like buying the groceries and things like that.  So the bank were fully aware of my gambling history and we operated through a local branch, so it wasn't remote and so we have major issues in terms of the responsibility of the banks.  And I know – we've been talking to other people with gambling issues; they've had exactly the same experiences in terms of significant difficulties in trying to get banks to even limit once they've recognised the addiction, to limit further sort of cash withdrawals.

MR LAMONT:  Okay, we might just have one last question.  It's quite a long question here, but I guess the main gist of it is about individual agency and responsibility in your addition I guess.
MS BROWN:  Well okay.  Well, I'm glad you said the word "addiction."  So, I take responsibility in the sense that I went into a club initially, for entertainment.  That's what I thought playing the pokies was initially.  I didn't understand – I didn't appreciate that this was – that poker machines are an addictive product.  They're designed to be deceptive, misleading.  I was not aware of the impact these machines would have on my brain.  Therefore, I don't take responsibility flowing on from that, because I think the clubs are promoting and misleading deceptive, addictive product; the harm its caused to the community far outweighs any community benefits and there have been reports released in terms – within the ACT from Charles Livingston and his colleagues in terms of the benefits versus the harm. So what level of responsibility do I take?  I went to a club; I thought I was there for enjoyment, entertainment.  It was an addictive product and from then on in, I don't take responsibility because like other addictions, there should be rules and regulations, they should be implemented.  You know, I think in terms of say serving alcohol, there's legislation; there are severe penalties if people serve alcohol to intoxicated individuals.  It's an addiction; I need external controls that limit my access.  In a public health arena, it's like exposure.  So I'm exposed.  What I've done since I learnt sort of about this at the addiction is I just stay well aware – well away from the machines, but.

Dr RINTOUL:  Thanks Laurie and I'll just to add to that.  Like I think there is a lot more that could be done to support people who develop gambling problems.  Whilst there is some degree of individual responsibility, there's a whole lot more that could be done from the regulation of the machines.  Only recently evidence has been generated demonstrating how addictive the characteristics of the machine are, that when people use these machines, Dopamine is released and through the reinforcement that the machine provides and this is quite recent evidence.  So we really need to make sure that operators and governments are regulating these products as best they can.

MR LAMONT:  Anything to add John..

JOHN:  Well I wanted to say something somewhere about the impact on families, relatives, and friends of people who are addicted.  I can only talk about my case, where the impact was enormous and it took me a while to understand that why Laurie was doing was an addiction and that once she got into it, she couldn't help but getting worse.  It's just like taking heroin; once you start you're hooked.  And this has enormous impacts on families.  We met a woman the other day who didn't know how to get her husband to stop gambling and she was asking us for advice. And I'm not sure what you do about this or how you reach out as the Americans say and help people like that.  But I think the impact on families can't be underestimated.  It would be nice if somebody would do a study to quantify this across Australia.

Prof BROWN:  But the nicest – one of the nicest things John said to me in all of this was, well, it's not your fault and – so, I'm really for any actions that will limit the amount of money people can put through poker machines.  I'm certainly not advocating we need to get rid of poker machines totally; I just say put limits around it to minimise the harm that's created.

MR LAMONT:  Great.  Well, I think we're just going to have to wrap it up there.  We've got a few other questions that have come through but we don't have time for them now.  If you do want to pass on another question, you can send an email through to the Institute; send an email to comms@aifs.gov.au and I can pass it on to Angela or Laurie and John and Yes, there's one other comment that I'll just mention that has come through that says thanks for your courage Laurie and John and for sharing your experiences today.  So I'll wrap it up there and thank you everyone for attending and I hope to see you again soon.

Gambling support

Are you experiencing issues with gambling?

Find the help which is right for you by visiting our Gambling help page.