‘A dark day for WA’: New gambling laws prompt fears of a pathway to the pokies
9 September 2019 at 10:32 am
Community organisations in WA have been left bitterly disappointed after the state’s virtual gaming machine ban was relaxed to allow punters to bet on virtual racing machines.
The Legislative Council of the WA Parliament voted on Wednesday to pass a reform package for the state’s racing industry, that will pave the way for the sale of the WA TAB.
However, the bill also included a provision to allow simulated gambling in TAB outlets, which community organisations fear could provide a pathway for the pokies.
Western Australian Council of Social Service accused the state Parliament of knowingly voting to increase gambling harm in the community.
Chris Twomey, policy and research leader at WACOSS, said large numbers of public health experts and frontline community services – who deal directly with the consequences of gambling and financial hardship on a daily basis – had written to members of the council to raise their concerns about the impact of simulated racing machines.
“When more and more people turn up at their doors as a result of the harmful effects of gambling – as we have seen it in other states – it will be no comfort to us that we warned the state government that this would be the result,” Twomey said.
He told Pro Bono News the big concern was that it was introducing another format, means and opportunity for gambling related harm.
“It’s certainly opening the door to more electronic gambling,” he said.
“We know there are concerns, and there have been stories from elsewhere in the world, where these kinds of simulated racing machines over time have evolved into something more like pokies.”
WA differs from the rest of the country in regards to the pokies, with stricter gaming legislation in place to prevent electronic gaming machines from being operated outside of the state’s only casino.
Twomey said there was an irony that as the rest of the country was moving to reduce gambling, WA appeared to be moving in the other direction.
“That’s the thing that’s most taken us by surprise and disturbed us. And the rationale for it doesn’t really seem to make a lot of sense,” he said.
“From our point of view, anything that increases the opportunities for gambling and increases the rates of gambling related harm is not acceptable. And certainly, we don’t feel that there are protections in place to stop it from expanding and evolving into the future.”
He dismissed the argument that TAB’s animated racing game Trackside had more in common with genuine racing than pokies as a farce.
“Just like the pokies, simulated racing is an electronic gambling machine; the odds are generic and the winner is randomly generated,” he said.
“Trackside describes itself as having ‘the simplicity and payout characteristics of numbers’ games such as Keno’ – a product the government ironically recognises does not belong anywhere in WA outside of the casino.”
Mark Glasson, CEO of AnglicareWA, labelled the move a “true disgrace”.
But he said while the battle to stop the inclusion of simulated gaming in the legislation had not been won, the war to stop the introduction of Trackside was far from over.
“It is not too late for the state government to do the right thing,” Glasson said.
The community service sector is appealing to the government to rethink its position.
“We urge those Labor MPs who know this is a step in the wrong direction to speak up in the party room and stand up for Western Australian families who will be harmed by this decision,” Glasson said.
“It’s shameful our state government is prepared to risk more WA children going hungry, more families being plunged into poverty, more relationship breakdowns and even more family and domestic violence. This is what ‘problem gambling’ looks like.”
But in a media statement about passing the reform, the McGowan government said the state had “backed a winner”.
Treasurer Ben Wyatt said after a long and careful public consultation period, the McGowan government had achieved “the right result for industry and the broader community”.
Twomey challenged the claim that there had been a full consultation process, saying WACOSS only found out about the proposed bill from an ABC report which was published in October, after the industry consultations had taken place.
“We wrote to the treasurer then expressing our concerns and asking to meet, and we got a very general response back and didn’t get an opportunity to consult about it,” he said.
“We’re very concerned to see this pushing ahead.”
Responding to the backlash from community organisations Wyatt accused them of hypocrisy.
“If we’re going to be upset at gambling, organisations like Anglicare get great benefits from Lotterywest, that money comes from Western Australian gamblers,” Wyatt told 10 News First on Thursday.
He reiterated the stance that “no one wants pokies across Western Australia, that’s not what this does.”
Wyatt has remained tightlipped about how much the sale of the state-owned asset will net, but the ABC reported last year that the TAB lease could fetch up to $500 million.
The treasurer has confirmed 35 per cent of the sale proceeds will be set aside for a racing infrastructure fund while the remaining 65 per cent will be spent on a new women’s and maternity hospital in Perth.
A formal competitive process will now begin, with a sale expected to occur in 2020.