Further evidence that responsible gambling policy changes fail the “do no harm” test

In protecting the most vulnerable with respect to gambling I wrote the paper “Stop: Wrong Way Go Back” where I argued against an amendment to permit access to EFTPOS in gaming areas in South Australia. I made the point that South Australia is the only State/Territory to allow access to cash in a gaming area under the dubious premise that staff would have face to face contact with any person wanting to use EFTPOS inside a gaming area. No case was advanced that staff in a gaming area in South Australia are more numerous or more qualified to intervene than in any other jurisdiction and hence there is no basis to justify the claims of Government or Industry that this would occur. The Productivity Commission has in both their reports of 1999 and 2009-10 strongly recommended that access to cash should be prohibited inside gaming areas which is why, for example, ATMs are not allowed inside gaming areas in hotels, clubs and casinos.

The recent case of University of Canberra academic Professor Laurie Brown, who suffered from a gaming machine addiction, demonstrates that access to EFTPOS in a gaming area allows any person to bypass ATM limits. In South Australia we have a situation where people can access both an ATM and now EFTPOS in the venue. This is poor public policy with respect to protecting the most vulnerable (and even University Professors), including individuals in personal life circumstances where they may be vulnerable (such as loss of a partner, loss of a family members, situations of vulnerability such as divorce, ill health, loneliness, unemployment/redundancy, etc.).

As my late father, a wonderful teacher of Latin would often cite, Primum no nocere, the Latin phrase meaning ‘first, do no harm’ is a core tenet or principle of public policy. The decision of the South Australian Parliament to allow access to cash inside a gaming area without any proof that this would not exacerbate harm trashes that principle. Gambling researchers Australia wide have consistently reported that staff are not properly trained to intervene and in many cases not encouraged to intervene as the first article confirms. That Parliament places the onus of intervention onto staff in hotels and clubs, in many cases quite young staff relative to gaming patrons, is an abrogation of its responsibility. The onus is on Parliament to ensure that public policy decisions do not permit harm!

Commonwealth Social Security Law with respect to recipients of social welfare payments who are involved in the Cashless Debit Card Trial specifically restricts payments so as not to be used for, inter alia, gambling. This requirement in law demonstrates both the concern of the Commonwealth with respect to vulnerable individuals (and families) and a recognition of necessity of consumer protection with respect to gambling. It seeks to protect the individual and families from the impact of problem gambling and/or excessive gambling. While there is community debate about this policy (e.g. some argue it is paternalistic, interventionist, denial of individual choice and debases individual responsibility) what the Social Security Law in practice is intended to do is “to do no harm”. It is intended to place a restriction on the amount that is able to be gambled.

In contrast, the South Australian Parliament through the policy decision to allow even greater access to cash with which to gamble, effectively places no restriction on the individual and potentially contributes to the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

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