gaming machine

The ACT Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety has released its report on its inquiry into cashless gaming in the ACT, recommending the ACT government “articulate a long-term vision for gambling harm reduction”.

“The committee acknowledges that the environment in respect of gaming in the ACT is changing in terms of technological advances and developments in other jurisdictions but agreed that a longer-term vision of what should be in place to reduce gambling harms is necessary,” the committee said in its report.

It also recommended that the ACT government simultaneously continue to reduce the number of electronic gaming machines in the territory, “irrespective of other policy positions it may take”.

The delivery of the report was led by committee chair Peter Cain. A total of five recommendations were handed down.

The committee also recommended the ACT government to introduce legislative amendments for the implementation of a mandatory account-based gaming system, which includes a raft of integrated harm-minimisation measures, such as mandatory pre-commitment on spending or losses, forced breaks, and player-exclusion capabilities.

“The committee recognises that there is both a need and an opportunity to adopt reforms to gaming technology,” it said.

“Implementing new regulatory requirements in the near future, at a time when venues are likely to need to update their gambling infrastructure in any case, would be the fairest and most cost-effective way of achieving harm-minimisation reforms.

“The committee agrees that any reforms implemented on gaming technology, including for cashless gaming, should have harm-minimisation and the protection of individuals as central objectives.

“Suggestions that cashless gaming systems should be voluntary are at odds with compelling harm-minimisation arguments, and also anti-money laundering arguments. They must be mandatory in order to be effective.”

Additionally, the protection of personal and private information should be part of the design of any system designed to support gambling harm minimisation, according to the committee.

“Data privacy for the individual players, be it from facial recognition technology systems or any form of system that supports cashless gaming, is of central importance,” it stated in the report.

“Gambling license holders should not be able to make use of data for the purpose of loyalty programs or customer promotions where it is derived from systems designed for the purpose of gambling harm-minimisation.”

The committee added it would like to “see further commitment from the government to ensure that community clubs can effectively diversify their income streams and reduce their reliance on EGMs”.

“Plans to derive income from other uses of club land, consistent with the not-for-profit status of clubs, should be encouraged and supported,” it said.

In a dissenting report by Cain, he believes the ACT government should also undertake a trial of cashless gaming in the ACT with a view it is consistent with NSW regulations and policies as much as possible. An expanded cashless gaming trial is currently underway in NSW.

“I am of the view that there is value in conducting a trial of cashless gaming in the ACT, and that consideration should be given to the design of the trial so that it returns useful data to inform best practices,” he said. 

“The trials conducted elsewhere would obviously inform the construction of a trial in the ACT, which should recognise distinctive features of the ACT gaming and regulatory environment and, of course, our distinctive socioeconomic features. Particular consideration should be given to implementation, harm reduction and avoiding unintended consequences.” 

Greens MP Andrew Braddock, who was part of the committee, also provided additional comments and put forward three of his own recommendations, with one cautioning the ACT government to be “extremely wary” of any advice or representations received from the gambling lobby, including ClubsACT and the Gaming Technologies Association.

He also believes a central monitoring system of gaming should be implemented “to anchor initiatives  in harm-minimisation including mandatory precommitment and loss limits, the prevention of money laundering, and other effective regulation of gambling operations”.

Lastly, Braddock recommended the ACT government suspend the use of facial recognition technology in licensed venues, until “such time as the Commonwealth and/or Territory can introduce human rights-consistent regulations governing the use of this technology”.

Speaking with Club Management, ClubsACT chief executive Craig Shannon has slammed the report as a “completely wasted opportunity”.

“It doesn’t touch on any of the real issues that were put on the table in that inquiry … it goes to show the magical thinking that exists in the ACT Assembly. A report that can delve into a whole pile of significant evidence can come up with a response that doesn’t touch on any of it,” he said.

“It is completely skewed towards an ideological obsession with gambling harm, even though it doesn’t tie any of those issues in the recommendations to any of the evidence that came out of the inquiry.”

With the committee’s report now tabled, the ACT government is now required to respond within the next four months.

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