Legislation ‘the key’ for responsible gaming: Australian specialist

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Issue 1020, Page 4
Word count: 725
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

A specialist in gambling studies from Australia said responsible gambling programs can only become truly effective in minimising harms when related legislation is in place.

Professor Nerilee Hing, director of the Centre for Gambling Education and Research of the Southern Cross University, Australia, gave a lecture “The Evolution of Responsible Gambling Policy and Practice: Insights for Asia From Australia” at the University of Macau yesterday.

However, Prof. Hing admitted that there is “no magic solution” as “there are many factors influencing problem gamblers in different ways”.

Responsible gambling, she said, refers to policies and practices designed to prevent and reduce potential harms associated with gambling. “These policies and practices often incorporate a diverse range of interventions designed to promote consumer protection, community/consumer awareness and education, and access to efficacious treatment.”

These responsible gambling policies and practices have evolved over time and progressed through different stages of corporate citizenship, she added.

According to Prof. Hing, some industries and operators in Australia started to consider responsible gambling in the late 1990s. Yet, during that period they focused on “passive measures” such as codes of practice, signage, best practice guidelines and self-exclusion.

“They were far less willingness to implement harder measures that might threaten income, for example move ATMs, limit cheque cashing, cheque payment of wins and restrict advertising,” she said.

In addition, since responsible gambling measures were voluntary, the implementation rate was low, she said.

Yet, as time passed by until the late 2000s, Prof. Hing described responsible gambling as a “normal part of core business practices embedded in organisational cultures, structures, systems, processes and practices rather than being an add-on function”.

There are more “proactive measures” than “symbolic” ones nowadays in Australia, she said.

If self-exclusion is a kind of passive measures Australia had adopted in the 1990s as Prof. Hing has put in, then it seems that Macau’s responsible gambling policies are still staying in the period of the last century.

Macau has no legislation on responsible gambling but a self-exclusion program has been introduced. That means it is also up to the local casinos to implement related measures or not.

Data from the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) indicated that a total of 72 people have been named in the government’s self-exclusion program that bans them from entering casinos.

Meanwhile, the most recent study conducted by the University of Macau’s Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming in 2007 showed that 2.6 percent of Macau people aged from 15 to 64 could be categorised as probable pathological gamblers, up from 1.78 percent in 2003.

In a territory that has a total land area of just 29.2 square kilometres, there are already 33 casinos and more are yet to come. Prof. Hing pointed out that “exponential and unprecedented” expansion of commercial gambling will likely see problem gambling emerge as a significant social and public health issue.

Since expansionary government policies will attract criticism, she said, a larger burden will then fall on gambling operators to be more responsible providers of gambling services.

However, industry self-regulation in responsible gambling usually has “very limited success” as it is “undermined by lack of deterrents for irresponsible practices, strong financial incentives to do otherwise and resistance to change”, Prof. Hing told the audience.

“Self-regulation tends to result in passive, symbolic measures aimed more at protecting corporate reputations than preventing and reducing gambling harms. Thus, legislation may eventuate.”

Prof. Hing said successful responsible gambling would be characterised by revenues derived solely from responsible gamblers and not from problem and at-risk gamblers.

In addition, there will be prevention of the harms associated with gambling problems and mechanisms to ensure gamblers do not lose control over the time and money they spend gambling, “while maintaining enjoyment for recreational gamblers”, she stressed.

The Productivity Commission, the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues, made a list of recommendations to address the high rate of problem gamblers among regular electronic gambling machine (EGM) players in the country.

They include a lower bet limit from AU$10 to AU$1 per button push, AU$20 limit on cash inserted into EGMs, longer shutdown periods of gambling revenues, lower daily ATM cash withdrawal limits, payment of gambling prizes above AU$250 by cheque or direct debit, more conspicuous and market-tested warning messages as well as stronger monitoring of venue compliance.

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