Claims that Electronic Gaming Machines are a social entertainment are entirely misleading. EGMs and EGM venues are designed to isolate people from the outside world and to induce a cycle of repetitive spending. Their mode of operation is inherently manipulative: they seek to undermine a player’s ability to make a rational choice about playing on or stopping.

Advertising in venues and on EGMs inviting players to ‘win’ is arguably misleading, in that a significant purpose of the machines is for the gaming population to lose a predetermined portion of the outlay.

‘Harm minimisation’ inherently acknowledges that gambling (and gaming in particular) is harmful. Keeping the harm at levels which allow the industry to be sustainable (by preserving the player’s ability to keep playing year in year out, and keeping criticism in the wider community subdued ) may ensure a revenue stream to government in the billions, but is surely morally bankrupt.

Many large scale beneficiaries of EGM revenue (Woolworths for one) would probably not want their names to be associated with gambling in Victoria.

Future competition in the wagering sector from internet and telephone-based betting systems impacts on revenue to government, thereby placing extra pressure on gaming to make up the shortfall.

‘Disclosure’ is a crucial component of harm minimisation. Should operators be required to disclose ‘commercially sensitive’ information? This might include which types of machines are the most profitable, aspects of game design that undermine a player’s ability to disconnect from the cycle, etc.

Victorian EGMs are more profitable per capita than those in Queensland and NSW because the dual operator system allows venues here access to the information, research, and resources of the operators. This ensures a more systematic deployment of EGMs and concerted methods of enticement. It also spreads the profits more evenly across the industry (not allowing hotel chains, etc, the kind of competitive advantage they have in the northern states) but makes Victorians more vulnerable because the EGM industry is more comprehensively implemented.

It is my belief that the government has hold of the tiger’s tail with regards to gaming and the revenue it provides – not just from the tax and licence fees, but to the number of pubs and clubs across the state whose income (and employees’ income) is now dependent on revenue generated by pokies, as well as the significant number of shareholders who derive income from the publicly listed companies who run the industry.

The corporate article of faith that business can and must grow year on year into infinity is particularly worrying when that business is something like this one: the goal must always be to get more people playing and squeeze more from those who already are.

Peter Fray

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