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AGRC Recommends Mandatory Time Limits for Pokie Players

Wed, Sep 13, 10:43am by Staff Writer

In a discussion paper published this month by the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC), researchers recommended that the federal government implement mandatory pre-commitment limits on pokie machine play.

The paper – entitled “Pre-commitment systems for electronic gambling machines: Preventing harm and improving consumer protection” – was authored by AGRC manager Dr. Anna Thomas and research fellow Dr. Angela Rintoul.

Under the pre-commitment system, pokie players would be required to establish personal limits on their play prior to entering a club or casino.

These limits primarily apply to spending habits, with players setting a predetermined threshold for total wagers placed, or losses incurred, during a daily, weekly, or monthly period. Another form of pre-commitment relies on players setting time limits for their pokie sessions.

The central premise of these pre-commitment programs was outlined in the paper’s introduction:

“Well-designed electronic pre-commitment systems can prevent and reduce harm from electronic gaming machine (EGM) use.

The most effective systems require all gamblers to set a binding limit on the amount of money they are prepared to lose.

To be most effective, the system needs to be universal and available across jurisdictions, and with limits that are binding.”

The basis for implementing pre-commitment systems is Australia’s ongoing pokie addiction epidemic. According to the paper, 30 percent of Australian adults use electronic gambling machines (EGMs) on an annual basis, while 5 percent play every week. And of the weekly player base, 30 percent report suffering from “significant gambling harm.”

As Dr. Rintoul and Dr. Thomas explain later their report, pre-commitment proposals are used to prevent problem gamblers from allowing pokie addiction to spiral out of control:

“Difficulty in controlling an urge to gamble, spending more than intended, and going back another day to try to win back lost money are some key characteristics of problematic gambling (Ferris & Wynne, 2001).

Technology-based systems that can support gamblers to limit their spending are therefore likely to be effective not only in preventing the escalation of gambling problems but also, over time, in reducing the harm for gamblers who are already chronically overspending.”

While making the case for a nationwide policy, the research team pointed out that pre-commitment programs have already been tested in New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia – while Victoria launched a voluntary system in 2015.

But Dr. Rintoul and Dr. Thomas also observed that voluntary systems are largely ineffective in achieving problem gambling prevention, as pokie addicts simply opt out of the program when the urge to keep playing arises.

For this reason, the researchers recommend a “binding” form of pre-commitment, one which requires a specific card or account to access pokies. Under a binding system, players can no longer activate a pokie machine once their personal loss or time limit has been exceeded.

Dr. Rintoul and Dr. Thomas described the justification for binding pre-commitment systems thusly:

“A partial or incomplete system that does not require all gamblers to use the system may be ineffective in supporting gamblers to stick to pre-determined limits.

While in a venue, and surrounded by visual and auditory cues to spend, earlier intentions to limit spending may be overridden, for example by an urge to chase losses, and use may continue to escalate.

Non-binding systems may simply serve as reminders rather than actively support gamblers at such critical junctures.”

The AGRC was created through the Commonwealth Gambling Measures Act of 2012, and the agency – which operates as part of the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) – has been providing the Australian government with gambling research since July of 2013.


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