Survey on Problem Gambling: The Results
While it must be noted that this survey is not statistically representative of the Australian public, like a Newspoll or Nielsen Poll, it does match the Australian public in this one important respect: the respondents to the survey aren’t all wowsers.
Around 13.2 per cent of the total respondents said they play poker machines regularly although the definition of ‘regularly’ varies. Only 4.3 per cent of total respondents said they play at least as often as once a week – which is a fair match of the general public. The Productivity Commission notes that around 600,000 Australians or four per cent of the adult population play at least weekly. Of those respondents who said the play poker machines regularly, 75.5 per cent were male. Around 0.3 per cent of respondents said they play poker machines every day.
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In terms of how much money is lost, a very small percentage of poker machine players (1.6 per cent) lose more than $500 a week, while the vast majority (64.3 per cent) said they lose less than $20 a week. A significant number of them said they lose more money on poker machines than they can afford – 1.6 per cent of total respondents or 12.7 per cent of those who say they play poker machines regularly.
This does not mean these respondents can be classed as problem gamblers. To get an adequate definition of a problem gambler would take an entire survey in itself. But there is a correlation with statistics cited by the Productivity Commission:
“While survey results vary, around 15 per cent of these regular players (95 000) are ‘problem gamblers’. And their share of total spending on machines is estimated to range around 40 per cent.”
In terms of age and sex, the sample was older and more male than the general population. The median age was 52, compared to the Australian median age of 36.9, while 66.4 per cent of respondents were male, compared to 49.7 per cent of the population in general. Although questions of age and sex were optional, the vast majority of people answered in good faith. And if nothing else, it was a great way of excluding some respondents – such as email@example.com, who has lived to the enviable age of 190.
Importantly, 70.6 per cent of people said they are not satisfied with Federal and State Governments’ regulation of poker machines and 66.1 per cent of people said they support changing the laws on how poker machines can be used in pubs and clubs. Women were slightly more likely to favour changing federal laws than the general response sample, with 68.9 per cent of woman supporting changes.
However, when responses are broken down by people who regularly play poker machines, the ratio of people who said they favoured the Federal Government changing regulation of machines was virtually reversed: only 35.2 per cent of regular poker machine players want Federal law changed.
Results: Policy Positions
Mandatory Pre Commitment
Support for policy changes ranges from a very lukewarm 43.8 per cent (voluntary pre-commitment) to an overwhelming 66.7 per cent ($1 bet limits). Below are the breakdowns for support for the various policy positions along with comments submitted on how people feel about them.
Some of the strongest opposition to mandatory pre-commitment came from people who described themselves as regular poker machine players. While just under 35 per cent of the general population either disagree or strongly disagree with mandatory pre-commitment, almost 67 per cent of regular poker machine players either disagree or strongly disagree with the policy.
“As someone who has occasionally placed a bet, in hindsight I often wished such technology was in place after loosing more than I could afford.”
- William Stoltz, 19, Glen Iris
“It may not solve the problem, but for many it will limit it. It may also allow the problem to be seen rather than hidden within families.”
- Doug Mullett, 61, Werribee
“Let’s regulate effectively in a way that will (eventually) apply to all pokie players – there may not be another opportunity for decades. And let’s take back some power from wealthy greedy lobby groups.”
- Geoffrey Bradshaw, 59, Paddington
“Education and counselling may help- but problem gamblers are often not aware that they have a problem. Pre commitment may be part of a solution.”
- Frances Moore, 71, Bangara
“Mandatory pre-commitment is only one tool to minimise the harm created by problem gambling. Like smoking, problem gambling has a ‘passive’ effect (on families, children etc.). This means society has a right and a responsibility to do all that is possible to reduce the harm. Pubs and clubs are not casinos and their business models should not rely on them being that. Even if some pubs and clubs become unviable (which, given the nature of the proposal, I don’t believe), I can’t imagine that Australians want to artificially prop up these businesses at the expensive of innocent victims.”
- Chris Johnson, 44, Lilyfield
“Problem gambler would probably make a pre-committment of say $1000 so law is non effective.”
- Patricia Rogers, 79, Wattle Hill
“The technology will impose an inconvenience on people, inhibiting their right to entertain themselves as they see fit. The law cannot be justified on liberal principles. Rather, it is a patronising intervention.”
- Tony Casey, 41, Sancrox
“The policy does not deal with the problem, and creates a new problem of economic loss to the sector that hangs off such venues, which are largely community focused. I live in city where one of the big beneficaries of pokies is the Labor Party via its Labor Club and pokies. I find the underlying moralism of the crusade worrying and verging on fanatical. Despite all of this effort I don’t expect much change in problem gambling at all.”
- Martin Gordon, 53, Flynn
“An expensive ineffectual bureaucratic intrusion into private lives. The research quoted above may be accurate in so far as it maps the problem, but is not persuasive as justifying legislative interference, especially by the Commonwealth.”
- Geoffrey Luck, 80, Killara
“Education is the key to any addictions. Those who have a predisposition to an addictive personality need help to overcome their issues – not have Society change to suit a narrow band of people.”
- Helen Barnett, 62, Varsity Lakes
“How people choose to spend their money and live their lives (for example, pokies) should be of no concern of the government. People must be free to do what as they wish!
- Will Duncan, 17, Albert Park
“I am a social gambler and do not wish to be forced to have a licence for a casual punt every now and then. There are self exclusion options already available. Is this not taking the Governments control a little to far? how much do you wish to invade the ‘average joe’s’ daily life? If I wish to put, then I will. If not pokies then ill find another way.”
- Jack Wiley, 22, Crows Nest
Voluntary Pre Commitment
If people know they have a problem they should be helped as much as possible. above this anyone that signs up for it should be offered advice/psychological help to see if there is anything else wrong and teach methods to help them.
- Ben Bartlett, 27, Surry Hills
Voluntary pre-commitment should be coupled with strong education on why and how it is helpful, as well as making the rules clear on what the boundaries and criteria are for voluntary vs mandatory.
- Stuart Glass, 40, Bradfield
Hopefully, problem gamblers will have some insight into their own problem and they should be encouraged to take some responsibilty for their own problems. Counselling should reinforce this.
- Charles Beelaerts, 61, Double Bay
The advantage of voluntary commitment is that the person involved is likely to be aware they have a problem, and are looking for ways to help limit their behaviours, unlike some addicts who lack the insight, and will turn to other more easily accessible sources of addiction behaviour.
- Michael Kerrigan, 52, Meningie
It seems much more research & publicity to the community is needed before we can be reasonably be sure what will help those afflicted by problem gambling. To set loss limits would seem of some help, but review yearly and change of tactics as needed seems very necessary.
- Alex Wood, 84, Higgins
Voluntary precommitment presumes that the gambler is aware of the risks of gambling. It does nothing to change behaviours in desperate or already addicted players.
- Dermot Daley, 60, Carnegie
From experience with employees, I do not believe that those with a serious problem will subscribe to voluntary pre commitment.
- Graeme Wheeler, 74, Albury
My mother was 92 years old when she died earlier this year, when she was 91 she still loved what she called her “flutter on the pokies” she couldn’t see well enough to sign or read a pre-commitment statement, but she loved to sit in front of a machine and play the game and watch the lights. Labour’s proposal would have taken one of her few joys away from her.
- Charles Ryman, 65, Helensvale
I think the voluntary pre-commitment misses most of the serious social costs of genunie problem gamblers rather than occassional overspends of social users
- David Owens, 44, Burnie
There are so many major issues that should be taken up by governments. Future planning, financial stability and positioning Australia for the challenges that lie ahead should take priority. The world is moving forward and while this nation focusses on minor issues we run the real risk of being left behind. Gambling is a problem for some people and they should be assisted but really is that the greatest challenge we face, I think not.
- Greg Miles, 57, Barden Ridge
Limiting Spins to $1
Unlike mandatory pre-commitment, where a clear majority of poker machine players are opposed to the policy, regular players are more likely to support limiting spins to support limiting spins to $1. Only a very slim majority of regular players – 50.1 per cent – are opposed or strongly opposed to limiting spins while 39.9 per cent of regular players either support or strongly support limiting spins to $1.
Rather than mandatory pre-commitment, simply make the maximum bet a nominal amount.(It takes a lot longer to blow your fortnightly social security or wages if you can only bet 50c or $1 at a time.)
- Derek Robinson, 38, Millthorpe
I also support the $1 changes which have been suggested and any other changes that reform poker machine use.
- Kay Rook, 50, Randwick
There are far too many poker machines in clubs and after watching “Insight” I believe that only having $1 bets would help cut down problem gambling.
- Pat Zinn, 81, Bondi Junction
I’m inclined to the view that rather than the complexity of mandatory precommitment, better to use the european (?) model of $1 limits – ban the high-intensity machines and save the legislation and paperwork of precommitment.
- Michael Asten, 60, Hawthorn
Reducing the maximum bet to $1 won’t change much – addicts will still lose the lot. Get rid of incentive to keep using the machine.
- Michael Harrison, 69, Parkdale
Poor people and addicts are propping up sleazy clubs, good cheap meals at clubs could be subsidised by $1 machine idea, outlaw the high roller pokies that are almost unique to Australia and cause 95% of the problem
- Caroline Graham, 73, Douglas Park
This is tricky. We need to protect “problem gamblers” from themselves whilst allowing the rest of us to play the pokie when we want to. I don’t know if $1 max bet will do the job because I usually play on 1c machines with a max bet of about 20c.
- Lex Marshall, Jellat Jellat
Increasing counselling and treatment for problem gamblers is the only policy proposal where the view of regular poker machine players almost identically matched the general response sample. In both cases there were resounding majorities for more counselling (76.8 per cent of all respondents support or strongly support it compared to 74.6 per cent of regular players).
Promotion of Live Odds
Given the relatively strong interest in the survey from my own electorate, the sample of the respondents was dominated by New South Wales, although that may also be explained by the fact pokies are apparently a bigger issue than in other States.
Below is a breakdown of 26 electorates to give an indication of where respondents came from and how their answers varied. My own electorate of Wentworth is accounts for 10.6 per cent of total respondents. However, the views of Wentworth are not markedly different from the whole sample. If you exclude all Wentworth-ites from the survey sample, support for changing Federal laws on poker machines only falls from 66.1 per cent to 65.3 per cent.
Not every respondent nominated an electorate as it was not a required field – only 5570 respondents did, or roughly three-quarters of the total. As you can see, there were more responses from the inner city electorates compared to outer-metro, regional and remote electorates.
 Productivity Commission, (2010), “Inquiry Report into Gambling”, p.2
 The most commonly used measure is the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, which can be found in Appendix D of the Productivity Commission’s 2010 report.
 Productivity Commission, (2010), “Inquiry Report into Gambling”, p.2