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Governments Setting Pre-Determined Betting Limits

20 January 2011 by admin

PokiesA plan by the Australian government to place pre-determined betting limits on pokies (electronic poker machines) has come under fire from one of the biggest providers of those games. Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH), which is 75% owned by Woolworths, has attacked the proposed system, saying that it would negatively impact the betters and result in higher costs for pub owners and their customers.

The Australian Parliament is planning to implement a “full pre-commitment scheme” for the pokies by the year 2014, with smaller, voluntary pre-commitment schemes rolled out sooner. Other governments are also going along with the idea, with Norway and Nova Scotia, Canada rolling out their own plans soon. So what’s the big deal about the pre-commitment schemes? Is it another example of big government playing nanny and trying to control how much money you spend?

No, it doesn’t seem to be. That’s because the government would not be determining the betting limits. Each player would do that. Therefore, it’s really no different than doing what I advise every player do: determine the amount you are willing to spend before placing a wager. The only difference is that the government would make it so you are required to do that before the game can be played.

Here is how the system would work. To play the poker machines, which are commonly found in pubs and restaurants in Australia, players would have to sign up for a smart card. With their personal card, they would insert it into a machine and before they start playing, they would commit to betting limits of their own choosing. Players could choose a maximum amount of money to be spent during the day, week or month. They could also self-impose a time limit. After setting their own limits, the players can then use the pokie machines to their heart’s content.

According to the Parliament’s Productivity Commission, the system would have “safe” default settings, but the players would be able to change the settings to whatever matches their style and budget. By having a default, though, new players are given a recommendation of where to start. The system is designed to combat problem gambling by helping people stick to a budget.

It is believed that the system will start with non-binding limits, where players would be told if they reached their limit but would still be able to continue playing if they choose. It would then switch over to binding limits by 2014. At that time, when players reach their self-imposed limits, they would not be able to place any more wagers.

The Australian government has already run a trial of this program and the results were mixed. In South Australia and Queensland, they ran voluntary trials of the program using loyalty cards, where players were encouraged, but not required, to set their own limits. The players didn’t seem very receptive to the idea. In Queensland, only 13% of the gamers decided to set their limits before playing, while in South Australia, less than 1% of players did. While not many people tried the system, of those who did, more than half thought it was helpful.

I don’t like the government telling people how much money they can spend, but that’s not what’s happening here. In this case, the government is telling the people that they have to decide on their own how much money to spend. That is exactly that we here at OCS advise.

The pre-commitment scheme has not yet been implemented in Australia, but it is believed that thanks to a deal struck with Independent MP Andrew Wilkie of Tasmania, there are enough votes in Parliament to pass it. Some in the gambling industry are against giving any quarter to the government in terms of regulation due to the heavy-handedness of the likes of Senator Nick Xenophon. The Independent South Australian senator is an activist who opposes all poker machines and all forms of online gambling, including being for censoring the internet to ban gambling sites.

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