Productivity Commission Draft Report

The Productivity Commission of Australia is currently undertaking a review of Gambling in Australia with an emphasis on responsible gambling and reducing the cost of problem gambling to Australia. The draft report was released on 21 October 2009.

BetSafe's Submission

BetSafe made a submission to the Productivity Commission (no 93) explaining the BetSafe Program and highlighting a number of BetSafe's responsible gambling measures including BetSafe counselling, staff training and self-exclusion program. This paper summarises the impact of BetSafe's submission upon the Productivity Commission's Draft Report.

The BetSafe Program

The Productivity Commission acknowledged the unique status of BetSafe (at page 8.6), stating:

The Betsafe Program, developed in 1998 by a gambling counsellor and funded by industry members, provides over 40 New South Wales and ACT clubs with: staff training in responsible gambling; problem gambling counselling; a self-exclusion program, and information, publications, signage, and policies and procedures (Betsafe, sub. 93, pp. 1-3). Specific Betsafe policies and procedures cover such matters as unattended children, underage gambling, financial transactions, legal and compliance information, complementary food and drinks, payment of jackpots and winnings, helping problem gamblers, dealing with third party complaints, exclusion procedures and training policy.

It is inevitable that the NSW government will make changes to gambling regulation as a result of the Productivity Commission's final report. We anticipate that the government will adopt some of the measures already in place in the BetSafe program.

Responsible Gambling Compliance & Incentives

The level of compliance with harm minimisation measures was considered important by the Productivity Commission which referred to BetSafe (at p.8.15):

Appraisal of venue compliance against harm minimisation measures should go beyond mere 'tick a box' checking, but be corroborated against such data as the number of self-excluded patrons the venue has, complaints data from gamblers and others, and inspections. For example, Betsafe said:
'... the standard of a gaming machine venue's responsible gambling program should be a key consideration in an application for an increase in gaming machine numbers. Generally a gaming machine venue that is active in promoting its self-exclusion program and counselling service will be able to demonstrate a healthy number of Self-Excluded patrons. This would be an effective indicator of the standard of the venue's self-exclusion program.'

The Commission positively quoted a BetSafe case study saying (at p.8.2):

It is very unlikely that individual venue managers and staff would deliberately set out to behave unethically towards their patrons. Indeed, it is apparent that, out of genuine concern for their patrons, many endeavour to ensure a safe environment for them and to assist them where needed. For example, Betsafe noted the following case:
'J approached the duty manager in a BetSafe club late in the evening and asked to borrow money to catch a taxi home as he had lost all his money gambling on the machines and there was no money in his bank account. The duty manager arranged for a taxi to take J home, paying the taxi by voucher to prevent J gambling the cash. The club ... excluded J to prevent him from further problems.'

It is likely that the government will require gaming venues to provide a higher standard of customer care than is currently the case. BetSafe venues already provide a higher level of customer care than many other gaming venues, so this is unlikely to be a significant change.

Self-Exclusion & Third Party Exclusion

The Productivity Commission noted that Self-Exclusion offers significant benefits for problem gamblers and their families but said (at p.7.7):

However, self-exclusion arrangements currently suffer from various limitations -- most of them outlined by Betsafe in its submission to this inquiry

The Commission considered that the BetSafe Self-Exclusion scheme had a number of important elements, making comments such as:

Betsafe noted that it had developed a short and simple self-exclusion deed, but that:
'... many venues use lengthy self-exclusion documents full of legal jargon that may require a legal explanation. Such documentation is another disincentive to problem gamblers seeking Self-Exclusion.'

In relation to third party exclusions, the Productivity Commission noted (at 7.12) that:

Some do offer such programs. For example, one industry-based arrangement, Betsafe, has had third party exclusion arrangements in place since 1998, though the arrangements are not widely used. Betsafe clubs received only several hundred inquiries about third party exclusion over the decade from 1998 to 2009, with only 27 of these resulting in exclusion (Betsafe sub. 93, p. 22 and Betsafe 2008). This is small compared with the current stock of self-exclusions for these clubs.

Ultimately the Commission recommended (at 7.13) a system similar to that currently offered by BetSafe, but for implementation on a Statewide basis:

Consequently, there are grounds for a universally available option for venues and family members to use involuntary exclusion arrangements of the kind outlined by Betsafe in its submission to this inquiry.

Identification of Problem Gamblers in Venues

The Productivity Commission noted that there is a divergence of opinion about how to effectively identify problem gamblers. BetSafe has always emphasised the importance of self-identification by problem gamblers rather than requiring venue staff to monitor patrons in an intrusive manner. One example of when involuntary exclusion of a problem gambler was justified is the example provided by BetSafe at p.8.02 where a patron asked a BetSafe club duty manager for cash to catch a taxi home, as he had gambled all his money. The duty manager provided a Cabcharge voucher (to prevent the patron gambling cash) and then involuntarily excluded the patron who clearly had a significant gambling problem in the circumstances.

BetSafe will again urge the Productivity Commission to be cautious on the issue of identification of problem gamblers in venues. In our experience, problem gamblers benefit most from intervention when they recognise that they themselves have a problem. Trying to force 'help' on people who don't want to be 'helped' will rarely result in the best outcome, unless those people are in a crisis.

Staff Training

The Commission said (at p.8.24):

Venue staff are usually the first point of contact for problem gamblers seeking assistance. As Betsafe said:
'Problem gamblers spend a lot of time gambling and may get to know staff quite well. They see staff as being non-judgmental and worthy of trust. There is frequent interaction between gamblers and staff. At the point when gamblers realise they have a problem and decide to take steps to address that problem, they usually disclose the gambling problem and seek help from a staff member where they gamble. That staff member may be a gaming staff member, barperson, or security staff.'

However, at p.8.27, the Commission noted Betsafe's concerns about the adequacy of the current mandatory RCG training course in New South Wales and said:

Governments need to consider the effectiveness of the mandatory elements of responsible gambling regulation. For example, in NSW gaming machine venue staff are required to attend a 6 hour responsible conduct of gambling course. The current course is out of date and provides little guidance for gaming venue staff on how to provide assistance to problem gamblers who may seek help. The content of the mandatory course is poorly conceived and of limited effect, focusing on legal compliance issues with little content in how best to help the gambling consumer and those seeking help.

This is recognised by industry, government and the gaming staff who undertake the course, but to date there has not been an improved version. Gaming staff who work for BetSafe clubs undertake the mandatory course and in addition undertake BetSafe's shorter but more effective training courses, which are relevant to the key issue of providing help for problem gamblers."

The limitations of the current mandatory RCG course were acknowledged by the NSW Government which noted at p.8.25 that the course was due for review. We anticipate the government will issue a new RCG course within the next 12 months.

Responsible Gambling Education

BetSafe has long supported the need for school education programs to address the issue of problem gambling. The Productivity Commission noted (at p. 6.14) that:

Various participants have supported school-based education to deal with faulty perceptions of gambling, and, more generally, to reduce future occurrences of problem gambling (Women's Christian Temperance Union of Western Australia, sub. 6; Betsafe, sub. 93; Australasian Gaming Council, sub. 230)

We anticipate that the NSW government will be working to incorporate a responsible gambling component into the NSW education program as a result of the Productivity Commission's recommendations.

Different Treatment of Gambling Providers

BetSafe raised the issue of how casinos are treated more favourably than clubs and hotels at page 16 of its submission. BetSafe's views on this were referred to by the Productivity Commission at pages 9.36 and 10.17. Specifically BetSafe pointed out that Star City operates 24 hours a day, has no restrictions on the amount of cheques that can be cashed, can hold cheques over $5,000 for up to 10 working days before banking and can advertise table games externally.

Changes to Gaming Machine Play

The Productivity Commission recommended that:

  • The bet limit be lowered to one dollar
  • A universal pre-commitment system for gaming machines
  • Limit ATM withdrawals to $200 a day
  • Pay gambling prizes over $250 by cheque
  • The mandatory shutdown period be extended
  • The maximum cash input for a gaming machine be reduced to $20

Clearly, none of these measures will prove popular with recreational gamblers and will significantly impact gaming venue revenue and raise administrative costs. We note that some of these recommendations have been the subject of research, while the potential benefits of the others remain uncertain. Generally there is a lack of independent research supporting these proposals and BetSafe will be asking the Productivity Commission to provide justification for their recommendations.

Online Gambling

The Productivity Commission recommended the repeal of legislation prohibiting online gaming in Australia. This was despite widespread opposition from both the gaming industry and consumer advocates. The Commission said (at 8.38):

Several participants expressed concern about the provision of free credit for online gambling (for example, Australian Hotels Association, sub 175; Betsafe, sub. 93; UnitingCare Australia, sub. 238).

Clearly the Productivity Commission did not grasp the hazards of online and telephone gambling, particularly for the younger generation.

BetSafe is concerned that if restrictions on gaming machines are such as to make them unattractive to recreational gamblers, the result will be a significant growth of online gambling, which will cause far more harm than gaming machine gambling.

BetSafe's Response

The Productivity Commission has asked for submissions in response to the draft Report to be provided by 18 December 2009.

BetSafe is currently preparing a submission in response to the draft submission. BetSafe feels that some of the Productivity Commission's draft recommendations will not provide significant benefits to problem gamblers and will address these in our response.

Further Reading

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