Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 01, 2022


Poker Machines

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:46): The utter devastation poker machines are having on the lives of South Australians has never been worse. As I stand here right now, the lives of thousands of South Australians continue to be ruined by their addiction to these insidious devices. Some are taking their own lives after losing everything, including their loved ones. Others are being left destitute after losing their houses and life savings. Marriages and families are breaking down. The personal cost to these people is life changing, while the cost to the community, as we know, is indeterminable.

The blame for this lies directly and entirely at the hands of both major political parties in this place, which continue to deliberately choose to do absolutely nothing about it. As a direct result of that non-action, this crisis is at an all-time high.

A report undertaken by South Australia's Liquor and Gambling Commissioner, Mr Dini Soulio, late last year, but only tabled in this place a month ago, is setting alarm bells ringing. Disturbingly, the report revealed a massive spike in poker machine losses, which has seen the government reap a $120 million revenue windfall in 2020-21, with total gambling taxes collected last financial year topping a record $320.4 million. More concerning, the report found that $769.8 million lost through these devices in 2020-21—that is one year—was a 50 per cent increase, or a more than $250 million increase, on the previous financial year and the highest reported loss since 2006-07.

The report also revealed that, as of October 2021, South Australia's poker machine dens have had the capacity to operate 13,721 gaming machines, 640 more than the legislated target. The report revealed a statutory goal legislated in 2013, way before we took note acceptors away, to reduce the number of poker machines that can be operated in South Australia to 13,081 is unlikely to be achieved. In the report, Mr Soulio warned:

Without some form of Government intervention, it is clear that any prospect of achieving the reduction objective is unlikely at any time in the short term to medium term. This has led to advocacy that there now seems to be little reason to continue dedicating resources to chasing a statutory reduction in gaming machine numbers.

That is from our regulator. The report noted that for the past 11 years the state government has operated a trading scheme where each time a hotel or casino sells a set of gaming machine entitlements, a quarter of the sold entitlements are taken out of the system, the objective being to gradually reduce the state's gambling machine capacity, something we know has been an abysmal failure in this jurisdiction.

The commissioner's report revealed that this system has only resulted in the forfeiture of 173 gaming machines over that period of time. Commissioner Soulio estimated hotels and casinos would have to sell another 1,920 entitlements to reach the government's 2013 reduction target, yet only 1,169 entitlements have been sold in SA over the past decade.

Not surprisingly, two organisations at the frontline of gambling addiction who see the scourge of poker machine addiction every day, Uniting Communities and SACOSS, are scathing of the government's inaction in this space. Mr Henley has said:

Noting the gaming machines are still the source of more gambling harm than any other form of gambling in SA, it is extremely disappointing that the legislated reduction has not been met, meaning that gambling harm continues to be experienced – harm that is preventable.

SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley said:

Obviously as a matter of some urgency, there needs to be a very carefully thought-out re-design of the scheme to achieve these objectives given this has been allowed to simply flounder…

Something we all know. The newly formed Labor government will no doubt attempt to lay blame at the hands of the previous government, but that does not cut the mustard because we know both major parties are to blame for this. Collectively, they steadfastly refused to do absolutely anything to reduce the impact of poker machine gambling and addiction. That is because they are feeding an addiction of their own.

I do not think any of us will forget the day back in December 2019 and that landmark occasion when they removed from our legislation the single most effective harm minimisation measure that this jurisdiction has ever had. As a matter of urgency, the government has to reveal what they are going to do stop the scourge of machine gambling in this state, what they are going to do to address their own addiction to poker machine revenue and how they intend to address the 640 poker machines operating in this state above the legislated number.