The ACT government is looking into ways to restrict the amount of money that can be withdrawn via eftpos at any club that offers electronic gaming machines.
The move came after it was revealed many pokies players around Canberra were skirting the $250 daily ATM withdrawal limits in gaming lounges by using staff assisted eftpos withdrawals instead.
Media and government officials were alerted to the issue after problem gambler Professor Laurie Brown reported she was able to bypass the $250 ATM limits by accessing cash over the counter at her local Raiders gaming club in Belconnen. Professor Brown lost $230,000 to the pokies within the space of a few years, saying the Raiders Club allowed her to withdraw thousands of dollars each night using the clubs eftpos facilities.
An investigation into the matter was ordered by Minister for Regulatory Services, Gordon Ramsay, with the Gambling and Racing Commission reporting some concerning statistics.
The report found while only two of Canberra’s 46 licensed gaming venues were non-compliant with the $250 ATM limits, a number of clubs were allowing eftpos cash withdrawals, with some placing eftpos facilities directly besides the ATMs and using signs to advertise the availability of eftpos facilities.
The ACT government is now considering stopping all eftpos cash withdrawals in clubs that have gaming facilities after a letter was sent out by Justice and Community Safety Directorate officials.
The letter said, “There is a strong and growing body of research that supports the effectiveness of restrictions on access to cash by gamblers while they are gambling as a harm minimisation measure. By limiting at-risk or problem gamblers’ access to cash, overspending becomes less likely.”
If approved, the change would mean punters could still use their eftpos cards to purchase food and drinks over the counter, but would not be able to withdraw cash.
Professor Brown said she was happy to see her story making a difference. “There are lots of families same as ours impacted by gambling where the clubs have not been responsible as they’re required to be under the code of practice so if my experience is helping others I’m glad,” she said.
“If it’s making clubs rethink business approaches and attitudes towards poker machine addicts then that’s really positive.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Ramsay said the government had not decided what kind of penalty would apply to club owners if the eftpos ban is implemented.
ACT following in Victoria’s footsteps
This is not the first time gaming venues in Australia have come under the pump for circumnavigating ATM limits.
In 2012, ATMs were banned from Victorian gaming venues (except for the Crown Casino) in a bid to stop the amount of money that was being lost to the pokies. While the ATM ban saw immediate positive results, within a year investigations into Victoria’s gaming venues found that club owners were getting around the bans by introducing eftpos systems that allowed endless withdrawals of up to $200 at a time.
By 2013, a report commissioned by the Victorian government revealed the number of eftpos machines in the states gaming venues rose from 59.6 per cent to 96.6 per cent.
Eftpos withdrawals are still allowed in Victoria’s gaming venues, with anti-gambling advocates calling for the introduction of stricter bet limits and mandatory pre-commitment systems to support safer gambling practices.
According to the Victoria Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, $200 eftpos withdrawals are allowed provided the transactions are conducted face-to-face with staff members. A 2010 Productivity Commission report into gambling found that “face-to-face interaction when making a withdrawal is less risky as it can deter problem gamblers from withdrawing large sums of money.”