Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone warns of pokies rise

More pokies coming?
More pokies coming?

Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone fears the number of poker machines could rise in Fairfield despite new laws proposed by the NSW government that communities in NSW already vulnerable to gambling won't be able to get more pokies.

Racing Minister Paul Toole last week announced a raft of changes to laws governing pokies, including a cap on machines in “higher risk areas” such as Fairfield, where residents bet $8.5 billion last year.

But included in the package is a provision to allow clubs and pubs to lease licences on machines to other venues. Under present laws machines can only be transferred by sale, and for every three machines sold one must be forfeited. 

Under the new laws, venues would be able to avoid forfeiting machines by leasing them instead. Also, smaller regional clubs and pubs could lease poorly performing machines to larger venues in high-revenue areas like Fairfield.

Mayor Carbone said the leasing arrangements no longer “facilitate a reduction” in electronic gaming machines (EGM) in Fairfied.

“We have concerns that the leasing provision has the potential to bring dormant EGM licences in under-utilised areas to life in locations where they can generate higher revenue from more people gambling more money,” he said.

“The leasing provisions will centralise EGMs by transferring them from small venues with low expenditure to other locations in our City that generate higher gambling turnover.”

A spokesman for Mr Toole said the proposed leasing scheme will be subject to a range of harm minimisation requirements, including the Local Impact Assessment scheme, prohibitions on moving machines into high-risk areas and a Responsible Gambling Fund levy.

“Forfeiture is only one of many harm minimisation strategies used to regulate gaming machines in NSW, but will not apply to leasing as it is likely a disincentive to the removal of machines from small pubs and clubs.”

The proposed pokies changes, contained in legislation introduced to the NSW lower house last week, include increased penalties for wagering, making operators personally liable if they offer unlawful inducements and will bolster measures to address problem gambling across the state.

But Fairfield MP Guy Zangari said more more support is required for problem gamblers.

“Ultimately it comes down to personal responsibility, however problem gambling is an issue and there needs to be greater awareness and support in the community for it,” he said.

“There are more than enough poker machines in our area.”

Fowler MP Chris Hayes said capping the number of poker machines in hotels and clubs in the community is a “positive measure”.

“Nevertheless, more needs to be done to support local families who are victims of problem gambling, as well as assisting problem gamblers overcome their addition,” he said.

“I am very aware of the great contribution our clubs make in our community, however, problem gambling has been a significant issue in this area.”

The proposed reforms have been slammed by the NSW Greens who say they don't include the measures which stop the addictive features of the machines which exploit people.

"They don't rein in predatory behaviour from clubs and hotels to maximise profits and they don't keep people and communities safe," Greens MP Justin Field said.

Mr Field called on the government to introduce one dollar maximum bets and come up with a plan to rapidly reduce the number of pokies across the state.

"A cap on poker machines in vulnerable areas won't have a real impact on harm if pokies remain embedded in our communities in clubs and hotels and these addictive machines continue to exploit vulnerable people," he said.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform believes any reform of laws in NSW should include banning political parties and churches from operating pokies; the introduction of a blanket ban on political donations by any venue or peak body which is operating or benefiting from poker machines licences by the NSW government; and the setting of a maximum annual loss rate of $5 billion.

Alliance for Gambling Reform NSW spokeswoman Allison Keogh said the government was failing to protect ordinary people. She said the number of machines in areas such as Fairfield needed to be reduced not just capped.

"Councils like Fairfield already have more machines than the whole of Tasmania," she said.

On a per capita basis Fairfield loses $2300 for each resident wagering on poker machines.