ACT News

Anti-pokie advocates slam new ACT government laws

Anti-poker machine advocates have reacted angrily to the ACT government's new gambling legislation, calling it `a breach of faith', Ben Westcott says.

Anti-gambling advocates have reacted angrily to the ACT government's proposed changes to poker machine caps, with Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce chair Tim Costello calling it "a breach of faith".

Minister for Racing and Gaming Joy Burch announced on Thursday the number of poker machines in their territory would fall from 5024 to 4785, almost 800 above the government's previous target of 4000.

From there, Ms Burch said they would rise in line with population as part of new legislation.

The government was mistaken in taking the same approach to poker machines as they would to essential services in Canberra, Mr  Costello  said.

"You need a certain number of doctors increasing as population grows. You don't need it with pokies," he said.

"The truth is they are predatory, dangerous machines. There's no civil liberty to having increasing numbers and access because it's access to pokies that creates problem gambling."

Reverend Costello said the government's decision to back away from its 4000 machine target was a "breach of faith" with voters, adding ACT politicians had to listen to their community.

He said the ACT government couldn't be trusted to legislate poker machine limits.

"It's Dracula in charge of the blood bank and the reason why Australia has the greatest problem gambling in the world by a country mile... is we have the most pokies [and] they're regulated by state governments that either get revenue or own them," he said.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton said instead of tackling the ACT's poker machine problem, the government had again given in to the clubs.

"The demonstrable harm poker machines cause to the community means the ACT government should have a plan to wean itself off them," he said.

"The government should be implementing the recommendations of the Productivity Commission for $1 bets as a way of reducing harm."

Salvation Army national secretary Major Kelvin Alley said the organisation was deeply concerned about the impact of poker machines on the community.

"The percentage of poker machine players who have serious problems with addiction is in the order of 30 per cent. It has a bigger impact on the community than many would think and obviously the Salvation Army would commend any move to bring it down," he said.

Major Alley said legislating on poker machines was a conflict of interest for the Labor government.

Opposition Gaming and Racing spokesman Brendan Smyth said the new reforms represented a "backflip" for Ms Burch and the government.

"They've just walked away from it yet again, another policy failure from a government that's big on announcements but very small on delivering," he said.

Ms Burch said the reforms committed to reducing the number of machines in the ACT, in line with neighbouring areas in NSW, while allowing clubs to stay competitive.

"What this does is recognise that Canberra's a growing city and what this does is give a clear indication of a ratio to our population, so as our cities grow there will be an opportunity for clubs to grow as well," she said.

"This commitment gives certainty to the clubs [and] it reduces the number of machines in the ACT."

Clarification: In an earlier version of this report Major Alley said his organisation would support an independent body to regulate poker machines. Minister Joy Burch's office has pointed out that the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission already regulates poker machines. 

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