ACT poker machine regulations nation's most lax: Report

The ACT's poker machine regulatory system is the nation's most lax, while the density of the machines in Canberra is second only to the poker machine gambling mecca of New South Wales, a new report has found.

The report, written by Monash University gambling expert and harm minimisation advocate Dr Charles Livingstone, has compared the territory's poker machine regulations and revenue with all other Australian jurisdictions, finding the ACT is lagging behind all other jurisdictions.

The ACT's poker machine regulations are the most lax in the country, a new report suggests. Photo: Bloomberg

The ACT's poker machine regulations are the most lax in the country, a new report suggests. Photo: Bloomberg

It also found the ACT's average poker machine tax take to be the lowest in the nation, despite a moderately progressive tax rate, while the number of machines per 100,000 residents was second-highest at 14.8 in 2015-16, compared to 15.5 in NSW and 9.8 nationally.

The ACT was the only jurisdiction outside NSW that still had a $10 per bet limit, compared to $5 elsewhere in Australia, $2.50 in NZ, and the $1 maximum per spin limit recommended by the Productivity Commission eight years ago.

Dr Livingstone's analysis also found the ACT had no standards for machine parameter settings for load up and maximum wins, and no time displayed on the machine as is required in most, if not all, other Australian jurisdictions.

The report was commissioned by the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance, ACT Council of Social Service, Belconnen Community Service and Anglicare NSW South, NSW West and ACT in an effort to build a more comprehensive picture of the ACT's poker machine regulations and taxes.

Dr Livingstone analysed poker machine revenue figures compiled by the Queensland Statistician's Office, as well as regulations in all Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand to reach his findings, and suggested more than 30 potential reforms to improve the ACT's system.

Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance spokeswoman Rebecca Vassarotti said the report showed the ACT's regulatory system was the most lax in the country and should be a wake up call for the territory government to reform the regulation and taxing of poker machines.

She said the report endorsed greater government action to cut per spin bet limits to $1, address key machine parameters around losses disguised as wins and put greater controls on EFTPOS and cash availability in gambling premises as easy to implement given they already existed in most other jurisdictions.

Ms Vassarotti also said that often the debate around poker machines in Canberra compared the ACT's taxes to those in NSW, but the wider comparison actually showed the rest of the country reforming taxes while the ACT and NSW lagged behind.

"Certainly we have a concern around the ACT's comparatively lower taxation than other areas, but we also don’t want a situation where the ACT government ends up getting hooked on pokie machine revenue," she said.

"The report actually says the ACT's poker machine taxes are mildly progressive, we like to think in Canberra we're progressive, but when you do look at what’s going on in other jurisdictions, we're not by any stretch of the imagination leading the nation."

She said while she understood the territory government was considering regulatory reforms as part of a wider reform of poker machine taxes and the community contributions scheme, the alliance hoped the report would be seen as a positive contribution to the looming changes.

Dr Livingstone also analysed revenue and machine numbers by venue in Canberra, finding that the top quarter of venues, which he referred to as "suburban casinos", housed 2537 machines, generating more than $107 million in revenue as at 2016-17, or 64 per cent of all revenue generated ACT-wide.

That's compared to the bottom quarter of venues the same year housing 146 machines and making $902,000, with Dr Livingstone writing that simply reducing overall numbers to 4000 machines ACT-wide was unlikely to reduce harm as much as focusing on cuts to machine numbers at the largest clubs.

Among the many options for reform outlined in the report were cutting club operating hours, cutting the number of machines per venue to 70, cutting machine numbers at the largest venues and implementing a $1 per spin bet limit.

Other suggested reforms included making the largest and most profitable venues pay more tax than smaller ones, making the tax system more progressive, and hypothecating the extra revenue into harm minimisation.

The report also suggested the government build more transparency and accountability into the community contributions scheme and set up a pre-commitment scheme that was centrally monitored and funded by a new levy on venues.