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The Responsible Gambling Bill: being pro-active at a gaming site with problem gambling

By Dr Sean Sullivan PhD
Alison Penfold
Mike Goulding
Mary Anne Cooke

The Gambling Act was passed into law on the 18th September 2003. A further discussion on the Act will be offered once more details regarding the regulations of the Act are made available. At this time, this paper,
The Responsible Gambling Bill, offers an historical perspective on the process of the Bill becoming law.


The Bill has important consequences for both gaming machine trusts and casinos. Although any amendments to the Bill will not be known until it is reported back to Parliament for its second reading, indications from the Minister of Internal Affairs at the 1st National Gaming Forum and Expo on 6th October 2002, suggest that few material changes will occur over the currently available version other than the possibility of the contribution towards the problem gambling levy being calculated according to the activity (takings) of trust's machines. He suggested the importance of working with local authorities who must adopt a policy on Class 4 (gambling machine) venues as to where these venues will be able to operate within the territory, and that it may specify overarching restrictions upon numbers of gaming machines at any venue under such a licence.

Requirements of the Bill around problem gambling
Part 4 of the Bill applies to harm prevention and minimisation of problem gambling. Outside of a casino there will be a uniform age restriction for licensed gambling of 18 years or over. The venue operator must also develop a policy for identifying problem gamblers and promptly issue an exclusion order to them. An exclusion order must also be issued to anyone who identifies themselves as having a gambling problem.

Regulations to prevent harm from problem gambling and to minimise its consequences may be made to:

  • Maximum stakes, prizes
  • Design/layout of venues
  • Intensity of gambling at a specific site
  • Content of messages and information
  • Codes of advertising
  • Training for those supervising the gambling regarding problem gambling awareness
  • Systems associated with the gambling e.g. monitoring
  • Any other matters 'related to harm prevention or minimisation...to give full effect to the Act'. In addition the Minister retains the right to cap the total number of machines, their prizes, and performance of machines.

Optional regulations
In respect of the exclusion of problem gamblers from venues, regulations may be made to:

  • Require specific procedures to be carried out to identify problem gamblers
  • Require identified problem gamblers to be prevented from accessing the venue
  • Set procedures for the venue manager for removal of patrons where there are reasonable grounds to think they may be problem gamblers
  • Restrict access to problem gamblers by the procedures
  • Require certain steps to be completed before problem gamblers are re-admitted at some future time.

If such regulations are to proceed then they must contain:

  • Grounds upon which a patron may be identified as a problem gambler. This suggests that this would be a minimum description rather than exclusive criteria
  • Steps that must be taken to identify a person as a problem gambler
  • Set qualifications for staff authorised to identify and exclude problem gamblers. This suggests certain standards of training are contemplated and will be necessary
  • Set out appeal rights


The Minister has suggested that the industry establish co-operative strategies with the regional territories for regional plans and such matters. There is a clear opportunity under the Bill for the industry to establish a similar liaison with the Department of Internal Affairs. The proposed regulations remain optional, which suggests an invitation for the industry to take the lead.

In Australia there is currently both State led and co-operative processes which include the gaming industry. The Victorian model will require each patron to have a PIN number or identifying card, for machines to have current time/money spent, restrictions to bill acceptors, a ban on autoplays, and many other aspects that have been led by the State government. The New South Wales government also passed Responsible Gambling regulations in 2000 limiting advertising, requiring placement of ATMs away from gaming areas, a requirement for staff training as well as other measures. South Australia has the Independent Gambling Authority while the Queensland sector is driven by a co-operative that includes the gaming industry (the Responsible Gambling Advisory Committee). In Queensland, training, a code of practice and ongoing consultation are strategies agreed to meet the objects of prevention, protection and rehabilitation around gambling harms.


The objects in the Queensland strategy mirror those in the responsible Gambling Bill. It also mirrors a possible alternative to regulations imposed by government, and which may take account of industry concerns. This is not to say there are any different requirements than are found in Victoria, other than the method of approach. However, the industry is well aware that the public perception, not only in Australia, is often that those in the gaming industry are receiving disproportionate amounts of money from its business while not caring sufficiently about their patrons. This was intimated by the Minister at the National Gaming Forum, who commented that the large number of submissions (and their predominant direction) to the Select Committee on the Bill, suggested a general dissatisfaction with the gaming industry. It seems clear that the Bill will proceed, with an emphasis on harm reduction. As such it appears it is time to move on to accommodating the Bill's requirements.

It is suggested that exceeding rather than just meeting the Bill's requirements will have a number of benefits.

These include:

  • Improving the public's (and therefore the government's) perception of the gaming industry. It is clear that the industry has received considerable bad press to date and this has, to some extent, culminated in the current Bill
  • Avoiding considerable penalties, including licence cancellation and fines
  • Avoiding being sued by the problem gambler or their family for failing to identify and exclude them; a 'duty of care' appears to be created by the Bill and the gambler's losses may be viewed as arising from the venue operator not meeting their obligations under the legislation
  • Having an input into the direction of future regulations
  • Avoiding further regulation of the industry through the development of co-operatives and voluntary codes that rely upon mutual aims


There are a number of initial steps that can be taken. Although the current environment could suggest a 'siege' culture is appropriate, it is in fact counter-productive and will attract further onslaught. The signals from across the Tasman suggest the inevitability of a focus on harm reduction. This is an opportunity for the industry to lead rather than resist. Research, although not a common approach for the gaming industry, may have much to offer to rebut some negative public perceptions. It need not be expensive and may be necessary to ensure that the levy is both appropriate and is spent correctly. The paucity of research in this domain suggests that the industry may have little to lose with current public perception, while having everything to gain. Undertaking training for problem gambling before being obliged to receive it, is a further indication of the intention to comply or even lead.


Historically, there has been a gulf between treatment providers for problem gambling and the industry. The future suggests there is considerable common ground and government is now indicating a direction for the industry. The best patron is one who enjoys their experience and there are few costs to them, their family or the community from their gambling. Such patrons continue to return rather than burn themselves out with consequences that attract blame to the industry. The Responsible Gambling Bill is about to become law that will direct the future of the industry. The opportunity to participate is an important one and makes good business sense.


Abacus will shortly be advertising a one-day certificated training course for the gaming industry in the main centres which will cover:

  • What is problem gambling
  • Likely obligations under the Act
  • Signs of problem gambling
  • How to intervene effectively, including opportunity for practice
  • Provision of a manual and other resources
  • Frequently asked questions


  • briefer on-site training opportunities
  • brief, cost-effective research by qualified researchers
  • a resource for advice, information and problem solving