Assessing Australia's 'Problem'

22 October 2003

With the long-term future of interactive gambling in Australia in question, a heated debate has sprung up over the interpretation of potentially alarming gambling-related statistics.

"Those zealots who cite the Tasmanian data and only claim it represents losses are distorting facts for their righteous cause."
- Alan Pedley
WWWagering & Gaming Consultants

Last month, following a nationwide study of states and territories, the Tasmanian Gaming Commission released figures showing that the Northern Territory was the country's leader in exporting regulated gambling to the world.

I-gaming opponents say the figures prove that the Northern Territory has the biggest gamblers in Australia and something should be done to keep the activity in check.

Alan Pedley, director of WWWagering & Gaming Consultants, interprets the figures differently and wants to convey this to regulators and the general public.

"To cite the facts related to the size of the NT gambling industry and then claim based on that data an insight into the amount of money lost by territorians is folly," Pedley said. "This is another case of the righteous right attacking gambling apparently based on a religious opposition and not a concern for gamblers."

With the NT being the leading exporter of regulated gambling, Pedley argues that more focus should be on the positives of the industry and wants to ensure that policies are in place to protect the increasing number of gamblers in the NT.

"There should be player protection for the punters, first and foremost," he said. "That can come about through loss and spend limits for casino gaming. But let's not forget that the industry is creating hundreds of jobs and increasing the export revenue for the government."

According to the Tasmanian Gaming Commission, persons 18 years or older in the Northern Territory lost an average of AU$1,091 on slot machines, horses, casinos, lotteries and other forms of gambling last year. New South Wales was second on the list at $832 per person, followed by Victoria at $816 per person. Western Australians, who don't have pokies in their pubs and clubs, were the lightest losers at $324 per person.

The commission's research also found that Australians gambled away more than $10 billion in 2001-2002, with the average losing amount totaling $704 each.

Pedley argues that the statistics fail to account for the Northern Territory's heavy export industry. He said he understands the need to break yearly loses down on a per-person average, but stressed that assuming NT residents are losing the most is inaccurate. He said the losses have to take into consideration the enormous amount of punters who are losing money from not only outside the territory but also outside the country.

"Those zealots who cite the Tasmanian data and only claim it represents losses are distorting facts for their righteous cause," he said. "Time and again we have religious leaders selectively quoting the report."

Poker machines in pubs and clubs swallowed the most money in 2002, with $58.7 billion spent around the country. Australian casinos raked in more than $14.5 billon in total revenue. Total gambling turnover for the year rose 6.56 percent to $86.4 billion.

Australia's Ministry for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts is currently reviewing the country's Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 and will soon submit recommendations for how the Act should be amended.

Pedley hopes the government will look at all aspects of the report and realize the possible benefits of Internet gambling for the country. He said reports show that interactive gambling can offer both consumer benefits and risks for problem gamblers.

"Managed liberalism--with licensing of sites for probity, consumer protection and taxation--could meet most concerns," he said.

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