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South Australia to review strict anti-gambling laws

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HARSH anti-gaming laws surrounding pubs and clubs that have restricted South Australian establishments are set to be reviewed as fears grow that the industry may not survive as punters shift to the online realm.

Antiquated regulations in SA make it extremely hard for new premises to acquire a gaming license, and experts believe the figures that show poker machine spending in the state is at a 13-year low are not reflective of a reduction in problem gambling.

The growing concern is that the figures released by the Consumer and Business Services department showing punters lost $719 million in 2015/16 – a reduction of almost $70 million from 10 years ago – could be a direct cause of lack of access to pokies and an increase in ease of use online.

Australian Hotels Association SA general manager Ian Horne believes relaxing the heavily restrictive gaming laws will benefit both the venues in the state, as well as the government, which wants to reduce the impact of problem gambling.

“There are potential reforms in the gaming space that can work to strengthen the industry, while also improving responsible gaming outcomes,” Horne said.

“Further inaction will only result in the further deterioration of the hotels and clubs industries, (which is) a dangerous prospect at a time when our state cannot afford to forego any economic opportunity.”

As of 2016, just 8.2 percent of venues in SA hold operational gaming machine licenses.

Gaming industry figures are hoping a comprehensive review of the liquor and gaming laws, which was recommended by former Supreme Court Justice Tim Anderson, will help hotels combat the growing online threat.

In Mr Anderson’s original review on the state’s liquor industry he said that gaming laws should be reviewed if the Government wanted to reduce red tape.

Anderson argued that the relationship between liquor and gaming in South Australia is “not always complimentary of each other”.

“A more in-depth review of the overlap with the view of identifying red tape barriers, digital strategy potential and opportunities for legislative and regulatory improvement may be required,” he said.

SA gaming industry could have to face off against Xenophon to push through reforms

Before any reforms can be made, the gaming industry will need to get its submissions past the country’s harshest opponent of gambling, South Australian senator Nick Xenophon.

Xenophon has been the most vocal politician in Australia on poker machine reform, and an introduction of his proposed $1 maximum bet for all pokies could further stifle clubs and pubs’ ability to generate revenue.

Despite Xenophon’s hard-line stance against poker machines, community welfare figures believe a relaxing of the laws could be beneficial to all parties.

Uniting Communities manager advocacy and communications, Mark Henley, said that while potential review did not intend to focus on problem gambling, the government, in conjunction alongside the gaming industry has the opportunity to institute a positive change.

“We need to learn from 20 years of pokies pain about the risks and the problems that we are confronting with online gambling,” he said.

“We need to be much faster, and much more strident in putting in place measures to reduce the already considerable harm coming from online.”

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