It’s no secret that Australia is the world leader in betting on poker machines, and the problem gambling habits that come along with it. Officials in Victoria are trying to do something about it by enforcing a new ‘Your Play’ pre-commitment pokies system that will allow players to choose a pre-set spending limit, then receive warning message when they are near, or have reached, that limit. But not everyone is thrilled with the plan.
Critics of the pre-commitment pokies system, which is already in the testing phase, say it has one fatal flaw. It does not actually prevent players from continuing to pump money into the poker machines. Instead, players can simply press a button to continue playing, and as such, critics are calling it a huge waste of money—$197 million, in fact.
“This is not a pre-commitment system,” said Dr. Charles Livingstone. “It’s a snooze button.” A Senior Lecturer at the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at Monash University, and a member of the International Editorial Board for the publication International Gambling Studies, Dr. Livingstone believes the new pokies system will do nothing to help prevent problem gambling in the state.
How the Pre-Commitment Pokies System Works
The pokies system only works when a player inserts their card at a poker machine or other gambling device, and users must first opt into the program and set up a profile and spending limit. This profile can be accessed and managed at any poker machine when the card is inserted, or online via a computer or mobile device.
Once a spending limit is set, each time the player inserts their card and begins betting, they will receive a warning message at 70%, 90% and 100% usage. Players even have the ability to create their own personalized messages, such as “go home” or “think about the kids!”
Each time a warning message is displayed, game play is automatically halted. However, the player is then asked if they wish to continue playing. Simply clicking the affirmative option grants them the ability to continue playing the pokies, even if their full spending limit was reached.
Why Critics say the Pokies System Won’t Work
Dr. Livingstone says the voluntary nature of the pre-commitment pokies system is at the heart of its flaws. “The people who need it most are least likely to use it, because if you have a gambling problem you do not want to know how much you are spending when you are in front of a machine.”
Instead, Dr. Livingstone says the system should be mandatory for all, and should enforce the setting of limits well in advance of actually sitting at a poker machine to play. Additionally, once a pre-set limit is reached, the player should not have the option to continue playing.
Reverend Tim Costello, a long-time anti-gambling campaigner, drove the point home when he compared the lackadaisical pre-commitment pokies system to having “voluntary brakes in a car”.
Regulators Defend the $197 Million Pokies System
The Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation consulted with research firms, community organizations and industry leaders to come up with the blueprint for the Your Play pre-commitment pokies system. The price tag, most of which was paid for by the industry, came to a staggering $197 million. Having spent so much time, effort and money on it, regulators were quick to defend the system.
Officials said that focus groups held prior to the design emphasized the need for a “voluntary” system that gave punters an “informed choice”. Otherwise, it was determined that most players would not bother using the pokies system at all.
The concept is to provide “information and choice for everyone who plays the pokies,” said Jane Garrett, Minister for Gaming and Liquor Regulation. “The prompts are designed to make people think about their choices. It takes time and effort to resume play once the machine has been shut down. That’s a powerful signal to stop.”
The new pre-commitment pokies systems must be in place on all poker machines in Victoria by December 2015. Once that time comes, researchers will begin gathering statistical data to determine whether Your Play was worth the 6-figure price tag.