Australian gambling addicts play on

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Jun 25, 2011
Australian gambling addicts play on

Self-bans tough to enforce as casino patrons need not give identification
By Jonathan Pearlman, For The Straits Times

SYDNEY: An Australian scheme that allows gambling addicts to ban themselves from casinos has run into problems, with hundreds of problem gamblers defying their own bans.

Australia requires all gambling venues - including the country's 13 casinos and thousands of clubs and pubs with poker machines - to allow people to ban themselves. A ban must be for a minimum of three months but can be imposed indefinitely.

Only one state, South Australia, allows a gambling addict's family members or friends to request a ban.

Thousands of Australian gamblers with serious addictions have requested self-imposed bans.

But the ban is virtually impossible to enforce. Patrons can walk into casinos without needing to provide any identification. To nab a self-excluded gambler, the casino's security staff is obliged to look through a photo database and spot a match.

At Sydney's Star City casino, 2,194 people put themselves on the blacklist. Between 2006 and last year, 1,249 people were caught breaking their own bans. The vast majority were asked to leave the casino but were not prosecuted for the breach that carries a fine of about A$1,000 (S$1,300).

In Sydney and Melbourne, only about 10 to 20 people a year are fined, and only after multiple breaches.

The bans and fines are set by each state. In New South Wales, if a casino fails to remove a self-excluded gambler, it can be fined up to A$2,200.

Addicts claim the bans are easy to avoid and observers agree.

'People will go to extraordinary lengths to gamble,' said Dr Charles Livingstone, a gambling expert at Monash University. 'I have heard of people disguising themselves - men dressing up as women,' he said. 'But mostly they get away with it by walking through the door and not being challenged.'

The biggest obstacle to enforcing the ban is that 80 per cent of problem gambling in the country involves addiction to poker machines. Machines are far harder to police than table games such as roulette where staff can keep an eye out.

A study last year by the Tasmanian government found that 60 per cent of gamblers who had excluded themselves from venues broke their own bans. And 52 per cent said they attended other venues to gamble.

Most breaches were undetected, the study found. 'Most self-excluders were detected only after having already breached multiple times,' it said.

But the study also found most gamblers believed a ban was helpful even if it did not put a total end to their addiction.

'Most found it to be helpful in reducing their gambling, even if they did gamble while self-excluded,' the study said.

Federal Senator Nick Xenophon, who has been campaigning to reduce the number of poker machines and allow gamblers to 'pre-commit' the amount they are willing to lose, described self-exclusion as a joke. 'It doesn't work and the industry knows it,' he told The Sun Herald.

Last year, Australian gamblers lost more money per capita than people in any other country, shedding A$1,220 each, according to data collected by H2 Gambling Capital. Much of it was in New South Wales, home to almost 100,000 poker machines, half Australia's total.

Dr Livingstone said self-exclusion was a tool to help people manage themselves rather than the responsibility of the venue. 'It does provide moral suasion for an individual to be more disciplined about what they are doing,' he said. 'But it is very hard to implement.'
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