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Public health experts support pokies reforms

Gambling harms extend beyond those with the gambling problem, the signatories to the letter argue. AAP

A number of public health experts have written a letter to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Parlimentarians in support of the mandatory pre-commitment system for poker machines. The signatories argue that there is an urgent need to address the harms from problem gambling.

Signed by 39 key public health figures in Australia including Professor Helen Keleher, President of the Public Health Association of Australia, Professor Fiona Stanley, former Australian of the Year and anti-tobacco reformist Simon Chapman, the letter endorses the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform and the Productivity Commission.

It identifies gamblings’ harms to include financial distress and ruin, the diversion of household income from food, shelter and other basic necessities, family breakdown, divorce, the neglect and abuse of children, as well as mental and physical illness, depression, anxiety and suicide.

The harms extend well beyond those with the gambling problem, the letter contends, noting “For every person with a gambling problem, between five and 10 others are affected: children, husbands, wives, partners, employers, neighbours, family and friends.”

The proposed mandatory pre-commitment scheme requires gamblers to set a limit on the amount they are willing to lose prior to entering a gambling environment. Once this amount is reached, gamblers will be locked out of further play.

The signatories state that “social marketing and education campaigns alone will not work [to prevent problem gambling]. We cannot ask individuals to ‘gamble responsibly’ unless we introduce structural changes to the gambling environment to support them to do so”.

There is fierce opposition to a mandatory pre-commitment scheme, with those against it arguing there is no evidence that it will work and advocating voluntary adoption.

However, findings from Queensland, South Australia, Norway and Nova Scotia, Canada show that voluntary pre-commitment is unlikely to be effective

The public health experts who have signed the letter cite Australia’s experience with tobacco, gun control and seat belts, where “compelling evidence of serious and immediate threats to public health” justified prompt action to minimise harm.

They caution that any delay to the adoption of these measures will result in hundreds of thousands of people experiencing gambling problems and millions of innocent bystanders being adversely affected.

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