When it comes to gambling, Australians are, hands down, the world’s biggest losers. On average, in 2017 every person in the Land Down Under lost the equivalent of AU$1,000.
Could the rise in cashless gaming - ticket-in ticket-out and cashback cards - boost those losses?
Dr. Sally Gainsbury, associate professor at the University of Sydney who conducts research on the psychology of gaming, argues both sides of the issue.
“Historically, the use of credit has been banned in land-based gambling, because when people use electronic transfers, they spend more, lose track of what they spend and win, and re-gamble winnings,” she said.
At the same time, with electronic payment methods, “people can be more precise with how much they spend and cash out. They can be provided with activity statements to track their expenditure, set binding limits, and self-exclusion can be more easily enforced.”
In an increasingly cashless society, it’s unreasonable to expect gaming to remain cash-only; last November, Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe said cash will soon become a "niche payment instrument” with banknotes used for “relatively few transactions.”
The Victoria-based Alliance for Gambling Reform says it’s an unfortunate trend when it comes to gambling. In an emailed response to an inquiry from Asia Gaming Brief, AGR board member Mark Zirnsak wrote, “We can expect people to lose more, as cashless gambling means they are not as attuned to the fact they are losing real money.” He added, “We are also likely to see an increase in money-laundering activities in pokie venues, as has been the experience in Canada with ticket-in ticket-out systems in casinos.”
He was referring to a money-laundering scandal at a British Columbia casino that may have involved as much as $2 billion in illegal transactions. To date, reports have not directly linked the problem to cashless gaming, but according to Canadian Gaming Business, TITO “eliminates the need for patrons to go to cashiers to obtain coins for slot machines, (and) eliminating that interaction … also removes a control.”
Last year, the AGR mounted a campaign against cashless pokies that included a direct appeal to Victorian Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz. In an online petition, members said cashless payments are bound to drive up losses. “Considering Victoria lost $2.61 billion to poker machines over the last financial year, we need policies which limit, not increase the potential for further pokie harm.”
Zirnsak wrote, “Unfortunately, the Victorian government ignored community concerns around cashless pokies, so now we will have them imposed on communities and we will need to track the harm they cause to make the case as to why they should be removed.”
So far, he added, with hard data scarce, it’s hard to calculate the negative impacts of the payment methods on Australian players. “It’s a gap in the research that will need to be filled,” he wrote.
Contacted by AGB, Minister Kairouz’s office issued a statement saying, “We’ll ensure that cashless gaming systems are not introduced to Victoria without effective harm-minimisation measures in place. Regulations commenced on 30 January 2019 to limit the value of tickets and cards that can be used to play a gaming machine, and to restrict the placement and functions of the terminals that can issue, increase and redeem the value of tickets and cards.”
The minister’s office said it’s “proud of its suite of new gaming machine harm-minimisation measures,” which include:
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