Australia’s second most populous state will introduce tough new restrictions on electronic gaming machines (EGMs) in clubs and pubs, including cutting the load-up maximum by 90 percent and mandating loss limits and cashless play.
The Victorian government announced on Sunday (July 16) that the changes are a third column of reform of the state’s gambling industry, after placing casino operator Crown Resorts under much tighter scrutiny and creating a dedicated gambling regulator.
Premier Dan Andrews and casino, gaming and liquor regulation minister Melissa Horne said in a statement that the “sweeping new reforms” will make Victoria’s protective mechanisms the “strongest in Australia”.
Government concerns that EGMs — predominantly slot machines — are being used to wash criminal proceeds will be addressed by imposing mandatory pre-commitment limits and “carded play”, the statement said.
The pre-commitment, which means player set loss or time limits, and cashless gaming requirement ditches the government’s voluntary YourPlay pre-commitment scheme, and will bring the state’s gaming venues into line with similar Crown Melbourne casino restrictions, which will be in place from the end of 2023.
The state’s pub, club and hotel inventory of more than 27,000 EGMs is more than ten times the number of EGMs at Crown, making the reforms as impactful for state tax revenue as any to date.
The EGM load-up limit — referring to the maximum amount a player can insert in a machine at any time — will fall from A$1,000 to A$100 ($68), a change designed to help players “make informed decisions about their spending, change their behaviour and reduce the amount that can be lost”.
Other changes include the compulsory shutdown of EGMs between 4am and 10am, a strategy to counter the staggering of opening hours by venues to capitalise on drifting players, the statement said. The curfew restriction does not apply to the Crown Melbourne casino.
Slot machine spin rates will also be increased from 2.1 seconds per game to a minimum of three seconds, forcing customers to reduce the momentum of play and “limiting the amount that can be lost”.
“These combined reforms will keep pace with emerging technologies [that] gaming machines are using, produce safer gambling environments and help patrons to take a break,” the statement said.
However, the changes do not come with a timetable or detailed strategy of implementation, other than nominating a target of “mid-2024” for the EGM curfew.
Instead, the key reforms of pre-commitment, cashless gaming and load-up limits will be subject to an industry consultation process via a working group, which will also examine trials in other jurisdictions and “the experience at Crown Melbourne”.
These examinations suggest that full implementation of the reforms will not be feasible until well into 2024 at the earliest, and may be subject to industry objections and delays.
Still, Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission chair Fran Thorn told The Age newspaper on Sunday that the regulator is fully supportive of the new landscape and will seek to enforce the reforms “with our full regulatory powers”.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform, a leading anti-gambling reform lobby based in Melbourne, welcomed the changes, with chief advocate, Reverend Tim Costello, saying on Sunday that Victorians have waited “a very long time for meaningful and significant reforms such as this”.
Costello said the changes will place more pressure on the government of neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) state, whose recently elected Labor government has stalled on tougher EGM measures such as cashless gaming by opting for trials of cashless gaming technology.
“The unnecessary and shambolic trial of the cashless gambling card in NSW should be abandoned and Premier [Chris] Minns should follow the lead of Victoria in committing to the statewide implementation of a mandatory, pre-commitment cashless card,” Costello said.