High risk communities in Central West to have pokie numbers capped

Pubs and clubs in the Central West will face tough new poker machine restrictions, including a potential pokie cap, under new legislation proposed by the state government.

The number of machines available in communities classified as high risk will be capped in a bid to reduce problem gambling, while a raft of other changes will bring bigger fines and more regulations.

Across the Central West, Orange, Lithgow, Cowra, Kandos/Rylstone and Wellington have all been classified as high-risk areas, with the majority of North Western NSW also in the top category.

Dubbo, Bathurst and Mudgee have been classified medium risk, while most other regions in the Central West were either classified low or medium risk.

“Local community caps are an appropriate response to concerns that some areas have too many gaming machines. These areas will be capped at their current number, ensuring no additional machines can move into these areas,” Minister for Racing Paul Toole said.

“A number of councils and community groups suggested caps and the NSW government agrees this is the right thing to do in higher-risk areas.”

A map shows high-risk areas for problem gambling and social disadvantage (shaded red) where poker machine licences will be frozen. Orange represents medium risk and green a low risk community. Photo: NSW Department of Industry

A map shows high-risk areas for problem gambling and social disadvantage (shaded red) where poker machine licences will be frozen. Orange represents medium risk and green a low risk community. Photo: NSW Department of Industry

The government has also proposed a leasing agreement for gaming machines held by small pubs and clubs that were looking to go pokie free.

In addition, there will be a tenfold increase in fines for wagering operators offering illegal inducements.

However the Greens spokesperson for gambling harm Justin Field said the reforms didn’t go far enough.

“Any pokies plan that fails to rapidly reduce the total number of machines in NSW continues to lock in increasing harm to people and communities,” Mr Field said.

“These measures don’t stop the addictive features that exploit people, they don’t rein in predatory behaviour from clubs and hotels to maximise profits and they don’t keep people and communities safe.”

However Mr Toole said the reforms were the “most significant changes to gambling regulation in NSW for a decade”.

“These reforms follow extensive consultation and represent a reset of the way gambling is regulated in NSW. They recognise concerns about gambling harm, while focusing regulation on where there is real risk,” Mr Toole said.

The moves come after poker machine wagering in 2017 increased by more than $1.3 billion.

The government previously used local government areas for its local impact statement but will now use Australian Bureau of Statistics zones, allowing it to place a stronger emphasis on vulnerable areas.

AHA NSW liquor and policing director John Green said he expected small hotels in regional areas would benefit from the introduction of leasing arrangements.

“Over recent years many country pubs have been forced to sell off their gaming assets when times got tough,” he said. 

“Of course, they were only able to do this for as long as they had assets to sell. After the assets were sold, many were forced to close their doors.”

Clubs NSW CEO Anthony Ball said he was satisfied with the government’s review process.

“Ultimately, it needed to weigh up the interests of the industry against any potential for community harm and on that score the government has got the balance about right,” he said. 

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