Labors gambling claims nonsense - Monday 21st of May 2007

ACADEMICS have slammed claims by the State Government it has halved problem gambling and have called Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, to be launched today by Gaming Minister Daniel Andrews, a farce.

Victoria University economist James Doughney said it was "deceptive nonsense" for the Government to say it had reduced the percentage of problem gamblers from 2.1 per cent in 1999 to 1.1 per cent in 2003.

"The State Government is happy to perpetuate this lie to protect its cosy arrangement with the gaming operators and almost $1 billion in revenue it makes from poker machines each year," Mr Doughney said.

Deakin University professor Linda Hancock described Responsible Gambling Awareness Week as a farce that would do nothing to curb problem gambling.

Mr Doughney scoffed at Government claims there were 43,957 problem gamblers in Victoria.

The real number of "heavy users" was about 250,000, who lost an average of about $7500 each a year. The Governments figures were based on unreliable prevalence data.

"Whenever anyone uses prevalence estimates for problem gambling, such estimates must be used transparently and with the caveat that they are likely to underestimate the true level of the problem massively," Mr Doughney said in a research paper published in the Journal of Business Systems, Governance and Ethics.

"If we use solid industry data on losses, including evidence from Tattersalls and Tabcorp that 15 to 20 per cent of electronic gaming machines users provide them with about 60 to 80 per cent of revenues, we can work backwards and calculate that about 6 per cent of Victorians lose about $1.5 billion per year," he said.

Mr Doughney said total poker machine losses would be about $2.5 billion this year, the highest figure since smoking bans were implemented in 2002 and the second highest rate since pokies were introduced in 1992.

Professor Hancock said there were serious flaws with the research used by the Government to determine problem gambling rates, including the small sample size and filter questions that skewed results.

She said the surveys defined problem gamblers as those who played pokies more than once a week, which excluded thousands of binge gamblers, many of whom were paid fortnightly or monthly.

A spokesman for Mr Andrews said the two surveys used by the State Government were independently conducted by the Productivity Commission and Australian National University.

He would not discuss the methodology used in the surveys.

"The Bracks Government is spending $132 million on problem gambling over five years, which is the biggest of any state," the spokesman said.

Mr Andrews will announce a new resource kit today aimed at helping health professionals identify the early signs of problem gambling.

The Government is also expected to launch a $240,000 program to help problem gamblers who have excluded themselves from pokie venues.

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