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Landmark Australian case throws out pokie machine claims

In a landmark Australian court case, a federal judge has dismissed claims made under Australian Consumer Law that pokie machines were inherently unfair to players.

Lawyers representing former problem gambler Shonica Guy argued that covert features of the pokie game Dolphin Treasure, also widely used in New Zealand, were designed to be addictive, contributing to her problem gambling.  

However, Justice Debra Mortimer found no evidence this was the case.  

This hearing, the first of its kind in the world, has attracted international interest.

Bruce Robertson, Independent Chairman of the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand (GMANZ) said: “Despite gaming machines being subject to the most stringent regulatory framework both here and across the Tasman anti-gaming groups continue to voice misleading claims about game design, and in particular they are ‘designed to be addictive’.  The Australian ruling was not based on opinion, hearsay or anecdote, but on hard evidence presented and scrutinised by legal experts.”

The sector recognises that for some people gambling – whether it’s ‘pokies’, racing, lotto or other gambling products – – can result in social or economic problems.

However, there’s strong evidence showing that most people using gaming machines in New Zealand – which has one of the most tightly-regulated gambling sectors in the world – are not problem gamblers.

The Canadian Problem Gambling Index (CPGI), used internationally and by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health to screen the general population for problem gambling, indicates New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of problem gambling in the world.

The Ministry of Health estimate that 0.3% of the adult population, or one in 333 New Zealand adults is a problem gambler, with about half, or one in 600 who say pub or club-based gaming machines is their primary mode of gambling.

“The Australasian School of Psychologists reporting that 90% of those scoring as problem gamblers have at least one other mental health issue and some having as many as five including mood and anxiety disorders, they warn of the need for caution in simplistic responses to what they say is a complex problem.

“The public can have confidence that in New Zealand there are robust regulations the sector must adhere to – more so than Australia – to ensure machines players are as safe as possible, including the design of the machines and games.

“In addition, the sector is constantly updating its training for venue staff and exploring new technologies such as Facial Recognition to support those who have been identified or identified themselves as a having problems.”

In the Australian case, expert witnesses, on both sides, agreed problem gamblers act under their own volition, making conscious decisions to put themselves in that position.

“The machine itself is not responsible. A self-exclusion process is available in New Zealand for anyone who wishes to ban themselves from the gaming environment.

“The evidence speaks for itself. Most people using gaming machines in New Zealand, do so without suffering harm; enjoying the recreational value it offers,” said Mr Robertson.

The Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand represents the vast majority of the gaming machine societies that operate in New Zealand. Clubs and venue operators are also represented by the Association, via their membership of Clubs New Zealand, the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association, and Hospitality New Zealand.

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