It seems that pokie machines in Australia manufacture by Woolworths won’t be introducing the maximum bet of AU$1 after all. This was one of the topics of the company’s annual meeting, relating to problem gambling.
Namely, Woolworths has been taking some heat Down Under from anti-gambling shareholders. One of the proposals coming from that side of the fence was to lower the maximum bet size on video poker machines to AU$1. However, Gordon Cairns, the company’s chairman, officially turned down the idea during the meeting.
No Evidence to Support the Decision
Those in favor of the reduction claim it would help reduce the occurrence of problem gambling. However, according to Cairns, there is no empirical evidence to support such claims. Although Coles, one of Woolworths’ main rivals in the country, has introduced these reductions, Cairns doesn’t see the reason for his company to do the same.
Video poker machines, or pokies, are one of Woolworths’ main income generators. The company is the majority owner in Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group. The group operates well over 300 hotels across the country. More than 25% of the revenue comes from gamblers in Victoria, where te company raked in AU$669 million in 2015-16.
The Pioneer in Responsible Gambling?
Despite the refusal to lower the maximum stakes, Cairns reminded everyone that the company is one of the pioneers in responsible gambling. They introduced a voluntary pre-commitment system. The system allows gamblers to limit their losses and the time spent playing pokies.
Of course, the system is far from being foolproof, as it still requires players to cooperate. However, the company has made it easier for problem gamblers to keep their habits in check.
At the same time, he explained, most people playing pokies are doing it to have a good time. Problem gamblers aren’t the majority of the clientele. Therefore, the company needs to cater to both groups.
Cairns simply isn’t convinced that reducing the maximum stake to AU$1 would actually help solve the issue of problem gambling. At the very least, there is no scientific data to confirm such an idea at this point in time.
Australia not the Only One
Talking about the maximum stakes on pokies and slot machines, Australia isn’t the only country where such proposals are being seriously considered. Legislative bodies in the UK are looking into reducing the maximum stake size on FOBTs as well. The law proposal has already been adopted, so it is only a matter of how big the reduction will be.
Some are in favor of steep reductions, making the maximum bet just £1. Of course, such a cut would have huge implications for the industry. Some of the high street shops would probably have to close down. Although this is an unlikely scenario, it is a virtual certainty that FOBTs across country will have to reduce the maximum stakes.
There may not be empirical evidence to say that this could help reduce the number of problem gamblers. However, once these laws are in place, things should become much clearer after a couple of years.