15 November 2022

Dr McGirr backs reforms to treat pokies addiction as a health issue

| Michael Hargreaves
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Dr Joe McGirr

Wagga’s Independent MP Dr Joe McGirr backs a stronger stance on poker machines. Photo: NSW Parliament.

Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr has thrown his support behind Premier Dominic Perrottet’s push to introduce cashless gaming cards to the state’s 100,000 slot machines.

This is a significant social justice issue and the community actually expects something to be done about it,” he said.

“I’ve been impressed with the Premier’s standards. I think he’s got to find a way forward on this 100 per cent.

“I think it’s not good enough to just keep wiping it away, sweeping it under the carpet.”

In 2023, NSW will begin a 12-week trial of the proposed cashless gaming card that the Premier hopes will help tackle two issues: the laundering of the proceeds of crime and the impact on the lives of problem gamblers.

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A recent Crime Commission report revealed extensive money laundering, as proceeds from crime are ”washed clean” through the state’s clubs and hotels.

It is hoped that the new legislation with the introduction of a cashless sign-up gaming card will put a stop to this practice.

“The idea of it is clearly to track the proceeds of crime and it would be a mechanism of limiting, as I understand it,” Dr McGirr said.

“I think the Premier is shining a light and I think he will have a lot of support in the community for taking a stand on it.

“I think there will be a lot of people quietly saying, ‘Look, it is about time we did something’.”

Slot machine players

Punters in NSW pour $75 billion a year into pokies. Photo: File.

NSW saw a boom in poker machines in pubs and hotels in the mid-1990s when premier Bob Carr attempted to give the struggling hospitality industry a shot in the arm.

Deregulation meant that licensing was no longer restricted to clubs.

Today, NSW has more machines per person than anywhere in the world, with about $1000 spent on pokies each year for each person in the state.

One-quarter of NSW household expenditure, $75 billion, goes into poker machines, with the state government reaping a growing tax windfall.

“I understand that the income is important and the clubs are important, but if we are getting those taxes and making those profits not just from people (who gamble) but from their families, then we have to face that.”

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Alongside independent MPs Alex Greenwich and Greg Piper, Dr McGirr argued it was time for a frank discussion about this nation’s most populous state’s relationship with gambling.

“The fact of the matter is, the revenue is coming at the expense of people who are actually pretty vulnerable, not to mention the families, and we certainly hear those stories from members in the community.”

One in six NSW residents is affected by the social impacts of losses on pokies, ranging from neglect to abuse, assault and domestic violence.

The state independents have called for a special inquiry into the health impacts of problem gambling on vulnerable members of the community.

“We can find a way to better protect what is basically a health issue that at the same time maintains the profitability and enjoyment for people,” Dr McGirr said.

He also expressed concerns more broadly about the proliferation of gambling advertising in sport and pushed back on the suggestion that it was part of the Aussie culture.

“If you wanna use the cultural argument, I would ask, ‘Is that really a good thing to have in our culture?’,” he said.

“Shouldn’t our culture be protecting vulnerable people?

“The outcome of the cultural argument is that we are inundated with advertising, on free-to-air television ads and through social media, which our kids are getting.

“We’re not gonna solve the problem if we don’t face up to it.”

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