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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 14 Hansard (11 December) . . Page.. 4659 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

So, let us take a closer look at the prevalence and impacts of problem gambling. Figures quoted in Study 2 showed that tightly defined problem gambling affected 1.16 per cent of all gamblers. However, that small percentage of gamblers accounted for 26.27 per cent of all gambling expenditure. Each person with a problem will affect about five to 10 others by borrowing, using their money or stealing. The New South Wales study found that 14.5 per cent of respondents reported that a member of their family had experienced problems with excessive gambling. Other reports indicate that severe problems can also be hidden for a long time. It may be that many of us would not ever be aware that a family member is having difficulties. So, problem gambling accounts for more than 26 per cent of turnover and has impact on 14.5 per cent of families.

Looking again more closely and looking at the people involved, the study reported that the increasing risk of gambling-related problems was associated with younger single males preferring gaming machines or racing; with individuals with incomes of less than $20,000 per year; and with the retired or unemployed. All of the help-providing agencies in Canberra are reporting large increases in the numbers of people seeking help with gambling-related problems. Lifeline told us that over 80 per cent of the clients of its gambling counselling service were having problems related to poker machines in particular and that the larger proportion were indeed low-income earners. The Salvation Army reported a big increase in the need for emergency assistance related to problem gambling. The impression from case histories was that many more single mums under major financial stress were experiencing problems related to gambling.

My last points in this overview of the impacts of problem gambling relate to broader social costs and impacts. The New South Wales study listed the following impacts and costs: Work related - loss of productivity and changes in jobs because of gambling-related problems, a cost of $27.8m per year in New South Wales; legal and related impacts - gambling-related offences, court appearances and custodial sentences, about $17m per year; costs of existing services for problem gamblers and their families - about $2.3m per year. The total cost to the New South Wales community is estimated to be $48m per year.

Mr Speaker, these are the reasons for my concern: The growth of problem gambling, which is primarily associated with poker machines in the ACT; lack of funding for education and prevention programs; and inadequate funding for counselling and community support services. The research shows that the three main factors contributing to growth in gambling problems are access to gambling places; access to cash; and lack of education and prevention programs. The legislation I am presenting today deals in part with the questions of access to cash, and education and prevention. I introduce it now because the case for its introduction is quite clear; because it would bring the ACT into line with best practice, defined in this case by the South Australian legislation; and because the measures are urgent. However, to address this problem and to address related problems, including growing government dependence on the industry, we must, as I said in my opening remarks, develop a comprehensive plan for the industry.

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