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Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform - 03/05/2012 - Prevention and treatment of problem gambling

CUMMINGS, Mr Thomas James, Private capacity

Committee met at 09:02

CHAIR ( Mr Wilkie ): I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform. Today's public hearing is the second in a series of public hearings that the committee will hold to inform its current inquiry into the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. Before the committee starts taking evidence I advise all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. This gives them special rights and immunities, because people must be able to give evidence to committees without prejudice to themselves. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but the committee may agree to a request to hear evidence confidentially. The committee may still publish confidential evidence at a later date but we would consult the witnesses concerned before doing this. Welcome, Mr Tom Cummings. Do you have anything to add on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Cummings : I am here as a former poker machine addict, an advocate for reform and a blogger.

CHAIR: I invite you to make a brief opening statement before the committee proceeds to questions.

Mr Cummings : I was as a young man living in Victoria, about 22 years old, when poker machines were introduced in Victoria. I was at university at the time. A few years later I started playing socially and very quickly developed a problem, which I concealed for several years. I played and lost somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 in a three-year period, all the while concealing that from the people around me. After I stopped playing it was another two years before I was able to say I had actually played for the last time. For the 10 years after that I maintained the secret. I could not talk about it. There was a very real, in my opinion, stigma attached to not only being addicted to playing poker machines or any sort of problem gambling but even to having been in that situation in the first place. In 2010, I was approaching 40. I had a look back at where I had been, at what I had been doing, and I thought, 'I'm still not happy with the way things are.' I had a look at a couple of gaming venues and thought that nothing had really changed in the decade since I had been there. I thought it was time to start doing something about it. I had a look online in a number of forums. I could not find anyone talking about problems they had had. No-one wanted to talk about their own personal situation as far as this was concerned, so I thought this was something I could do. And that is what I do: I write about problem gambling, poker machine addiction. The industry in general—I have spoken to an awful lot of people in the last couple of years and I have found out more information than I ever thought possible, not just with poker machines but with sports gambling, with casino games. I am not anti gambling; I have never been anti gambling. I seriously do believe that the industry needs a facelift, it needs an overhaul, it needs to change. That is my position.

My submission to this inquiry dealt largely with prevention and treatment. Treatment is something we have been focusing on for decades and prevention is something we have ignored for far too long. I am happy to discuss anything along those lines. I am also more than happy to discuss anything to do with my own personal experience with gambling. I will answer any questions.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Cummings. Please describe to us in a bit more detail how you overcame your battle.

Mr Cummings : Involuntarily. I was engaged at the time and living with my fiancée, which made the art of concealing the lack of funds quite tricky. I was eventually caught out when money was not where it was supposed to have been for the umpteenth time and I was given the ultimatum, 'You have to stop gambling and I will stand by you; we will move forward from here.' Within a month I was gambling again. I lapsed very quickly except this time I was even more determined not to be found out because I had the feeling I was on my last chance. That situation did not last for very long—maybe six months more—and I was caught out again. At that point the relationship ended, I moved out of the house we were living in and basically sold everything I had. I took out a consolidated loan and ended up living in a room at my parents' house at the age of 29. At that point I thought, 'I have nothing left to lose, the only way from here is up.' So I sought counselling. At the time there was not a lot available.

I ended up going to the Salvation Army temple on Bourke Street where they had a relationships counsellor, not a counsellor. We spoke for some months and he was extremely good, very helpful. However, in 2000 I moved to Sydney for a few years. I do not know whether it was the change of environment, moving away from family and friends, taking on new family responsibilities, which is what I was doing, but within three months of arriving in Sydney I started playing poker machines again, after two years off. Again, I had to be caught out rather than voluntarily walking away. That was the last time I played a poker machine. I have not played a pokey since June or July 2000. There was never a time when I was available to voluntarily walk away from gambling—I should not say gambling; it was poker machines. I have been to the horses a couple of times between then and now. I play Powerball probably once a month. I do not have an issue with gambling but I was never able to stop playing poker machines of my own free will.

CHAIR: Do you feel any cynicism towards voluntary harm minimisation measures?

Mr Cummings : I do. I think they can be useful for someone who does not have a problem but may potentially develop one down the track. However, I know that for years I tried to voluntarily limit my own spending. I would put money into accounts I could not touch or I would leave my credit cards at home and I would always find a way. The two or three times I tried leaving my wallet at home when I would go out gambling just strengthened my resolve to make sure I took it with me the next time. I was trying to get myself out of a situation that I had put myself into, and the only way I could see to do that was gambling. I did not feel that I could front up about it. I did not feel that I could walk away from the losses that I had incurred and the secrets that I had kept. The only way that I could see out of it—and it is an irrational concept and I realise that now—was to repair the damage, put the money back and then walk away from it, pretending it had never happened.

When you have that mindset, when you believe in that sort of irrational concept, a voluntary measure for harm minimisation is not going to have a lot of impact, in my opinion.

Mr FRYDENBERG: Thank you for what I think is a very comprehensive submission. Having a look through it, I am interested in where you say:

Gambling, in and of itself, is not the major problem here. The problem is the way gambling is run, by poker machine venues, sports betting agencies and the like.

Can you elaborate on this for us? Obviously this goes to the heart of what we are considering.

Mr Cummings : Of course. I fully believe that gambling is and should be a legitimate leisure pastime. People have been gambling around the world for centuries; it is nothing new. However, there are markets open at certain points in time. Here in Victoria it was in the early nineties with poker machines, and more recently around the country it has been sports gambling following the court decision that allowed advertising around the country. The opportunities present themselves and businesses move in to take advantage of those opportunities. I understand that these are businesses and will do what they can to maximise their revenue. They have every right to do that legally. The problem is when the product that is being offered such as gambling, poker machines or sports gambling has the potential to cause harm and the industry that is offering those services does not—in my opinion anyway—take sufficient measures to make sure that does not happen with the product that they themselves are offering.

I think I mentioned in my submission the staff in gambling venues. I still pop into gambling venues regularly as part of what I write about to have a look around. I have yet to see one staff member approach a player and say, 'I think there's an issue,' or 'I think you might be gambling a bit too much; maybe you ought to take a break.' I have yet to see it happen.

Mr FRYDENBERG: But you also say that a lot of the staff are university students and, therefore, it might be too much to expect them to have the self-confidence to approach someone.

Mr Cummings : Absolutely.

Mr FRYDENBERG: So how do we get over that?

Mr Cummings : I wish I knew. I have spoken to a number of Gambler's Help counsellors in the last couple of years, and very clearly the message coming to me from them was, through my writing, 'Please do not give people advice on how to stop gambling or what to do.' And I fully agree with that. I am not qualified. I do not have the years of experience or the training to counsel someone. I fail to see how a university student with an RSG could provide the same sort of service, even as an intervention measure, to someone that they suspect may have an issue with their gambling. It might be that having some sort of counselling service available intervenue might be an option, but we have a lot of venues and that is an awful lot of people.

Mr FRYDENBERG: Lastly, you talk about advertising and the allure of advertising. We as a committee are thinking about that element of it. What would you be doing to curb the allure of advertising?

Mr Cummings : Short of taking it off the air completely, as happened with poker machines on TV? I do not really advocate banning anything. I would be looking at changing the message and putting some stipulations in place as to the messages that are put forward. For example, the gamble responsibly, do you have a problem, here is the help line message is usually tiny at the bottom of the screen and, if you blink, you miss it. It is pointless. There are little things like saying it has to be a minimum size, it has to be on the screen for a minimum amount of time, it needs to be fully visible, even the wording could be changed. I would look at restrictions on times that these advertisements could be shown. I have three kids. My oldest is 17 and my youngest is four. When these ads come on the TV they see them. They are watching TV with me. They are very cynical about them because we have spoken about them, but the fact is that they are still seeing these ads. They are still being shown at times when children are watching. I cannot see any point in promoting gambling during certain times of the day when the prime viewing audience would be not even young adults but children.

So there are a number of measures that could be taken to restrict or minimise the amount of gambling advertising that is going on without unduly changing the product that they are advertising. I think the promotion has been fairly relentless in the last couple of years, and it is certainly something that could be addressed.

Mr FRYDENBERG: Thank you.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you for both your submission and also your supplementary submission that debunked some of the 'evidence', for want of a better word, of the Gaming Technologies Association, who gave their evidence in Sydney yesterday. I go to a couple things. What machine features were quite problematic for you? In other words, what spurred on the gambling? Was it the wins? Was it the doubling-up features? Was it the free spins? If there were two or three features that you think could make the machines less addictive and problematic, what are they?

Mr Cummings : That is a very good question. I know a lot of the features that have been talked about recently are free spins, feature games, double ups. It is hard to say that any one of those—or even two or three—actually inspired me to keep playing. I looked more for the theme of the machine. There were so many different types of games out there with dolphins, pyramids or lions on them. I would find one that appealed to me, and that would be the machine that I would seek out. Once I was heavily into it I did look for machines that would offer free games or bonus features. Those, in my opinion, are certainly a problem. They give the player almost chance to have a break in play because they are not actively pushing buttons while the feature is going on, but at the same time they are still sitting in their seat, they are still gambling, they are still playing.

Senator XENOPHON: There is that reinforcement.

Mr Cummings : It is a reinforcement, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: What about getting jackpots? What was the biggest jackpot that you ever won?

Mr Cummings : The biggest jackpot that I won was $5,000.

Senator XENOPHON: Was that early on?

Mr Cummings : No, that was actually probably about a year in. The biggest problem for me was that the first time I ever played I won about $100. That was huge to me. That was brilliant. But it set me up to think, the next time I went and played, 'This is going to be easy.' And I was nowhere close. I think jackpots are a bit lure. I have been looking into that reasonably recently with linked jackpots and venue-wide jackpots. I think they encourage people to play the machine just in case the jackpot goes off.

Senator XENOPHON: If the maximum jackpot were reduced to, say, no more than $500, do you think that would tend to discourage people chasing their losses?

Mr Cummings : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: If you had a jackpot of $500—I think Dr Charles Livingstone in evidence to this committee has indicated this—you would actually see the average hourly loss reduced to about $120. If it took you a lot longer to lose a lot of money, would that make a difference from your point of view?

Mr Cummings : Yes, I think it would.

Senator XENOPHON: Yesterday Mr Ferrar from the Gaming Technologies Association was not able to tell us how much people could actually lose in machines and would not accept that people could lose $1,200 an hour or more. How much did you lose on the worst days on an hourly basis?

Mr Cummings : One of the worst days that I had came shortly after that $5,000 jackpot, when I had disposable funds. I thought, 'I'll go for this.' I banked $4,000 and took $1,000 back to the venue the next day, thinking I could actually bet big for once and win big. I blew that $1,000 in two hours.

Senator XENOPHON: Were you playing maximum bets then?

Mr Cummings : I was going up and down, so I was not just playing high bets but I was certainly betting quickly. When I thought my luck was in, I would raise the bet.

Senator XENOPHON: Okay. I will run through a few things fairly quickly in order. First, if there are active warnings on the screen saying you have lost so much in so many minutes, asking if you should be taking a break or something like that, would that make a difference?

Mr Cummings : I think it would make a small difference. I try to look at all these things from the perspective and mindset I had when I was playing. If I had a message that came up saying maybe it was time to take a break, I would have just continued playing. That is what I would do.

Senator XENOPHON: One of the other issues is that the Productivity Commission recommended having $1 bets with $120 hourly losses as something that should be implemented without a trial, mandatory precommitment as something in addition to that with a trial of the technical efficacy as well. What do you think would work? A combination of both, one or the other? Would mandatory precommitment have helped early on? In other words, you could say, 'Right, I'm not playing any machine on the system.' Did you have player's remorse after play sessions? Do you think that, if there were a mandatory precommitment system, you could have said, 'I'm going to bar myself from machines for the next month' or whatever? What was your mindset at the time?

Mr Cummings : Player's remorse is a term I have not come across before, and I think it is brilliant. That is exactly what I would go through on a daily basis. I was playing daily and I would walk out most days kicking myself and absolutely furious.

Senator XENOPHON: But it is a form of entertainment according to Mr Ferrar!

Mr Cummings : And it is so enjoyable for the first couple of weeks. I can guarantee it ceased to be so for me after that. On mandatory precommitment: I know a little bit about smartcards through my work and I have thought for quite some time that mandatory precommitment would have been fantastic for me I certainly would have made use of it. I think it has the capacity not just to bar yourself from all poker machines. Even if I set a high limit and blew all the money so player's remorse kicks in, I would have thought: 'I don't want to do this anymore. I will restrict how much I can play. I'll drop my limit down to $100 a day or $50 a day.' I fully believe that would have helped me. With regard to $1 bets, I think they are a good measure. They would make a difference. I do not think they would be quite as effective as mandatory precommitment; however, it is not hard to implement without a trial in my opinion as an IT professional for 20 years. Making those kinds of changes can be done and can be rolled out progressively over a period of two or three years. We have done it in Victoria, dropping the bet limits to $5. Dropping to $1 is just a matter of degree. And it removes the capacity to think, 'Oh, my luck's in; I'll up my bet.' You can only go so far. I think both measures in combination would have been fantastic. What was originally offered and walked away from would have been a lot simpler than it was put forward to be and, I think, would have been very effective.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you.

Ms BRODTMANN: I have two questions. First, I am interested in knowing about your experience the second time in Sydney, when you went back to the addiction again. What was the trigger then that ultimately stopped you?

Mr Cummings : Going back to it in the first place, I think it was the only thing that was familiar to me. I had never really lived anywhere outside of Melbourne and I moved interstate because I had met somebody I was seeing. She had a young daughter, so I had taken on almost a family responsibility in a new job in a new town with none of my other friends or family around me. I think I just ran to something that I knew. It was almost a chance to escape from what I was going through while I adjusted. In terms of stopping in that case, as I mentioned, I was found out. However, my different partner from a couple years earlier supported me through that and said, 'We moved forward together from that point.' We eventually got married; however, we are currently separated, so things do not always turn out. But, at the time, her support was pivotal to my decision to finally stay away from them. Even now, though we are separated, she is still very supportive of what I do in terms of the industry and the gambling. So the support of those around me was probably crucial in my ability to stop.

Ms BRODTMANN: Did you undergo counselling at that stage? You mentioned that you went to the Salvos here.

Mr Cummings : I did not the second time around.

Ms BRODTMANN: Because you had that support.

Mr Cummings : Pretty much. At that stage I knew everything that I needed to know. It was more that I had almost lost my foundations by changing everything so radically. So I was able to fall back on that that last time around.

Ms BRODTMANN: You mentioned the fact that we need to change our approach. You suggested that we need to continue to focus on treatment but that we also need to focus far more on prevention. I want to get a sense from you about what preventative measures we should be concentrating on.

Mr Cummings : I do agree that treatment is essential. No matter what preventative measures get put in place, there will always be some people who will end up developing a problem. Whether it is just the nature of the product or their interactions with it, problems will happen. You cannot point at anyone, industry or individual, ahead of time and say: 'This person will become an addict. How can we prevent that?' So treatment is always going to be required. However, on a preventative side I ultimately believe that there is a problem with the offering of the product and, in some cases, with the product itself. Poker machines are unique in terms of gambling. They are constantly refined and technologically advanced. New technology is being introduced constantly, all with the aim of getting people playing these machines for longer and spending more money because it is a business. That is to be understood. I have been looking at an American company that has signed agreements with a company here, and they are looking at rolling out machines down the east coast. They have immersive gaming where they have high-backed seats with surround sound and massive screens, and they promote this as such. It is designed to absolutely surround the player and remove all distractions. I really cannot see how that can be a responsibly offered gambling product when the idea is to be not so much a leisure activity but to keep them playing and remove all distractions.

So I think we need to look at what is being offered and how it is being offered—the messages that are being put forward. Even something as simple as 'gamble responsibly'; whether it is responsible or irresponsible, the message that is being put forward is 'gamble'. Rather than it being a choice either to gamble or not to gamble, it is a choice to gamble either responsibly or irresponsibly. There is a third choice. Some people do not want to gamble. So why not change the message? I am not sure what to change it do. I am sure we could debate that for a long time. But there are the way these things are put forward, the way they are run, little things like venue opening hours—there is no standard across the country for when things can be open. Sometimes I start work early at 7 o'clock, and the venue that I walk past on the way to work is open and there are people playing at 7 o'clock in the morning. I used to when I was playing. Some of the other venues are still open at 4 o'clock in the morning or 6 o'clock in the morning.

Things can be done to tighten up the industry and place a greater onus of responsibility on the industry that offers these products, whether it is poker machines, sports gambling or online gambling. Responsibility has to work in every direction. People do need to be responsible, and that is the message that is coming through very responsibly from the industry, but the industry needs to be responsible as well. They are offering this product and providing it for people to use, so they need to have a responsibility to do so ethically and with a minimum of harm. I think there is also a legislative responsibility. Industry will do what they can within the rules that apply. So it is almost a three way street, though I hate to say it that way. It is certainly something that needs to be looked at by all corners.

Ms BRODTMANN: So what would you like to see legislated?

Mr Cummings : I would like to have seen mandatory precommitment legislated. I do not think that is going to happen. I would like to see advertising limitations legislated. I would like to see things like venue opening hours changed. I would like to see $1 bets come into effect. There are a number of things I would like to see. I would like to see the state governments taking these things onboard as they should be, at least in terms of poker machine gambling. Failing that, I would like to see it happen at a federal level because, when the states do not act, there is only one alternative as far as I can see. I hope that answers your question.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, thank you.

CHAIR: I will ask a follow-up question before I invite other questions from the committee What do you think, then, of the federal government's current intention to, in essence, roll out voluntary precommitment and to hold a trial of mandatory precommitment in the ACT?

Mr Cummings : I am somewhat disappointed with that proposal. I cannot see any point in trialling voluntary precommitment, because there have already been several trials of voluntary precommitment around the country. I also believe the location is problematic. I know that the clubs in Canberra have agreed to trial this on principle. I believe that there are a small number of poker machines in Canberra—I am not certain about that—but I have not heard anything about whether or not they have come to the party. I also know that surrounding areas which are accessible by car have not yet agreed to take part in the trial. So there are issues in terms of the integrity of the trial.

I would have thought that, if a trial were going to come into place, it should have been a trial of mandatory precommitment. We have already had several trials of voluntary in different places—Queensland and South Australia, for starters. We have some information about that. If we are going to run a trial, it would need to be to assess the technical aspects of mandatory precommitment.

CHAIR: That in fact is the government's intention. In the ACT it will be a trial of mandatory precommitment. But the concerns you have expressed have been expressed by many other people. Thank you.

Senator DI NATALE: Thank you for your submission. I think yours is a very important voice in this debate. You mentioned earlier that you enjoy a punt and are not anti-gambling—in fact, you have been to the horses and had a punt on several occasions since your experience.

Mr Cummings : Yes.

Senator DI NATALE: What is it about poker machines? I have heard this from other people, but in your words what is it about poker machines that makes them different from other forms of gambling? Why are they so addictive?

Mr Cummings : That is a very good question. In my personal experience, once I had developed my problems—once I was in the throes of gambling on the pokies and not stopping—it was a case where I would lose myself in the game. Once I started playing, everything else would go away. I could stop worrying about the money that I owed, the hours I was losing from work or the fights that I was having with my partner. When I was playing, that was all there was. it was just the screen, the reels and waiting for the wins. If the win came up, it was great. I would take that and just keep playing. If I lost, I would just hit it again. It becomes your world when you are playing a poker machine because it is so constant, so quick and so repetitive. I hesitate to use phrases like 'the zone' or 'a trance', because they have been overused a lot, but I found that I would fall into the game. I would lose myself in it and I could play for hours without realising it. I reached a point where I would have to set an alarm on my watch to go off after two hours to remind me that I had to get back to work because I had already used twice my lunch break. That was almost a voluntary term for me, but I would often just turn the alarm off and keep playing for another hour or so, then sneak back to work.

Even without the immersive measures that other companies are trying to develop, it is extremely easy to lose yourself in it because it is so constant. You can bet over and over again. I found with the horses, as a parallel, that it is something you have to take part in. You have to make a decision. You go off and choose which horses. If you are really interested, you have a look at the form and work out which horses are running well or not running well. I do not follow the horses. I have been a few times, and it has been a novelty. But I have gone with a budget. I think: 'I'll take $50. I'm prepared to lose this.' I have lost it and had fun, and I have had no inclination to keep going. It was with the pokies from the very first time. Once I lost my money, I thought, 'No, I'll have to go and win this back,' because there was always the idea that I could. You do not have to do anything; you just push a button. So it is easy. That is the way it feels.

Senator DI NATALE: You mentioned in your submission that you had never been approached by a staff member. In your experience in this area, do you know of any other people who have been approached by staff members because their gambling is getting out of control? If so, has that intervention had any impact on their gambling?

Mr Cummings : I cannot answer the second question, because the answer to the first question is no. I do not know anyone, and I have spoken to a number of poker machine addicts in the last couple of years through my blog. I do not know of anyone who has ever been approached by a staff member.

Senator DI NATALE: In your experience, did you find that, when you had made a decision to try to do something about your problem, it was easy to get help?

Mr Cummings : From my experience, not so much, but this was some time ago. I think there are more help services now than there were then, and they are certainly more approachable. Initiatives like Gambler's Help and Gambling Help Online are not only accessible; the people I have spoken to who work for those services have been very approachable and know what they are doing. I think we have far more services available. The problem is that there still seems to be a perceived stigma about using them or being known to be using them, so people try to do these things quietly or anonymously. If they want to seek help, they want to make sure nobody knows about it, because, at the end of the day, they do not want to be known to have had a gambling problem. It is a social disgrace.

Senator DI NATALE: But you would say that, at the moment, if you do have a problem and you decide you need help, there is enough help available to help you through your problem?

Mr Cummings : I do not think there can ever be enough help available. I think there is help available now. There are services that do exist. I think there could certainly be more.

Senator DI NATALE: On average, how much would you lose at each session? I imagine that varied considerably.

Mr Cummings : It did. I could easily go through $300 or $400 in a two- or three-hour period, and I would do that more often than not. I know that I lost somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 in three years. I can probably boil that down to get an actual average, but I know that I would regularly spend up to $300 or $400 in a sitting.

Senator DI NATALE: And was the attraction of a big jackpot a big thing for you? Was it the idea that the next one might be the one where you strike it big?

Mr Cummings : There was an element of that. I was not a big fan of the jackpots. I have a reasonable amount of education in statistics and probability, which is a little strange given where I have been, so I have always thought the jackpots were a bit of a joke. owever, I know a lot of people who play just to win jackpots. They look for the machines that have the big signs at the top and that is what they play for. Having said that, when I did win my one big jackpot, the $5,000, it was an incredible experience. I had about five seconds worth of elation, and then all I could think was that I could use this to start putting more money back in. My experience with that was that it was a lure and it was also an encouragement to keep gambling. If you win one jackpot, you are not going to be satisfied with one: you are going to try and win them all.

Senator DI NATALE: You mentioned that the hours of operation of venues was an issue. That touches on the question of access. Do you feel if it were more difficult to get to a machine that would have helped you with your problem, or would it simply have meant that you drove further, got up earlier or stayed awake later in order to get to a machine? Is access a significant issue in increasing harm?

Mr Cummings : I think access is a significant issue. If the venues had been less accessible, if there were not quite so many of them or if they were not located in the areas they were, I would not always have sought them out and there would have been a reduction in the amount of gambling that I was undertaking. The natural correlation of that is that I would have been playing less and that may have had an impact on the severity of the problems that I had. A number of councils—including, I think, Bendigo and Ballarat—have an approach when developing their gambling policies. The approach is that they should be accessible but not convenient. Far too often gambling venues are convenient. They are put where people can get to them easily and use them, rather than being in places where you can get to them but they are not just around the corner. I think that is a valid approach, but unfortunately gambling venues, pubs and clubs are all too convenient for people to get to these days.

CHAIR: Some people argue that the casinos are gambling destination by design, and the public accepts that. Do you have a view on whether gambling reform should apply equally across the board to pubs, clubs and casinos, or do you think casinos have some justification for being treated differently?

Mr Cummings : I do believe there is some merit in that. Ultimately a casino's primary purpose is as a gambling destination. They can add on whatever they like, whether it is shopping or restaurants or clubs, but ultimately a casino is by its very nature a gambling destination. It does not mean that they should be allowed to have a freer rein across the board than other gambling venues. But it needs to be recognised that that is their reason for being. Pubs and clubs, being the other two places where you can find poker machines, as an example, do not have as their primary purpose being a provider of gambling services. They are meeting places or recreational places. They sell alcohol and they sell food. They provide support for the community. That is ideally their primary purpose. Gambling, you would have to say, should be as secondary role. But for casinos that is their primary purpose. However, having said that, I think casinos should be even more aware and more responsible for what they are offering. Because it is their primary purpose they should have the utmost regard for the patrons and do everything they can not to ensure that their patrons do not spend a lot of money, because some people go to casinos to spend a lot of money and they do not have problems. Again, that is part of the idea of destination gambling. But they need to make sure the services that they offer are responsible and are offered responsibly.

Senator DI NATALE: Often the industry will cite the fact that there is a real risk of people moving from one form of gambling—that is, poker machines—to other forms of gambling, and online gambling is cited. In your view, is it likely that people will substitute those forms of gambling or, as you said previously, do you feel that they are sufficiently different that that is not a genuine argument?

Mr Cummings : I fully believe that poker-machine addiction and problem gambling are two very different things. A problem gambler is someone who is addicted to gambling in general—this is my opinion—whereas a poker-machine addict is addicted to a particular form of gambling, being poker machines. That is why I call myself a former, maybe even current, poker-machine addict. I do not have a problem and have never had a problem with gambling; it was only ever poker machines. I think the majority of calls to health services are to do with poker machines. As far as I know, there is not a lot of transference between poker-machine playing and other forms of gambling. Certainly in my experience they are worlds apart.

CHAIR: Mr Cummings, thank you so much for your testimony, and in particular for your two submissions. I found your supplementary submission very, very helpful in the way that its challenge some of the assertions made by the Gaming Technologies Association. I think I can speak for some members of the committee that it equipped us well to hear evidence from the association yesterday. A special thank you for your supplementary submission and for your time.

Mr Cummings : Thank you very much.