HANZ wants pokies monitoring numbers crunched

The hospitality industry would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of the introduction of an electronic monitoring system for gaming machines as proposed by government, says Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson.

The hospitality industry would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of the introduction of an electronic monitoring system for gaming machines as proposed by government, says Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson.

He expresses doubt that the total of fraudulent dealings which successfully evade current manual audits would repay the cost and effort of installing the electronic monitoring system on all machines in the country. Government hasn't done a study that satisfies the hospitality industry, he says.

The Internal Affairs Department’s most recent figures estimate about $520,000 of gaming takings were unaccounted for in the year 2000. “That’s 0.17% of the $300 million total income,” Robertson says, “a lot less than is lost in shoplifting.”

He acknowledges, though, that electronic monitoring will calm public suspicions of funds being siphoned off and will result in a better perception of the gaming industry. "We're not in principle opposed to it."

Against this is the cost of retrofitting or upgrading machines to handle the EMS software and Qcom communications protocol originated by the Queensland Office of Gaming Regulation and in use there and in the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

To retrofit a Qcom-compatible machine would cost about $700, says a spokeswoman for gaming machine manufacturer IGT. Older machines will need first to be upgraded to become compatible, at a total cost she could not estimate. Internal Affairs website documents will only commit to saying the cost is less than half that of the machine.

According to Robertson there are 6332 machines in the country that only need a retrofit, 11,056 that need an upgrade and 4355 that will need to be replaced altogether.

“A significant factor is that of those 4355, 2598 are in clubs, not hotels,” Robertson says. That means they do not attract continuous custom and have a low income. For that reason they have not been upgraded as city hotel machines are. So the operators already attracting the least business will be hit by the greatest cost.

Hanz is pushing for a reduction in the 33% proportion of income that has to go to the community, so smaller sites can afford to upgrade. Alternatively, it would like to see existing machines that cannot be upgraded kept off the EMS system until the end of their natural life.

Cabinet has approved the concept of an EMS, but more consultation will precede a final decision on implementation.

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