Gambling could be as bad as binge drinking for an individual's health, Australia's Productivity Commission has said.
Releasing its final report on Australia's gambling industries today, the Commission said there was strong evidence that gambling had adverse health, emotional and financial impacts on many more people than those categorised as problem gamblers.
Gambling could be costing the nation $4.7 billion a year and should be tackled in a similar way to binge drinking, the Productivity Commission stressed.
''As is the case in policies addressing harm from alcohol consumption, policy also needs to address these wider impacts,'' the report said and proposed a massive overhaul of gambling laws.
It said the existing bet limits were set too high to be effective and wanted changes to the design of pokies so they no longer accepted $50 notes.
The report also suggested relocating ATMs away from gaming floors, imposing a $250 daily cash withdrawal limit in gaming venues, and and made to ensure they display electronic warnings about the risks associated with a gambler's playing style.
It has found the large tax concessions on gaming revenue enjoyed by clubs in some jurisdictions cannot be justified, and there are strong grounds for them to be changed.
The Productivity Commission estimated that about 600,000 Australians - or 4 per cent of the population - play the games at least once a week. About 15 per cent of those players, or 100,000 people, are considered "problem gamblers", the report said. They account for about 40 per cent of total spending on the machines.
"The risks of problem gambling are low for people who only play lotteries and scratchies, but rise steeply with the frequency of gambling on table games, wagering and, especially, gaming machines," the report concluded.
The report noted that since gambling was liberalised in the 1990s, the industry has matured, developing a core of regular gamblers, although most Australians don't gamble regularly or at games that pose risks. Australians spent over $19 billion a year on gambling in 2008-09, for an average cost of about $1500 per gambler, the report said.
The commission estimated there were between 80,000 and 160,000 Australian adults suffering severe problems from their gambling.
There are between 230,000 and 350,000 people at moderate risk, experiencing lower levels of harm, and who may progress to problem gambling.
Families Minister Jenny Macklin says the ideas need further consideration.
"We will discuss these issues with the states and territories," she said.
Independent Senator and anti-gambling campaigner Nick Xenophon says that is pathetic.
"The Federal Government's response on this report is nothing short of a disgrace," he said.