| |

31st October 2023 15:22
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (15:22): 

I rise to make a contribution on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. This is the first tranche of the government’s overhaul of gambling regulation in Victoria. It is good to see the government tightening some of the regulations around casinos and implementing some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. We are pleased to see the government honour its commitment around mandatory closing times.

This is something that I personally have raised as an issue in this house before. There has been a loophole that has allowed venues within close proximity of each other to stagger their opening hours and their closing hours so that people were never too far away from an open venue and the lure of the pokies.

So it is good to see the bill closing that loophole. However, while the mandatory 4 am until 10 am closure across all gaming venues is a good start, it does not go far enough. We know that there is a higher risk of gambling harm occurring in the hours after midnight, particularly after 2 am, and by 4 am all too often the damage is well and truly done.

As my colleague Ms Payne mentioned, we will be supporting the Greens amendment to increase the mandatory closure period from midnight until 10 am.

My colleague also expressed our concern over the government’s decision to exempt Crown Casino from mandatory closure periods. It is disappointing that Crown is not subject to this reform given their historical and continuing contribution to the ongoing harms that gambling inflicts on our society.

The opposition amendments seek to expand this exemption to other venues within 3 kilometres of Crown. This will do little to minimise harm, as it will exclude some of the busiest venues from the mandatory closure period. As such we cannot support the amendments, and I endorse Mr Batchelor’s comments in this regard.

On average, Victorians spend $1300 per capita on betting each year, making it far and away the costliest addiction in the state. I have spoken before about Brimbank in my electorate recording the highest poker machine losses of any local government area in Victoria, over $1.29 billion in the last decade. It is a costly addiction for the state too. The state will rake in a projected $2.5 billion by the end of this financial year, but the knock-on financial impacts – the emotional and psychological costs, the impacts on relationships, the loss of productivity and the social cost – are estimated at $7 billion, dwarfing the income from gambling.

The government is planning to introduce further legislation aimed at better regulating the industry and addressing the harms caused by gambling. We hope that the next tranche of reform will be more ambitious. It would not hurt to look at some simple measures introduced in other jurisdictions that can help reduce the sorts of catastrophic losses that problem gamblers experience.

The stakeholders that we have consulted highlighted the need for mandatory and binding precommitment schemes. The Tasmanian model of a carded precommitment system allows people to commit to spend up to $100 a week or $500 a month or $5000 a year. This would be a very effective tool as long as it was not linked to loyalty schemes. The gambling industry is pushing hard for precommitment and loyalty schemes to be linked, keen to get their hands on people who sign up to the precommitment system, so that they can offer them inducements to continue playing.

There are some really bad features on poker machines which should be banned. Stakeholders would like to see a ban on what are called losses disguised as wins. That is when you gamble $1 and then win 20 cents, and the machine reacts as if you have won but you have actually lost 80 cents – and of course they are playing for the dopamine effect. These are an addictive feature of poker machines. Removing the winning reaction on the machine when there is a loss disguised as a win will lead to better outcomes for addicted gamblers. Tasmania and Queensland have both outlawed losses disguised as wins and are seeing some good results, and we would urge the government to consider this as a future change.

Lowering the maximum bet to $1 would have a significant impact on reducing losses. At the moment you can gamble $5 per spin, and you can spin every 3 seconds. There is much to be done in this space, and hopefully the next stage of reforms will see more action to reduce gambling-related harm.

At some stage we do have to address the elephant in the room, and this is the state’s reliance on gambling revenue. It is an obvious conflict. How serious can a government be about protecting vulnerable Victorians from the harms caused by gambling when it relies so heavily on the revenue generated from gambling, money that we know comes at an enormous cost to some of our most vulnerable communities? In conclusion, we support the bill. We commend the government for this initiative, and we look forward to seeing further reforms in the near future.


Similar Posts