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31st October 2023 15:01
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:01): 

I rise to make a contribution on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 on behalf of Legalise Cannabis Victoria. This bill forms part of a wider suite of vital gambling reforms. Among a number of changes, this bill enables better regulation of casinos where their licence is cancelled, suspended or surrendered, and it delivers on the government’s commitment to mandatory closure periods for gambling machine areas from 4 am to 10 am.

These reforms come at a time when data from the Alliance for Gambling Reform, published in October, shows poker machine losses in pubs and clubs have surged nationally and are at an all-time high of $14.54 billion.

We already know that Australians lose more to gambling machines than any other country in the world, causing immense loss. These losses are inextricably linked with violence, breakdown and mental and physical health issues.

The need for intersectional harm minimisation is clear. Problem gambling poses a significant cost to the community. The gambler suffers, their family and friends suffer, as do so many other people and institutions. Gambling ruins lives. This was made clear in the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. The royal commission quickly uncovered widespread illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative behaviour by Crown Melbourne.

Legalise Cannabis Victoria is concerned about the government’s decision to exclude Crown Casino from the mandatory closure periods. The advice we received from the government suggested that there were several reasons for this decision, and they included existing break in play rules for casinos, the economic role of Crown Casino and the unique regulation the casino is subject to off the back of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence.

I have been someone who has worked in casinos as well as gaming rooms and I have seen the devastation that gambling addiction can cause, particularly for people who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Gambling often provides a sanctuary, a place where people can connect, even if that is connecting with a machine. I have seen an instance where a young man – and I can tell you he was a young man because I had to check his ID when he came into the establishment – came in and gambled his pay cheque away.

It was over $1000. He then decided that he was so desperate to put more money back into the machine that he crawled underneath the barrage where we would keep the money and he stole back about $3000. Unfortunately he went to prison for that, and I often think about him because I was the one to hand the police the schooner glass that had his fingerprints on it to make sure that he was charged with that offence. All I can remember is how desperate he was that day and how dangerous it is while we continue to allow such a harmful, socially acceptable practice as gambling.

I am compelled to turn back to the royal commission, namely the findings of the way that Crown Melbourne dealt with many vulnerable people who have a gambling problem. I find it quite damning stuff. They failed their obligations, and multiple promotions targeted vulnerable people or financially constrained people such as the elderly and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Stakeholders evidenced how these exploitative promotions led to some participants not being able to afford essential medication. As noted, the government has provided reasons for their decision not to include Crown Casino in mandatory closure periods, but we must not and cannot accept that without acknowledging that the economic contribution of Crown Casino is too often off the backs of the most vulnerable. Even in light of the reforms being undertaken, Crown is still a gambling venue of massive proportions and contributes in spades to the ongoing harms of gambling in our society.

In engaging with stakeholders on this bill we were advised that a number advocated for poker machine rooms to be closed from midnight to 10 am. This push was backed by evidence showing that harm increases from midnight to 2 am and then significantly increases after 2 am.

Consequently we will support the Greens amendments to extend the mandatory closure period from 12 am to 10 am, recognising the potential to minimise harm. We would also encourage this government to perhaps consider a middle ground of 2 am to 10 am, noting the significant increase in harm experienced between the hours of 2 am and 4 am.

Now, turning to the amendments of the opposition: they desire to create an exclusion zone from the mandatory closure period for any approved venue within a 3-kilometre radius of the casino. We do not support these amendments and believe they do little to minimise harm. Instead they reduce the benefits of the mandatory closure period by excluding some of the busiest venues in our state.

We again want to acknowledge that this bill is part of a wider package of gambling reforms, and we look forward to monitoring the government’s progress in this space. You can be assured that we will continue to push to strengthen the government’s work to address the evils of the gambling industry.


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