Gambling comes at a cost to all

Bill speech

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:41):

I rise to speak on the Casino and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This bill is the next stage of the Victorian government’s response to the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, which includes changes to the regulation of gambling in Victoria. I would like to make some general comments on the findings of the royal commission and the sad fact that there needed to be one in the first place.

Casinos are certainly big business. Gambling taxes are around the fifth-highest source of revenue for the state. The casino is one of the largest employers and a major tourist drawcard. For many people, gambling is a bit of fun—you have a bit of a flutter. Sometimes you win, but plenty lose. Casinos are associated with notions of glitz and glamour. They have been successfully marketed that way—think of James Bond in Casino Royale, the playgrounds of Monte Carlo, the lights of Las Vegas. Casinos cater for the wealthy. They appear a bit elitist, and they can be utterly tempting to those aspiring to quick riches.

The other thing that casinos have long, long been associated with is crime. We are not talking about small-time crime either, but serious organised crime. Organised crime costs Australia up to $60 billion every year—$60 billion per year. When I brought my motion on illicit tobacco for debate in September 2021, I spoke about the links between proceeds of organised crime and child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, firearm offences and general violence. Organised crime and money laundering are explicitly linked, and the dark underbelly of casinos includes money laundering on an epic scale, loansharking, junkets and drug dealing.

Crown was found to have blatantly ignored directives about criminal associations and a multitude of shady practices that occurred in plain sight over many years. The royal commission that was finally initiated after media exposés and the Bergin inquiry cost $5 million, and the government will now spend millions in funding reforms that respond to the recommendations. Nothing seems to have occurred at Crown for many, many years, and reports made up the chain by inspectors simply disappeared into oblivion. They said that over time their roles were undermined, funding was reduced, responsibilities were diverted and audits were either irregular or completely absent.

The harms from problem gambling were also well documented by the royal commission and include family violence, forced prostitution, debt, poverty and suicide. It noted that the prevalence of people who experience problem gambling at the Melbourne casino may be three times higher compared to all Victorian adults who gamble. On average there may be somewhere in the vicinity of 462 problem gamblers at the casino at any one time, yet on an average day there were only around four interactions in response. Many of these concerns were raised with Crown by the regulator, and in its sixth review the regulator noted that Crown Melbourne’s approach to responsible gambling had not changed since the review five years earlier. One of the examples that the commissioner noted as ‘horrific’ was a problem gambler who would regularly go home and assault his wife, blaming her for his bad luck and ultimately forcing her into sex work to repay his gambling debts.

The cost of problem gambling is not just personal, it costs this state financially. So while gambling taxes deliver $2 billion every year to the state’s coffers, problem gambling costs $100 million in crime and to the justice system, $1.6 billion in terms of emotional and psychological issues, $2.2 billion in relation to family and relationship problems and $600 million in lost productivity and other related costs.

We support this bill and ongoing efforts to return effective oversight of Melbourne’s casino and to wipe out to the criminal activity associated with it. The merging of gambling and liquor regulation was described by the minister as a failed experiment, and federal MP Andrew Wilkie described the Victorian gambling regulator as:

… a lapdog, not a watchdog.

So with the starting point that low, the only way from here is up. The separation of liquor and gambling regulation will only be a success if the new regulators are well funded and given the powers for effective oversight and the capacity to ensure the casino complies. This is effectively early intervention, something I talk about all the time in this place.

We have so many debates in this Parliament about IBAC and royal commissions, which deal with problems at the crisis end, once the damage has been done. In this instance if the regulator had been effective, as it should have been, there possibly would not have been the need for a royal commission. We need to ensure effective responses early across all our systems, because if we do not, we can see the ultimate cost—the economic cost, the personal cost—will far outweigh the revenue or any other benefit that one might espouse about having a casino in the first place.