Casino and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022
I am pleased to rise to make some brief comments on behalf of the Greens on the Casino and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This bill is formally separating the two functions of the old Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR). It transfers the liquor regulation functions to the new Victorian Liquor Commission and further establishes the gambling regulation function in the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission. The bill also amends the operation and functions of the VGCCC, including a new statutory objective for the commission to minimise gambling harm and problem gambling and a new function to undertake activities to minimise gambling harm. The Greens are pleased to see harm minimisation explicitly stated as a key objective and function of the new regulator. We are glad to see the government appears to be taking the recommendations from the royal commission seriously and is setting the regulator up to take a more active role in reducing and preventing gambling harm in Victoria.
The Greens have been calling for a complete overhaul of the regulator for years. In 2017 one of the very first things I did in this chamber was to move to refer the VCGLR to an inquiry. The inquiry would have considered the effectiveness of the regulator, its ability to carry out its functions and its ability to protect the Victorian community from the harms associated with the misuse and abuse of gambling, but my referral was voted down by both sides of this chamber. Over the next four years we repeatedly saw evidence of wrongdoing at the casino and the complete inability of the regulator to take any action in response. Whether it was handing out special chips that allowed pokies to run in autoplay mode, deliberately underpaying casino tax or turning a blind eye to money laundering and other criminal activity within the casino, the regulator did nothing. The VCGLR’s track record showed it had been unable or unwilling to prevent Crown from engaging in what Commissioner Finkelstein described as:
… variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative.
Promisingly, there are signs of change. The new VGCCC recently issued a record $80 million fine to Crown Casino over the illegal practice of accepting Chinese bank cards at the casino premises. This is the first time an increased penalty has been issued since the maximum penalty was increased to $100 million from the previous, paltry, $1 million. As we pointed out at the time, a maximum fine of $1 million is loose change for a gambling behemoth like Crown, so we are pleased to see this reformed regulator showing they are willing to use their expanded powers as intended to ensure the casino operator actually faces the consequences of its actions.
We are hopeful this trend continues and that the regulator utilises some of the new enforcement powers in this bill—like, for example, the ability to initiate disciplinary action for a single breach of the responsible gambling code of conduct instead of only after multiple breaches in the current system, which I wonder was ever used.
They have a big job ahead of them. International private equity giant Blackstone is preparing to take over Crown Resorts at the massive cost of $8.9 billion. It is not hard to see how we may be about to step out of the frying pan into the fire, as the Victorian casino is about to be folded into a multinational with an enormous casino portfolio. Blackstone owns the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and Bellagio casinos in Las Vegas and, through one of its subsidiaries, a massive 147 casinos across Spain, Italy and Latin America. The VGCCC will need to have both the teeth and the guts to stand up to this mega international firm and to ensure it plays by the local rules for casino management. And the government should be coming clean with the Victorian people about any discussion it has been having with Blackstone over the regulations that will govern the casino into the future.
We are looking forward to seeing the promised legislation that will implement the remaining outstanding recommendations of the royal commission, particularly the recommendations that relate to harm minimisation. Legislating recommendations like mandatory pre-commitment would be a major piece of gambling reform and would do a lot to reduce harm at the casino. I was very pleased earlier this year to hear the government promise to implement the mandatory pre-commitment recommendation in full, but going further than the recommendations, like the government did with the previous piece of legislation that implemented the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence recommendations, would be game changing—like applying the pre-commitment recommendation to every gaming venue in the state, not just the casino, or like introducing dollar bet limits for all electronic gaming machines.
With just four weeks left in the 59th Parliament the promised bill is a real opportunity for this government to show the Victorian people that it is serious about gambling reform and that it is willing to take a stand against the gambling industry and introduce real harm minimisation measures at the Victorian casino. The Greens are looking forward to working with the government on this legislation and pushing them further and faster on gambling reform.