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Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
23 June 2022

I am pleased to rise to speak to the Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This is the second gambling bill we are debating this week and the second bill that only tinkers around the edges of gambling regulation in this state. The second-reading speech of this bill makes it clear that this government prides itself on its response to harm-minimisation measures. It lists a number of measures that it describes as leading the way on reducing gambling-related harm. But in fact the state that has led the way on gambling harm is Western Australia, which bans pokie machines in the community, leaving them only at the casino. In contrast, this government has embedded harmful pokie machines in our community by its refusal to stand up to the gambling lobby. The Greens certainly do not believe this government has gone far enough on reducing the harm to families and communities from gambling. Instead this government has dragged its feet on meaningful gambling reform, leading to record-breaking rates of pokies losses and years of significant harm at Crown Casino.

Take, for example, the YourPlay system, which the second-reading speech highlights as ‘Australia’s first statewide precommitment system’. This has actually been a complete failure. It has done nothing to reduce pokies losses, which have been skyrocketing for years. At Crown the YourPlay cards had a loss limit of a massive $1 million per day and were used to unlock the special unrestricted pokie machines at the casino that spin faster and burn through cash faster than standard pokies. Only a fraction of gamblers signed up to the system, and even fewer have actually used it to set limits.

When the University of South Australia conducted an evaluation of the YourPlay system in 2019, they found that YourPlay cards were used in sessions amounting to a minuscule 0.01 per cent of gaming machine turnover in pubs and clubs. So although YourPlay may have been, first, a precommitment scheme that nobody uses and fails to prevent record losses, it can hardly be described as a harm minimisation achievement. The second-reading speech of this bill also proudly states that the government has capped the number of gaming machines in the state until 2042, but what they have actually done is lock Victoria into 20 more years of losses and 20 more years of harm.

For much of the last two years—the first time since pokies were introduced in 1992—the machines were turned off across Melbourne. When the pokies venues were closed during lockdown, billions were saved and many gamblers who had been experiencing harm welcomed the forced break as a relief. At the time we had an opportunity to rethink our old normal ways of doing things, including whether we wanted to go back to allowing the gambling industry to take billions of dollars from our communities every year or whether we wanted to help people get pokies out of their communities for good. But this government did not take that opportunity. And as venues opened up as lockdown eased, gambling-reform advocates warned that we were likely to see huge spikes and losses, and that is exactly what happened. In April Victorians lost $257.6 million at the pokies—a record monthly loss. In fact this beat the previous record—set only the month before—of $257.3 million. Almost $1 billion has been lost since the start of the year, and nearly $1.5 billion has been lost since the pokies venues fully reopened. At this rate we are well on track to break the yearly record of $2.7 billion lost at the pokies set pre pandemic in 2018–19.

The losses are concentrated in some of the most disadvantaged communities in our state. In April the cities of Brimbank, Casey, Whittlesea, Hume and Greater Dandenong rounded out the top five LGAs for pokies losses, with a staggering $65 million lost between them. This simply should not be happening. If we were serious about harm minimisation, we should be seeing losses drop, not consistently hitting record heights. Instead, the government keeps ignoring the elephant in the room, genuine harm minimisation reform—real changes that would save billions in pokies losses and save lives. For example, in Victoria our pokies venues can be open up to 20 hours a day, but in fact the Alliance for Gambling Reform has found that venues stagger their opening hours so that it is possible to gamble in a local area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a venue closes for the night, punters can simply travel to the nearest open venue and continue playing. No other state allows this. The alliance is calling for every single Victorian poker machine to be turned off between the hours of 2.00 am and 6.00 am. The Greens agree with them. We could also introduce a strong mandatory precommitment scheme where players would set enforceable and binding limits before they start a gambling session. Precommitment means that once a player has hit their preset loss or time limit they would no longer be able to use the machine. It is an evidence-based reform that would make a huge difference in reducing gambling harm in our state.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, while I am pleased that the government has indicated it will implement the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence’s mandatory precommitment recommendations in full at the casino, it is disappointing that it is not taking this further and applying it to every gaming machine and venue in the state. While the casino has some of the most dangerous pokies in the state, it only has 2628 of the 30 000 gaming machines in Victoria. The rest are in clubs and hotels in our communities. It does not make a lot of sense to embark on a major harm minimisation reform but only apply it to one set of machines and allow pokies everywhere else to keep doing major damage in our community. Rolling out mandatory precommitment schemes to every machine in the state would show that the government is truly committed to doing more to reduce harm levels in our community, as would introducing $1 bet limits on all pokies in the state. Limiting how much a punter can bet at any time to $1 is a major reform that would be a game changer for gambling reform in Victoria. Shifting pokies to low-intensity play with bet limits of $1 and reduced load limits could a limit losses to about $120 an hour—a big drop from the $600 we lose per hour in Victoria. It is a simple, meaningful reform that, like precommitment, would make a huge difference to the rates of gambling harm in our state.

It was recommended in 2010 by the Productivity Commission in their major report into gambling in Australia. At the time, the commission said that every gaming machine in the country should have $1 bet limits by 2018. In 2022 we still have not managed to do this. The major parties have prioritised their close relationship with the gambling and hotel industry, preferring to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations in return for guaranteeing their profits over reform to keep people safe. But we see no reason why we should not do it now. That is what the Greens have proposed today with our amendments, and I am happy for those amendments to be circulated now.

Greens amendments circulated by Dr RATNAM pursuant to standing orders.

Dr RATNAM: In conclusion, our amendments introduce a bet limit on all gaming machines in the state at clubs and hotels and at the Victorian casino of $1 per bet. It is a simple reform that we can make right now that would lead to a massive reduction in gambling harm in Victoria, and I urge everyone in this chamber to support it.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
23 June 2022
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