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Gaming Control Amendment (Future Gaming Market) Bill 2021 (No. 45)

Wednesday 10 November 2021

[9.01 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, at the outset I thank the Government for arranging the briefings, and I thank all of those who briefed us in relation to the bill. I will make a few comments from the briefings from both sides, from the notes that I took this morning. I consider it is really important to be balanced, not just have one side.

Dr Charles Livingstone mentioned that it was a complex piece of legislation and legislation that was weighted very heavily, he believed, towards the gaming industry, and that market dominance was left wide open. He pointed out that whilst the legislation was big on providing benefits for the industry, very low consideration had been given to people with gambling harm; that Glenorchy had the biggest poker machine losses; and that relationship between disadvantage on machines and losses is the biggest in the country.

He also mentioned that the legislation can promise everything but deliver nothing; that measures that can have an effect are to lower maximum bets and slow spin speeds, to assist disadvantaged communities. He also mentioned that the $1 bet would not affect recreational gamblers, or he didn't believe it would affect recreational gamblers; would have a positive benefit for those who are compulsive gamblers; and that there was solid evidence that it would work for those experiencing harm.

Peter Hoult, former Liquor and Gaming Commission chair, mentioned that it was the most major change since 1993; that there was no idea of the effect of this legislation on small and medium businesses or enterprises; and that at the current time, we do not know the start‑up costs of the new model. He was also concerned about no additional resources given to liquor and gaming, and that the monumental change had not been costed. He finished by saying, 'This is a basket of unknowns.'.

Reverend Dr Chris Jones from Anglicare felt that Tasmanians could be negatively affected, and questioned how do we make sure that Tasmanians are better protected, in the best way possible. He believed that we need some clear moves in harm minimisation areas and questioned what the commission can do to keep people safe. He also mentioned how the Community Support Levy gets allocated, and whether it does the best it can to protect Tasmanians. He also believed that the commission needed to be resourced to make a difference, and if we could add more harm minimisation it would lead to a better outcome for vulnerable people.

TasCOSS considered it was a bill of deep concern right across their sector, and they believe that machines are designed to be addictive. They also said that at the core of this legislation, it puts profit before people. They mentioned that Tasmanians lose over $500 000 every day, that gambling is a public health issue and has a ripple effect right across the community. The key question - how do we support people struggling with their gambling addictions?

Then onto the hoteliers. Hoteliers believe that this was removing the monopoly in the industry with an opportunity to have ownership in their own businesses, with regional venues the ones who get the most benefit as it gives then extra capital. That provides them the opportunity to do a lot of work in their communities, to do some capital works and improve the facilities for many people in their areas. They also mentioned that Tasmania was the only jurisdiction left in Australia with a monopoly, effectively a third partner in the business.

They consider that harm minimisation was good, and they felt they do look after their patrons. They have trained staff, they keep an eye on their patrons and it is to their benefit to look after and take great care of their customers. It was considered this is a game changer for the industry, and an improvement coming from removing the monopoly. They also considered that facial recognition technology would be a good thing and an amendment that the industry is looking forward to. Removing the monopoly regime will give them more autonomy.

They made the comment they do not believe that the Tasmanian people want to be told how and where they can spend their money; that industry needs the bill now, without further amendment; that it is well overdue to receive a greater share of the revenue; and that the new model provides an appropriate share of revenue to clubs and pubs. With increased profitability to venues, valuation increases will enable increased further access to more borrowings which then can enable them to do more capital investments.

They mentioned that the industry needs certainty, which is a good thing for venues and can only benefit venues. It was also mentioned that no‑one gets legislation totally right first-up and there are often changes along the way. My husband had a hotel for 42 years. He said he could have had poker machines but decided that was not a path he wanted to take. He always believed that his hotel was a pub of a different nature, end of story, and to the time he left he always considered the Royal Oak was a pub of a different nature. Communication, talking to people, having a meal together, that was how he wanted his hotel to be. Many hotels, pubs and RSLs do have poker machines, and that is their call.

I had asked my mother about poker machines, because they have been around for a long time. My mother stated to me on more than one occasion, when I asked her about the proposed legislation and poker machines, that no‑one had the right to tell her what to do with her money.

Ms Rattray - Including you.

Ms ARMITAGE - Absolutely. I would not dream of it. I would certainly be told that was not my place. My mum, widowed, was a member of the Country Club at Prospect, she would use the swimming pool, she would play a game of golf, she would go and have a roast meal and she played keno or the poker machines for entertainment. For mum, and many others, this was a safe place to go alone and have an evening's entertainment. Every second Friday, my mother and her elderly sisters would have a roast meal at the Hotel Tasmania and play keno or an hour or two of machines, and that was their outing. They caught up at the Hotel Tasmania, had a nice time and they felt it was a safe venue. When mum went to her shack at St Helens, again she would play golf and then have a meal and play the machines for an hour or two at the local RSL. My mother did not have a problem with gambling, but found it a safe place to go to socialise with others and have a meal.

Can we make legislation that suits everyone? No, we cannot. Do hard cases make good laws? In fact the saying is that hard cases make bad laws. In other words, we need to make laws for everyone, sad as it is that there are a number of people who are addicted to poker machines and the effect that it has on themselves and their families.

Harm minimisation is absolutely necessary and in briefings we heard from hotel groups that they are well and truly in favour of harm minimisation. I found The Future of Gaming in Tasmania, Public Consultation Paper 2020 was very clear and easy to read, answering many of my questions, particularly with regard to EGM numbers and capping. I thought that was a really good document that I found on the internet. The consultation paper was also clear on the high-roller casino licence. I also found the information paper on the Treasury and Finance, Liquor and Gaming, Future Gaming Market site providing the submissions to stages one and two and it all helped considerably to understand the complexities of the bill. I thank the department for that because it made understanding it and reading it a lot clearer.

I have listened to the debate and the matters raised and my view is that the principle of the bill should be supported. Like the member for McIntyre, I feel it is unfortunate that some in the community have maligned Federal Hotels, for whatever reason. It is not Federal Hotels fault they have a monopoly, or had a monopoly. It is not their fault they have electronic gaming machines. This parliament gave them those rights. It is not their fault that the licence agreement was not earlier put out to tender. It was this parliament.

It is also to be remembered that back in 2003 when the deed was agreed upon, there was a real concern in the community that there were too many gaming machines in existence. There was the ability for Federal Hotels under their agreement with the Government to increase the number quite significantly. The Labor government at the time was pressured by the community to stop the rollout of further machines and therefore negotiated with Federal Hotels for that to occur. The result of the negotiations was the deed of 2003. I believe they have been very good corporate citizens, with figures provided by Deloitte for 2015‑16 of 2337 FTEs and the total value added in dollars to the Tasmanian community of $343.12 million. That was also mentioned by the member for McIntyre.

Ms Rattray - But they are significant numbers, are they not?

Ms ARMITAGE - Significant numbers and I believe they have been good corporate citizens. It has always concerned me when we talk about going out to tender for things like gaming and casinos, you only have to look at Crown. The last thing I would like to see is the Chinese, or some other country, come in and take money offshore. At least with Federal the money does stay in Australia.

There has been comment on the monopoly held by Federal. I looked interstate to see how Federal went about their business compared to other states. I do not have to dwell too long on that because other states have been very much under the microscope of inquiries or royal commissions and the results of those have not been savoury. I will not dwell on them all but I will make mention of the Victorian royal commission into the Crown Casino who could well have been an applicant for a licence back in 2003 if the licence had been put out to tender.

The commission was established to inquire into Crown Melbourne's suitability to hold a casino licence. The precursor of this was two findings in what was the Bergin report. The first was that Crown Melbourne facilitated millions of dollars to be laundered through a bank account of its subsidiary. The second was that Crown Melbourne allowed operators with links to organised crime to arrange for junket players to gamble at the casino.

The main focus of the commission's inquiries was to discover whether this conduct identified in the Bergin report was more widespread and if it was, who was involved and what should be done. Within a very short time the commission discovered that for many years Crown Melbourne had engaged in conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative. The commissioner described the catalogue of wrongdoing as alarming, all the more so because it was engaged in by a regulated entity whose privilege to hold a casino licence, is dependent on it being at all times a person of good character, honesty and integrity.

Crown's underpayment of the casino tax showed a similar disregard for the law. What disturbed me with the findings was the way in which Crown Melbourne dealt with many vulnerable people who have a gambling problem. For years Crown had held themselves out as having the world's best approach to problem gamblers. In the commission's opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. They heard distressing stories from people whose lives had been ruined and whose situation might have been improved if the casino staff had carried out their obligations under their gambling code. They had not. I could go on but what I am saying is that when we compare the behaviour of other casino operators in other states and compare that behaviour with Federal who have never come under the notice of royal commissions or inquiries for wrongdoing or otherwise, sometimes those who criticise Federal's monopoly should be careful what they wish for.

We heard during briefings of those people who are either problem gamblers, moderate‑risk gamblers or low‑risk gamblers. I was encouraged by the recent study which was tabled in parliament in July last which showed that Tasmanian gambling participation, expenditure and rates of problem gambling are among the lowest in the country. Those figures, I think, were mentioned by the member for McIntyre.

I feel desperately sorry for those problem gamblers and some of the stories which have been recounted are sad indeed but an area that I believe should be focused on in an endeavour to further decrease the figures is that of advertising. In recent weeks we have seen a glut of advertising on the AFL Grand Final - first goal, first kick, most goals, Norm Smith medallers, half‑time leader and, of course, the winner.

Ms Rattray - Even up to three‑quarter time I think you could still put a bet on.

Ms ARMITAGE - Absolutely, and by what margin, at what odds. The list goes on. The Melbourne Cup has just been done and dusted and how many people, young people especially, placed a bet on it? There has been a tsunami‑like increase in online betting. I read recently that during COVID it had increased by 132 per cent.

I also read the Australian Gambling Research Centre report which was released on 13 October 2020. It noted that men aged 18 to 34 made up 79 per cent of new account holders. That same group's medium monthly spend increased from $687 to $1075. The same group of 2000 gamblers said that the number of participants who placed bets more than four times a week increased from 23 per cent to 34 per cent. What was the reason? Boredom, isolation and betting promotions. The comment from the report was:

Being heavily exposed to ads and promotions was often the motivation to gambling. That wasn't mainly at the race tracks or the casino; that was online, 78 per cent of it. There was even betting on novelty events such as the weather and reality TV.

Ms Rattray - You are joking.

Ms ARMITAGE - No. On being surveyed, a 23‑year‑old stated:

Whenever I'm bored my finger automatically opens the app now. I knew my limits. Now I can't stop.

Last year Tabcorp's digital betting grew to $7.1 billion. Sportsbet parent company, Flutter Entertainment, their online net revenue was up 45 per cent in the first half of the year. If you click on Google and you look up your top trending games, there you will also see your top‑rated casino sites for November 2021. Goodman's have a welcome pack of $750 plus 150 free spins. Megaslot have a welcome pack of a bonus of $550 and 225 free spins. You go to Fair Go Casino where you get $1500 together with 150 free spins, and the list goes on.

You can check out the top‑rated slot sites - slot sites for 2021 - and you can explore the best casino of the week and the month. There is your problem. These are the sites grooming prospective gamblers. There is even advertising on Facebook and Instagram if you get written permission. To me, this seems to be the emerging trend for gamblers that our parliament and federal parliament should be focusing on. It is a real concern and I believe more concerning than any other form of gambling. I learnt yesterday that there were things known as loot boxes.

Ms Rattray - What?

Ms ARMITAGE - Loot, l-o-o-t boxes, which are a form of monetisation with players either buying the boxes directly or receiving the boxes during play and later buying keys with which to redeem them. Look it up and see what you can find. It is quite interesting. They give an advantage to players who spend real‑world money in competitive games. They pop up in kids' video games. They are illegal in Belgium and the Netherlands and are controversial in the USA, Germany and the UK and a number of other countries. They have been compared to gambling. In my opinion, they groom young video users into gambling but they seem to have gone under the radar here. Is that because we are not focusing on some of the real gambling problems? Personally, I have real concerns about online gambling, on our phones.

I accept that we have many problem gamblers in Tasmania but, as I mentioned, I do not believe that hard cases make good laws and that has been said many times over the years. I really believe we should be looking at some of the gambling advertising. You cannot turn on a television set - not that I watch a lot, we do not have a lot of time to watch much television but when you do you will get at least two or three gambling advertisements. How many people during COVID-19 have been able to sit home, not go to a casino, not go to a club or pub but actually sit home with their phone, they do not have to leave their lounge room and they can bet as much money as they like off their credit card or off their bank account from their phone. I believe that is a real concern.

There are many issues that I am concerned with.As for the bill before us I will be supporting the principle of the bill and I will be voting it through to Committee.

Thursday 11 November 2021

The Council divided -


Ms Armitage Mr Gaffney (Teller)

Mr Duigan (Teller) Mr Valentine

Ms Forrest Ms Webb

Mrs Hiscutt

Ms Howlett

Ms Lovell

Ms Palmer

Ms Rattray

Dr Seidel

Mr Willie


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