October 31, 2017  |  Second reading

Gambling Regulation Amendment (Gaming Machine Arrangements) Bill 2017

MR HOWARD (Buninyong) (15:50:45) — I am pleased to add my comments to the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Gaming Machine Arrangements) Bill 2017, which is before the house. At the outset can I say that not surprisingly there are a number of clubs as well as hotels within Ballarat, which is in my electorate, which have electronic gaming machines. We know those clubs have churned the money they have gained from these machines over a long period of time back into better facilities by way of their restaurants, their indoor facilities and also their outdoor sporting venues. They have also done a number of things to support other smaller sporting clubs or groups across areas of my electorate. In thinking about this I cannot help but note that Sebastopol Bowling Club is certainly a prime example of that. It has been a very successful club that has invested its own income very well, but at the same time supported many groups across the Sebastopol area with some of their plans to perhaps encourage young people into sport or a range of other terrific activities.

We know that these gaming machines have now become a part of social activities across cities such as Ballarat and of course Melbourne. The aim of this bill is to ensure that in light of the expiry of the current entitlement period in 2022 we get on well ahead of time to provide current operators of gaming machines, and indeed those who may be considering taking up an entitlement when the opportunity arises, with some certainty in terms of their ability to plan ahead.

Together with the member for Wendouree I have met with club operators in Ballarat on a couple of occasions over the last couple of years, and both of us have attended a number of the clubs in our electorates to learn more about the way their gaming machine systems operate and to see their venues in operation. The club operators’ clear message to us in Ballarat has been that they want to see this government getting on to provide some certainty for them in planning beyond 2022. They want to see us address some of the issues of concern that came out of the initial allocation process eight years ago. Recently I talked to one operator who spoke on behalf of the other club operators. He said he was encouraged by the activities of our government to date in terms of the feedback we have been providing to operators and in terms of the changes we are making. The operators are certainly very encouraged and very positive about the opportunities ahead in this area.

Can I start by just clarifying that this bill focuses on the allocation of gaming machines for clubs and pubs. Crown Casino is a separate entity altogether in regard to this process and operates under a separate review and a separate allocation process. The aim of this bill, as I have indicated, is to provide some certainty that by the middle of next year the allocation process will be well underway and all pubs and clubs will have an indication of the allocation that they may receive.

The other major change is that we are not working according to an auction process in making those allocations. We recognise that there were problems with the previous auction process where some club operators and some pub operators paid more than perhaps they should have for their entitlements and others underpaid for their entitlements. This time the government is putting in place an administrative allocation process which will set the price of each allocation based on the gaming revenue of each venue, and that will be verified by Ernst & Young to ensure transparency in the process.

There are a number of things in regard to this allocation that members have spoken about already. Instead of a 10-year allocation we are planning to make a 20-year allocation, but with an opportunity for clubs or pubs to give up part of their entitlements at the end of the 10-year process so there is sort of a review midway. We are maintaining a number of provisions that are in place with the current entitlement. We are not increasing the number of gaming machines available, for example, beyond the 27 372 machines out there. We are still allowing clubs to seek the entitlement of 50 per cent of the gaming machines available in the first case when they are making their application for entitlements. The only variation we are making to the 50-50 rule is recognising that once clubs have expressed their interest in entitlements, if they do not express an interest that takes up the full 50 per cent, there is sensibly the opportunity to allocate the remaining entitlements to hotels.

There are other changes that we are putting forward in regard to this process about the number of machines that a particular operator can take up, but we are also allowing for a larger operator to take up an entitlement that they can then transfer onto smaller operators so that the smaller operators can benefit from a larger scale operator assisting them with the process of getting their entitlement and financing it. We also make no apology for being particularly supportive of clubs in this process by way of providing them with some advantageous taxation arrangements that will recognise the challenges that some clubs have in terms of making payments and so on. We want to be supportive of clubs and recognise the ability of clubs to give back to their communities and their importance as sporting clubs within our communities. I do also of course want to recognise that within the legislation we continue to recognise that gaming machines do cause harm for some problem gamblers.

We are taking further action to address issues associated with problem gambling. Most particularly in that area, we for the first time, as a mainland state, are proposing a $500-a-day limit on withdrawing money via EFTPOS with credit cards or debit cards. The bill also proposes that there can be a maximum withdrawal of $200 per transaction. We are doing a number of other things, for example, allowing gaming operators to provide larger cheques of up to $2000 as winning cheques rather than just the $1000 limit so that people do not get so much cash in their hands when they have a larger win. We are also, again, enforcing the issue that operators should not cash cheques to people on-site. So we are doing a range of things to try and ensure that people who might be problem gamblers cannot get their hands on more cash than is sensible at a particular time.

The other issue is that we are continuing to work with venues to ensure that staff are appropriately trained, and that they continue to develop sound codes of conduct and self-exclusion policies. The other issue we are following up on is that the minister will be in a position to set standards of codes of conduct that venue operators will need to take up. While we will still have the commission in place to oversee that, the commission will not have to oversee each particular code of conduct for a venue on an annual basis. Instead the requirements set by the minister will need to be taken up and, at various times over a five-year period, the commission will be able to check that the operators are operating according to sound codes of conduct. That will see those venue operators having better-trained staff picking up on clients who are potential problem gamblers so that they can support them with self-exclusion plans or other plans that back up the YourPlay system that this government has already put in place, which was a pre-election commitment. I certainly commend this sound bill to the house.