December 11, 2013  |  Second Reading

Gambling Regulation Amendment (Pre-Commitment) Bill 2013

Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— I am also pleased to add my comments to the debate on the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Pre-commitment) Bill 2013. The bill relates to the introduction of a precommitment system into gaming venues across the state. As members from this side of the house have said earlier, we are not opposing this legislation. We support the concept of precommitment, but we are concerned that this government has not adopted the best approach to making precommitment available.

Gaming machines were introduced to this state in the late 1980s.

Prior to that the Labor government of John Cain and previous governments had opposed gaming machines being legalised in Victoria. However, at the end of the 1980s a lot of pressure was brought to bear by venue operators who saw these sorts of venues operating interstate and saw opportunities for employment and so on. Gaming machines were legalised, and since then we have seen significant growth in the number of machines in numerous venues around the state, including for-profit hotels and gaming venues and not-for-profit sporting venues.

Those sporting clubs that have acquired gaming machines have generally found them to be very profitable. Some sporting clubs that have not been in a position to acquire gaming machines have struggled. We have created two classes of sporting clubs and sporting facilities, and that is a matter of some concern.

However, in my electorate and across lots of other parts of the state some of the sporting clubs that have gained gaming machines have been able to develop a range of good facilities, support the sports activities of their clubs and provide good food and meeting places.

A lot of money has been spent in those venues — millions and millions of dollars in the case of Ballarat. Some people willingly use the machines. I have gone to gaming machine venues, although not to use the machines. It is quite some time since I did that; in the early days I tried out the machines, but I did not find them in any way satisfying to my sense of entertainment. However, I have been to some of these venues on a number of occasions, to meet people or to dine. On some occasions it is evident that the people who are there are enjoying themselves.

On other occasions it seems like a very lonely kind of entertainment, it appears that the people using the machines are doing it out of habit and that the gaming machines are probably not helping their lifestyle at all.

We know that many of those sorts of people are spending far more money than they can afford and are being caught in a problem gambling situation, which is very unhelpful to them and their families. Some of the many support agencies that operate across Ballarat and across my electorate have been able to share with me examples of concerns they have about people they have been dealing with who have got themselves and their families into very dire circumstances.

Clearly we as members of Parliament have a responsibility to try to assist those people as best we can so that they do not get into that strife.

We know that it is not possible to stop them altogether, but the Labor government undertook a range of measures to try to assist venues to operate in a way that does not trap people. We tried to ensure that venues operated within a code of conduct that would perhaps identify people at risk and provide assistance to those people in a range of forms. One of the things we did as a government was to ensure that there was natural lighting in venues. We legislated for natural lighting in venues and for clocks to be in place so that people could not get caught up and not realise the passage of time, or perhaps be reminded of the passage of time while they were in those venues.

Of course there were a lot of other things done by way of working with venue operators, such as limiting the number of gaming machines and the positioning of gaming machines to try to ensure that they were not in places where people at risk were likely to be passing. There were kept to business district areas and so on as much as possible.

I also note that amongst the gaming machine venue operators we have had in my electorate some of them have thought twice about their operations. Recently the Buninyong Golf Club, which had been operating a number of gaming machines, decided that perhaps that was not something it wanted to continue to do by way of gaining income for the club and that perhaps it would rather not be in that space and not feel that it was putting some members of the Buninyong community and some of the people who came into the club at risk.

In terms of this legislation, where are we? We know that in the last sitting week of Parliament there was a protest out the front of Parliament House where members of the group had cardboard gaming machines for each electorate and indicated how much money had been spent in the last year in each electorate. I was able to go outside and talk to the people involved in that protest, and I collected the gaming machine for Ballarat East electorate. Again that highlighted the amount of money that is spent — some, as I indicate, by people who appear to be enjoying their activities, but clearly also some by people who unwittingly spend a lot more money than they should.

We have tried to put in place advertising that reminds people of the fact — and as a former maths teacher I also was in a position to remind people of this fact — that gaming and gambling, especially in electronic gaming machines, work on a system of probability whereby the more you gamble on those machines the more you will lose. Those venues have to make money, so the more you gamble, the probability is that you will lose more. Although people are excited by the short-term wins they get, the more they play the more they will be losing in those machines. You cannot win over time.

This government is introducing a precommitment system in this legislation.

It is using Intralot without having gone out to tender on this, which is very strange, considering the words of the former Minister for Gaming, the member for Malvern, who had before coming to government said that Intralot was unfit to run gaming venues or be involved in Victoria’s gaming system. We saw that in the early days of this government Intralot got the contract to oversee gaming machines and to be able to provide information on income to government. Now that has also been extended, so Intralot is going to be running the precommitment system.

We are concerned that the precommitment system is going to be based on a system of loyalty cards, so people will have the opportunity to put in their precommitment levels when they enter gaming venues, but the fact that they are attached to loyalty cards also seems to attract them to venues and maybe put the idea in their mind that it is easier to use those venues, so we have concerns about how this precommitment system will operate.

I certainly hope it proves to be successful. We know that there will be research on the effects of the precommitment system coming out through the Intralot information research system, but that is not going to be made publicly available automatically, which is a matter of concern. I think it ought to be publicly available so that the public, the government and the opposition can look at the outcome of the precommitment system and finetune it in the future. There are opportunities lost in this legislation, and I want to see more done to support people who have gambling problems in this state.