Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

Danny O’BRIEN, Vicki WARD, Cindy McLEISH, Jackson TAYLOR, Tim BULL, Luba GRIGOROVITCH, Emma KEALY, Michaela SETTLE, Jade BENHAM, Gary MAAS


Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Melissa Horne:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:07): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 and to give the opposition’s position on this legislation which has been introduced by the government. It is part of a suite of reforms that were announced in July of this year and to a large degree also follows up some of the reforms resulting from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. There are two main parts to the legislation: the changes to mandatory closing hours for venues with electronic gaming machines and the changes to the casino with respect to the timing of payment of winnings issues for mandatory carded play and also the issue of a manager for the casino in the event that a casino licence is surrendered, cancelled or suspended.

Another aspect of this legislation relates to the issue of downtime. With respect to the institution of mandatory carded play, that will need to be managed by the third-party operator, being Intralot at the moment. The legislation provides some guidance – some relief, if you like – in the event that that third-party operator has downtime or outages or technical issues that are beyond the capability of the casino or venue operators to manage. They will not be penalised for something beyond their control. Finally, there is the issue of a change to betting contingencies to allow the minister to prohibit wagering providers from offering bets on certain activities, including those outside Victoria. The current act already provides that power to the minister for activities within Victoria. This extends it to other jurisdictions as well, and I will go into more details on each of those throughout my contribution.

There is background to all of this, as I indicated. Although in the context of the bill, a 24-page bill, the issue of the mandatory closing hours for electronic gaming venues is literally two paragraphs – very brief – it is the substantive part of this legislation I think from a public perspective, given that many of the other issues are either minor or very restricted to the casino operations. The government announced on 16 July a series of gaming reforms, including this mandatory closure period between 4 am and 10 am for all venues except the casino, and I will come to that later. It also announced statewide mandatory precommitment and carded play and a reduction in load-up limits on gaming machines from $1000 now to $100 and reduced spin rates on gaming machines.

These reforms, it is fair to say, came out of the blue. They were not something that the sector was expecting. There had been very little indication from the government that there was to be significant reform in the gaming sector, indeed to the extent that prior to the election the government made no commitments whatsoever for the gaming sector and neither did we on the opposition side. Indeed the Age reported on 23 November last year with the headline ‘Labor, Libs pre-commit to pokies reform protection for pubs and clubs’. Now, I would not characterise it the same way that the Age has; I do not think it is necessarily about protection for pubs and clubs. It is about, though, providing certainty for an industry – and any industry. Indeed that article by Royce Millar and Josh Gordon contained the line:

In a September letter, Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne assured the clubs the government changes were limited to the casino.

And yet here we are on 16 July, not much more than six months after the election, and the government outlines something that is so dramatically different to what it said just before the election – quite considerable reforms.

Now, there is no doubt that gambling harm is a problem in our community, and there is no doubt that electronic gaming machines are a part of that harm. There is a serious problem with people addicted to poker machines who are losing lots of money – who are harming themselves, harming their families and harming their friends by spending too much money, often money that they do not have, on gambling machines. I support any efforts to address the level of problem gambling in Victoria.

Indeed the opposition was the coalition government in 2011 that set up the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, which, I might add, is to be wound up, effectively, by this government according to the budget papers this year. That, again, is part of these reforms. It was eventually announced and explained as to why there was only one year’s funding for the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation in the state budget. I asked questions at the time of the minister, and the minister indicated the future funding for the VRGF would be for future budgets. And then lo and behold, just a month later, the government comes out and announces, ‘Well, actually most of the role and regulation provided by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation will in fact be rolled into the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission’.

We, as I said, certainly support activities that reduce problem gambling, that reduce the harm that comes from gambling. I do raise a concern, though, that there is often a much, much bigger focus on gaming machines than there is on gambling harm full stop, because gambling harm comes in a whole range of types, whether it is people punting on races – horses, dogs, the trots – whether it is people playing the pokies or whether it is people punting online. There are, I think, very many numbers of ways that harm does occur. I am concerned that the government has introduced or announced these reforms in a context where (a) as I said, it had said before the election that it would not be making any changes to the gaming framework and (b) before that it had just entered into a 20-year licence arrangement with pubs and clubs for the electronic gaming machines.

There is a significant issue I think this raises of sovereign risk. The government has effectively entered into a contract with pubs and clubs for the provision of gaming licences and just a few short months later – in fact about a year later – has announced significant reforms that could have quite genuine impacts on revenue and impacts on the value of those licences and do expose the state, in my view, to a potential sovereign risk issue. Whether that goes anywhere and there are any legal challenges is not a question for me, it is obviously a question for those licensees, but I do know from talking to them that they are very concerned.

When I say ‘talking to them’, that is something that we on the opposition side do. I have certainly met with and spoken to the Alliance for Gambling Reform – there are a couple of gambling harm events this week that I will be attending – and I also talk to the industry. I talk regularly to the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and to Community Clubs Victoria (CCV) to understand their concerns and issues. It would appear that the government has not done that, because these reforms announced in July, including the subject of this bill, the mandatory closure periods, came as a complete shock. No-one got a heads-up on what the government was proposing here.

This is in a context that was a surprise to me. The context is, as members will be aware, that most members probably get invited – the Greens probably do not get invited – to the Australian Hotels Association annual drinks at the start of the parliamentary year, something that the former Premier was a regular attendee at. Certainly I have seen some ministers, probably not enough, at that event each year. It is an opportunity to mingle with pub owners and the hotel industry more broadly, and the former Premier was there regularly. The former Premier outlined his support for the pub sector repeatedly. He recognised the contribution that pubs make as a hub for their communities and the contribution they make particularly as employers, and he recognised the work that they do in the wider community with respect to sponsorship and support of their communities. So it was a surprise to me that that same Premier, Mr Andrews, then came out and announced these reforms with no consultation with the Australian Hotels Association, Community Clubs Victoria or indeed anyone, it seems.

I know the AHA and CCV have worked very well in being open with the government and opposition and all members of Parliament about their aims and their industry, and it is a significant industry. We caught up just recently with Clubs Victoria and some of their stats. They have 30,000 employees and 2.3 million members – if you put 2.3 million members into context, roughly one in three Victorians is a member of a club – and they give back $56 million a year in cash and in-kind donations, $127 million a year in in-kind labour and $805 million in free or subsidised facilities. Those facilities are things like RSLs, golf clubs and bowls clubs, where people have the opportunity to go to a club, to get some fellowship and to socialise. They might want to have a punt. The vast majority of people put a few dollars through a machine while they have a beer or a cup of coffee and socialise with their friends. Likewise, AHA members donate around $27 million a year to charities, contribute $4.5 billion to our gross state product and employ some 52,000 people. Between them those two provide over 80,000 jobs in the state. We have just heard the member for Narre Warren South talk about the importance of jobs. This is a sector that does provide a lot of jobs. Not all of them, of course, are related to gaming machines, because many of them do not have gaming machines, but certainly it is a key component.

I know the AHA works very hard to keep government members and ministers informed of their concerns and issues. Paddy O’Sullivan, the CEO, and Dave Canny, the president, have worked extremely hard to try and make sure the government understands the value that they provide, and likewise Community Clubs Victoria, Andrew Lloyd, Greg Roberts and all of their members, who play such an important role in the community. So it was a complete shock I am sure to them, as it was to me, when these reforms were wheeled out just seven or eight months after the government had gone to an election with a commitment to make no changes. It is probably a salutary lesson for any industry or business with this government to think that they have a stable environment – well, you can be thrown on the scrap heap at any given time. As I said, there is a need to ensure that we tackle harm, and the government has indeed announced these reforms.

I might add, while I am talking about consultation, the government announced the reforms on 16 July – and clearly, as I have indicated, no-one knew they were coming – and then said they were going to consult with industry. To that extent the industry received an email on 23 August that provided a bit of a framework, an outline, of how the government intended to consult with them on these reforms, and it contained a line that stuck in my head. It said:

The Department of Justice and Community Safety has compiled a consultation paper to assist with the early stages of policy development.

How do you assist with the early stages of policy development for a policy that has already been announced by the government? It is quite absurd to suggest that the government is now going to consult when it has already announced what it is going to do. I think that is a real concern about how this government goes about its business in dealing with industry, in dealing with any sector. Whether it is a commercial sector like this, whether it is a heavily licensed sector like this, heavily regulated, or whether it is simply the private sector, the commercial sector, the volunteer sector, you do wonder what sort of attitude the government is taking to these things when it can simply come out and change the rules midway through. As I said, there is a significant sovereign risk issue there.

To go to a little bit of the detail in this legislation, the mandatory closing hours issue I mentioned is literally two paragraphs and implements a mandatory 4 am to 10 am closure period. That is hard to argue with. I do not think too many of us could stand up in here or out in public and argue that it is really important that someone has the opportunity to be at a pokie machine at 7 am. There are exceptions of course. There are shiftworkers, there are people who work odd hours and there are insomniacs and all sorts of party animals that have different time lines and time arrangements than the rest of us. But I do think that there is a case for limiting the hours at a particular time, and the evidence does show that enforcing a break of some description like that will actually help those who need to get out of a venue and need to stop putting money through it – those with a serious problem who might be going for 10 or 12 hours at a time. It is probably unlikely that people are doing that, because our venues do tend to have a good, close watch on their customers. They have responsible gambling officers, and they are making sure that people are not overdoing it as best they can. But in a big venue setting a break is not a bad thing.

What I think though is quite contradictory and quite hypocritical of the government is the fact that these new hours will apply to everyone except the casino. Indeed in the second-reading speech the minister said that the government has ‘some of the strongest casino laws in the world’. Ironically this whole piece of legislation, when it comes to the mandatory closure periods, does not apply to the casino. We have seen for a long time that the casino has got special treatment from this government. There was a blind eye turned to what was going on at the casino, and I will turn in a moment to some of the other aspects of this legislation, which are continuing to tidy up the outcomes of the Finkelstein royal commission – a royal commission, I might remind the house, that really only happened because of the Bergin inquiry in New South Wales. That inquiry uncovered some atrocious behaviour by Crown Casino, behaviour that had been completely missed by the former Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, and this government was dragged kicking and screaming ultimately to establish that royal commission.

You will remember, Deputy Speaker, that there was some absolutely disgraceful behaviour found through that royal commission when it came to money laundering, when it came to junkets and when it came to criminal activity within the casino. Indeed Commissioner Finkelstein said:

… for many years Crown Melbourne had engaged in conduct that is, in a word, disgraceful. This is a convenient shorthand for describing conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative.

They are pretty strong words from a commissioner, a very respected former legal mind, and that was based on the evidence that was produced at that royal commission. As I said, I think it reflects pretty poorly on the government that it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to undertake that royal commission. It reflects pretty badly on the former VCGLR as the then regulator, who literally did not pick up any of it. I would hope that the new Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission will be doing a much better job.

That brings me to some of the amendments related to the casino. We have got effectively two parts to the casino legislation here: one is a new part 2A inserted into the principal act, the Casino Control Act 1991, which will clarify the powers of a manager who would be appointed in the event that a casino licence is suspended, cancelled or surrendered. The provisions for a manager have been in the act for a long time but have been amended through the last couple of pieces of legislation with respect to the royal commission findings, and this bill makes some further changes to that. They largely replicate the provisions in the existing act, but there are some modifications, largely to protect the interests of both the manager and the state, including in the event that there is an administrator or liquidator appointed to the casino or to the casino operator at the time that a manager is in place. They ensure the casino can continue to operate under a manager. It gives the manager some powers with respect to clear access to property, limits on third-party rights and matters such as shared services provided to the casino by non-casino parts of the business, such as housekeeping, car parking, security, waste disposal and the like. Effectively you have got Crown Towers and other aspects of the business where services are shared, so this bill tidies up some of that.

The second area relates to the timing of the new cashless gaming requirements and seeks to limit money laundering opportunities by capping payouts of winnings in cash. Basically the bill as it stands sets up two periods. There are some minor changes and some technical amendments, if you like, to how those payouts are handled between now and 1 December 2025 when the full mandatory requirements will come in on all machines to be played in the casino. There are further requirements that come in post 1 December 2025, and this bill clarifies exactly what that will be in clause 11 – that is, providing those interim requirements up until 1 December 2025, which do not include an ID requirement. Post 1 December 2025 there will be an ID requirement; people who are getting out more than $1000 in winnings will need to provide their identification. There will be limits on how it can be paid out. There will be certainly also a 24-hour limit if someone requests a payment by EFT. Those are the amendments to the casino.

I will just touch on the other things. I mentioned that Intralot currently has the role of the third-party service provider for gaming machines, and there is a clause giving the minister effectively the power in the event of an outage – ‘downtime’, as it is referred to. The casino cannot be held responsible for not implementing some of the carded play and precommitment arrangements if it is circumstances beyond their control, and we do not have any issue with that.

Finally, just while I am going through the other non-opening time issues – prohibited betting contingencies. The minister currently has power to prohibit wagering being offered on certain activities that occur that might be, to quote the second-reading speech, ‘out of step with community expectations’, such as children’s sport or amateur sport. This very minor amendment changes that from being for activities that occur in Victoria to ‘in Victoria or elsewhere’, recognising that of course Victorians can be punting on activities happening interstate or overseas. This will ensure that the minister can prohibit betting on certain activities. This has largely come from concern earlier in the year about bets being offered on the under-19 women’s cricket world cup, where you had 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds playing – so minors playing. I think the government needs to be reasonable and sensible on this and be cautious about what it prohibits betting on. There will be some circumstances where it is difficult to ensure clarity, and one of the wagering companies gave me the example of a 17-year-old playing at the Australian Open. It may not be clear the age of players at the tennis, for example, and there may not be any particular concern from the community about betting on a minor in that circumstance. I do remember Boris Becker was 17 when he won Wimbledon in about 1985. I guess all I would ask of the government is to do some consultation with the industry when it is making decisions on that sort of betting.

I will return now to the mandatory closing hours issue. I think there is general disquiet from the providers in the sector about this change. They are already limited to 20-hour operation – they cannot operate for more than 20 hours in a 24-hour period – but have had the ability to set their own opening times. Largely the government is responding. The second-reading speech indicates and the government has said publicly that it is concerned that there have been some venues effectively gaming the system – no pun intended – by staggering their hours and providing in the local area a 24-hour opening period so people could move from one venue to another and literally gamble 24 hours a day. I guess I would say that while we do not oppose legislation to address that, how much enforcement, how much regulatory activity did the government do to try and stop that from happening? Did it go and knock on doors and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got an obligation not to do this’? I am not sure that occurred before the government simply moved straight to the sledgehammer of bringing in legislation on this. Again, I do not think there is much argument for people to be playing pokies at 4 o’clock or 6 o’clock in the morning, but I do wonder whether the government looked at how it could talk to the industry about this before it actually brought in legislation, particularly in a circumstance where that legislation will not apply to the biggest gaming venue in the state, being Crown Casino.

I think it is particularly unfair that – given the history that I have outlined with the casino royal commission and so much of the reform that has been introduced in this state that has already been applied to Crown Casino in terms of mandatory precommitment, carded play and the like – it is now being enforced on a sector that has done nothing wrong. There was no evidence at the royal commission that the sector has been involved in the sort of behaviour that Crown was involved in. Particularly that is the case for venues who would be in direct competition with the casino – those venues in close proximity, predominantly in the city, the CBD, but with the casino being on the edge of the CBD, down into South Melbourne and Port Melbourne and that area as well. The opposition will be moving an amendment to the legislation, and under standing orders I wish to advise the house of the amendment to this bill and request that it be circulated.

Amendment circulated under standing orders.

Danny O’BRIEN: This amendment is to clause 26. As I said, there are literally only two paragraphs with respect to the gaming hours. Clause 26 inserts new section 3.5.28A(2):

This section does not apply to a venue operator who is a casino operator.

Our amendment adds the words ‘or in relation to an approved venue that is within 3 km of a casino’, effectively saying that those who are close by should not be disadvantaged by the fact that the government is exempting the casino from these mandatory closing hours. We do not think that is fair. If it is the view of the government that the casino is in some way a protected species because it is a significant venue and it is a tourism attraction, then that applies broadly to the area around it, in our view, broadly to the CBD. If we are going to be an international city, if we are going to be a place that welcomes people to come and socialise, to celebrate, to party, to drink, to gamble, to dance and to do all those things that a vibrant city offers at night, then it is not very fair that the rule only allows the casino to be open 24 hours and there is a mandatory closing period for gaming venues in the vicinity. Again, the maximum 20-hour rule would still apply for venues, but if they chose to remain open in the early hours of the morning when they are competing with the casino, they could do so under the amendment that we will move. I would hope for support here or in the other place for that amendment because it is a matter of fairness. People may ask why 3 kilometres. It is an arbitrary figure. Wherever you go, wherever you put a line, you are going to provide people on the edge of that line a disadvantage, but 3 kilometres is roughly a reasonable walking distance. It takes it to roughly the Albert Park beach, it takes it to Punt Road and it takes in all of the CBD and much of Carlton and North Melbourne. Those areas that are considered the CBD and the inner-city entertainment area would be exempt under these rules.

We are not opposing the legislation. I encourage the government to support our amendment, and I certainly encourage those in the other place to support it when the bill gets there. The government does not have a mandate for these reforms, so it should acknowledge the concerns of the industry. We in the opposition certainly are keen and committed to tackling problem gambling, but I think we need to get the balance right and make sure that we support the jobs and the industries that are crucial in this state as well.

Vicki WARD (Eltham – Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, Minister for Employment) (17:37): These are good amendments, and I congratulate the minister for her work. My community, among many communities across this state, has been vocal in wanting to see ongoing gambling reform, including gambling advertising reform, for some time. These amendments will take us another step closer to reducing the damage that gambling can cause to families and to communities. When there is a gambling addiction, it does not just rest with that one person; there is a ripple effect. It goes to their families, it goes to their close friends, it goes to how they live their life, it goes to how they are able to manage their job, it goes to their sleep patterns and it goes to so many things that cause challenges within our communities and that also cause challenges for governments. We need to have ongoing reforms to mitigate gambling harm as much as we can.

These reforms will improve the protection afforded to all Victorians that gamble. It is estimated that around about 330,000 Victorians experience harm because of gambling each year, and it costs Victoria an estimated $7 billion a year. That is a lot of money – $7 billion a year. We as a government have got a specific focus on helping those who experience harm, and these are sensible and necessary steps that we can take to prevent and reduce the harm that gambling can bring.

We know that gambling can be fun. I am not going to stand here as the fun police and say we cannot gamble, we should not gamble. It can be fun. I know that there are many people in this place and many people in this state who love to have a bet on the horses. The spring carnival is upon us, and I know that there are people who are having a ball going out on the weekend, putting on their glad rags, getting out there, having fun and having the odd bet, but this is not something that is affecting their day-to-day lives. This is an event. This is an occasion. This is something that they are doing as a social activity. It is not something that they are doing at 4 in the morning in a pokies venue with two other people and a cold cup of coffee.

Gambling harm and gambling addiction can be incredibly socially isolating, and what we are talking about as a government is problem gamblers and how we can help problem gamblers and how we can mitigate problem gambling. We know that gambling addiction can lead to significant financial distress, relationship issues and mental health concerns. This is a huge cost for the individual and for the wider community. Now, I am particularly happy and supportive in these amendments of the mandatory closure period between 4 am and 10 am. One element of this legislation that I think will make considerable change is the inability for gaming venues to roll through the closure of a venue. Venues have always had to close their gambling rooms for 4 hours a day, but they have – and I do mean this pun because I am talking to you, Deputy Speaker – gamed this rule.

Danny O’Brien: I already used that pun.

Vicki WARD: Yes, I know. But we know that the Deputy Speaker loves a good pun, and a repeated pun is not something that is beyond him.

Cindy McLeish: Pun, not punt?

Vicki WARD: Punt? No, pun. You may well like a punt as well, Deputy Speaker, but you do like a pun. It just shows that sometimes we can lack imagination in this place when we are using the same puns.

Gaming venues have acted like predators because they have deliberately created an environment where you can go from venue to venue to venue where one will always be open 24 hours of the day. Gaming venues have chosen their closing hours and of course married them to other surrounding venues so that opening hours roll around the clock, ensuring that at least one nearby venue is open when the other one is closed. For example, in seats such as St Albans, Footscray, Broadmeadows, Frankston, Oakleigh and Monbulk, venues stagger their opening hours to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to poker machines in pubs and clubs. It is not much better in Dandenong, in Melton, in Thomastown, in Northcote – and we have the wonderful member for Northcote here – in Richmond and just up the road from me in Bulleen, where patrons can gamble on a poker machine 23 hours a day.

This preys on vulnerable people. So one thing that is so important about this reform is the mandatory shutdown, which will give people the opportunity to stop and reassess their gambling activity, to slow down, to go home, to see their families and their pets, to reconnect, to not be on a roll, to have that break in play that can snap them out of that hyperfocus that they are in and to stop losing money. That is why these gambling places have kept themselves open – to not allow for that break in play to continue to generate revenue, and we know the way they generate revenue is through gambling loss. So ensuring these compulsory closing hours is a measure that gambling researchers say will help vulnerable people who are experiencing gambling harm.

This bill also makes important changes to stop harmful betting products being offered to Victorians. This change will give the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission the power to enforce bans on betting on events that are not in the interests of Victorians, even if those events occur outside the state or country. I heard the member for Gippsland South saying, ‘Well, what about the tennis? Boris Becker won it at 17.’ We have to ensure that there are regulations that stop gambling on our kids. When you are gambling on local soccer games of kids and when you are gambling on international events where there are kids playing, there is a problem with gambling. There is a problem with culture, and it is something that we need to stem. We have seen bookmakers offering bets on minors and amateur sports. ABC’s Four Corners revealed earlier this year that millions of dollars are bet on suburban soccer games in Australia every weekend. They highlighted a weekend in May where global bookmaker Bet365 was offering bets on 146 soccer games around Australia, including under-20 competitions in New South Wales and Western Australia where there were multiple 17-year-old players, including a player as young as 15.

Data scouts can be seen across matches in our suburbs sending live updates to bookmakers so bets can be taken across the world. Now, the Victorian Premier League has seen two major incidents over the past decade. In 2013 multiple players and coaches of Southern Stars Football Club were charged with sports corruption offences. An estimated $2 million is believed to have been connected with this operation. In 2017 a match between Dandenong Thunder and Melbourne City under-20s was investigated by police, and two men involved with Dandenong Thunder were issued match-fixing charges relating to orchestrating a better outcome.

In January the ABC reported that bets were being offered on the under-19 women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa. Almost half the Australian players were aged under 18, including players, again, of 15 years of age. This is clearly out of step with the expectations of our community. Our community expects that our kids are excluded – wants our kids to be excluded from gambling. They do not want our kids to be gambling. They do not want our kids to be understanding gambling odds, and they certainly do not want our kids to be the objects of gambling.

This is where we come to gambling advertising, which is, as you would know, Deputy Speaker, something I talk about regularly. I welcome the report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, which made 31 recommendations, including that the Australian government prohibit all online gaming inducements and inducement advertising and do so without delay. That is something that I know you are particularly interested in, Deputy Speaker. I hope that includes gaming as well – in terms of online games. They also recommended that the Australian government, with the cooperation of the states and territories, implement a cohesive ban on all forms of advertising for online gambling to be introduced in four phases over three years commencing immediately. I do encourage the federal government to get on with this type of activity – with banning the advertising that we are seeing on our TVs, on our phones, everywhere we go.

Peta Murphy, a member and the chair of the committee, has said that gambling advertising and simulated gambling through video games are grooming children and young people to gamble and encouraging riskier behaviour.

Members interjecting.

Vicki WARD: I agree with those behind me. She is a fantastic local member who has done incredible work with this committee, and it is work that will help to transform the way that we respond to gambling advertising. A 2016 study found that 75 per cent of children in Australia believe that betting is a normal part of any sport. I know, like you do Deputy Speaker, that that number will have grown since 2016. Gambling advertising is pervasive, as are the opening hours of gambling venues, so I fully support the amendments that have come through with this legislation, and I commend the amendments.

Cindy McLEISH (Eildon) (17:47): I rise too to make a contribution on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. This bill has had an interesting origin. It came out of the blue, you could say, because prior to the election the industry were under the impression that there were going to be no further changes in this area, and lo and behold in the middle of the year, in July, the then Premier Andrews and the minister made an announcement that there would be legislation and there would be a number of changes that would be brought forward. We see this as the first of those. The others are perhaps a lot more controversial, and it is interesting to note that when they announced these changes on 16 July, firstly, it was out of the blue, but secondly, they pretty well said this is what is going to happen, and now they are looking at doing the consultation. Now, for me, my view of consultation is you do the talking first. You seek the feedback before you write the legislation, before you see how things might work, in case there are some unintended consequences and some gremlins that you have not thought about because you have not actually done that consultation and sought that feedback in the first instance. I think it is exceptionally important that that work is done in the first instance, not as an ‘Oh gosh, we’d better that now that we’ve made these announcements’, because that is fraught with danger.

Having said that, this is the first tranche of the gaming industry reforms that have been announced, and what it includes is the introduction of mandatory closure periods for gaming machine areas – but not the Crown Casino; that is already dealt with – between 4 am and 10 am. It also amends provisions relating to the appointment of management of the casino should the licence operator be cancelled, suspended or surrendered. We would think that that is probably not going to happen, but we have had some pretty big issues in Australia that have led to the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. There have been some absolute issues and challenges with oversights and things not operating with the governance that should have been expected over an organisation as large as that. So whilst you would think it probably would not happen, never say never, because these sorts of things do happen from time to time.

As I said, these reforms came out of the blue. There are issues with problem gambling. A very small number of people are impacted by problem gambling, and I will talk about that later in my contribution, but in the main a lot of people do gamble very responsibly. The industry was taken by surprise here. There are pubs and clubs that had just entered a 20-year licence and sale period in 2022. When you enter a licence for that long – 10 years plus 10 years – you are expecting certainty. You are expecting to know what it is that you have entered, and when the goalposts begin to change you may re-evaluate what it is that you have entered into and the contractual agreements there. Whilst this bill is looking at altering the hours of operation and having mandatory closing hours between 4 am and 10 am, I think most people, in the main, would think that you do not have to have machines operating at 6 am. There may be reasons – there may be shiftworkers who like to wind down with this legitimate activity – but the information I have is that in particular areas people are able to move from one venue to another because they stagger the closing hours so that there is always somewhere open that they can go to to gamble. I do not think that anyone should lose too much sleep over changing those.

As I have mentioned, there was the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, and there were 33 recommendations. Part of the change here is about trying to address some of the money laundering. It is pretty difficult, I would imagine, to launder money through gaming machines. If you are putting $1000 in there, as a limit, to try and launder that money and you only press the button once or twice and then try and get your money that is cleaned up a little bit, that is a fairly painstaking process. I am not sure that altering the limits from $1000 down to $100 is going to make a huge difference.

Managing downtime – we do know that from time to time power outages do happen. Not every operation has a large generator to cope with those sorts of things. There are clauses to provide the minister with powers to make declarations with respect to those sorts of outages.

I do want to focus over the last few minutes on some issues with problem gambling. When the coalition was in government we set up the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, and that is due to close by 30 June next year. This is something I would really encourage the government to have a look at, because they commission a lot of research into gambling and gambling harm. One of the studies that I will refer to in a moment is a great example of perhaps why that should be in place.

Many people are able to gamble very effectively – not effectively as in winning but in managing the amount that they spend – and can control that and have a bit of fun in a social activity. But there are instances where it does get out of hand. I do recall quite a number of years ago – 20-odd years ago – a staff member that I had came to me and was absolutely shaking because she had found out that her mother was a gambler and had lost many thousands of dollars. When the family found out, they did not know what to do. It was out of the blue, and they were so worried and fearful that they would lose their house. It ended up being okay. They got the right assistance that they needed, and her mum was okay in the long term. But I did hear of another instance from a friend about one of her friends whose husband had a gambling problem and had pretty well lost the house but hid constantly the bank statements and any bill: ‘No, I’ll look after those bills. No, you don’t need to see it. I’ve got it.’ This person, the spouse, let that happen and found out way too late that they were in so much financial debt that it was very difficult to recover from it.

Not so long ago, earlier this year, I met with financial counsellors in the Yarra Valley at EACH in Yarra Junction, and they talked to me about some of the issues with gambling but also the link to domestic and family violence. One of the studies that I was very interested in that came through the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation was Recognition and Responses to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Gambler’s Help Services. They had done a qualitative study, and the research there was pretty interesting because it did note a lot of the issues that had been raised with me through those at EACH in the Yarra Valley. I just will mention that the amount of money that is there to fund support services is pretty light on. One person is funded for 0.3 through the VRGF, 1½ days, and that is not really enough for her to be able to do all the work that she needs to do. She gets similar funding to do family violence counselling through consumer affairs.

Some of the issues were picked up in this paper, which is from October 2022. It is worth the house noting that this is good work done by the VRGF and it needs to be continued. There is the hidden nature of gambling and domestic violence or intimate partner violence, and in situations when a partner has gambled, the stresses in those households are particularly high. We need to be mindful of that because at the same time we have a huge incidence of domestic and family violence in this state, and gambling does have a little role in that. To take away some of the support services and not adequately fund them I think is an oversight of the Allan Labor government, and I encourage them to take another look at that.

I have also heard stories of elder abuse where people are being abused and they have gone to try and escape their son or daughter and gone off to gamble instead. (Time expired)

Jackson TAYLOR (Bayswater) (17:57): It is a great pleasure to rise today in this place in support of this legislation, the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. From the outset can I please acknowledge the Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation for her fantastic work and not just her commitment to this piece of legislation before the house today but her amazing commitment to reducing gambling harm in our state and being a voice for sometimes those who are voiceless and those who have been through hell and back. My thanks are on the record to the minister, to her team and of course to the hardworking people in the Department of Justice and Community Safety for working to get this legislation before the house today.

Can I also just acknowledge one of the previous speakers on our side, the member for Eltham, the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence. A fantastic contribution was made by the minister, talking about her passion on this matter and the importance of reducing gambling harm not just in her community but right across Victoria. It was quite sad – and I know others will talk about this as well – to hear about the fact that at this point you can bet on under-age people in a range of different so-called betting markets. It is an absolute disgrace. We are better than that. I would like to think the industry is better than that. But if they are not, we will legislate and we will regulate because that is just not on. Nobody should be able to wager on the outcome of an event that includes someone as young as 15. I thank the minister for her remarks. It is nice to hear from across the aisle a great deal of bipartisanship on the importance of legislating and continuing our work to reduce gambling harm. This legislation absolutely is another fantastic step in the direction of doing exactly that.

We know that this bill will amend the Casino Control Act 1991(CCA) and the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 (GRA) to deliver gambling harm reforms and to improve the implementation of recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, which has been well detailed even today but also in other forms of legislation. The bill will amend the CCA to allow the payment of winnings provisions to commence following the introduction of mandatory carded play. It will clarify that the casino operator is not liable for failures in the precommitment system that occur during declared downtime periods and will strengthen statutory management arrangements where a casino licence is cancelled, suspended or surrendered. The bill will amend the GRA to prohibit gaming venues from providing 24-hour gaming, a significant feature of this legislation that is honouring a commitment we made back in July. It will extend the offences relating to betting on a contingency to activities outside of Victoria and will of course amend the Casino (Management Agreement) Act 1993 to make consequential amendments following recent reforms.

We know that earlier this year in July the Victorian government announced what I absolutely believe is Australia’s most significant package of gambling reforms. These reforms will absolutely improve the protections afforded to all Victorians that gamble, with a specific focus on helping those who experience harm. Just in brief, I think it is important to acknowledge some of the detail of those announcements made in July when we announced our significant, sweeping new reforms. Those reforms were to reduce gambling harm at venues with electronic gaming machines across the state. We know that those reforms included that all EGMs in Victoria will require mandatory precommitment limits, carded play and load-up limits, which will help to determine how much money an individual can put into an EGM at a time. That will be capped at $100, down from the current limit of $1000. Mandatory precommitment, carded play and load-up limits will be introduced subject of course to thorough consultation. Today as part of this legislation we know that by mid-2024 mandatory closure periods will be enforced for all gaming machine areas in a venue, except at the casino, between 4 am and 10 am. The government will also make it mandatory for all new EGMs to spin at a rate of 3 seconds per game, importantly slowing the pace of the game down and limiting the amount that can be lost so people can sort of take a breath, collect themselves and work out if they really want to keep gambling.

I am absolutely honoured to speak on this bill, which will deliver on the first of these reforms and in a number of other important areas to reduce gambling harm. It comes during Gambling Harm Awareness Week, a week to reflect and to make sure we are continuing the progress of this Allan Labor government’s fantastic work in reducing gambling harm, because we know that for some gambling is not just about fun, it is not just activity, it can absolutely be an addiction which does cause serious harm. These reforms are sensible, they are proportionate and they are necessary to prevent and reduce harm from gambling in our community, because we know that gambling harm is not just limited to the individual doing the gambling; these harmful behaviours hurt families and loved ones. I know that all too well from my experience growing up in Dandenong, and not just from my own personal experiences. I went to school in what would be considered socially disadvantaged communities, attending Dandenong Primary and Dandenong High School, and I had mates who had families that went without and did not go on holidays. Those are simple luxuries in life one would think they could enjoy, but they did not know how they were going to make ends meet and put food on the table.

I think society, Victoria and our nation have come a long way since then – not all of that positive. Obviously online betting and some of the other initiatives in the gambling space make it hard to keep up, but certainly growing up I learned very early an appreciation for the impact that gambling can have on families. Now I represent the Knox community, and Knox, like any other municipality, loses millions of dollars per year in just financial terms. The impacts on family, mental health and physical health are often not as easy to quantify, but they are certainly just as significant for many families. We know it is estimated that around 330,000 Victorians experience harm because of gambling each year – that is each year – and it costs Victoria an estimated $7 billion, and 330,000 is 5 per cent of Victorians each year, a truly sad and profound number. We know that this leads, as I said, to significant financial distress, relationship issues and mental health issues.

In one of my other roles before coming to this place, as a police officer, part of our family violence reporting was to understand if gambling was a factor in family violence, and more often than not, sadly, gambling was certainly a part of it. So we know the serious and sad impact that gambling can have on the family as well as increasing the chances of family violence. That is another reason why we must recommit ourselves not just to this legislation but to further improvements in reducing gambling harm. We will do that through of course this legislation. That will make sure that all poker machines outside the casino are shut off between 4 am and 10 am. As has been detailed previously by other speakers, we know that up until now venues have had to close their gaming room for 4 hours, but it has sort of been up to them to choose when those hours are. We know that this has led to an effect of venues staggering their opening hours to provide 24-hour access to gambling, which is just unbelievable. This behaviour is widespread, and it cannot be left to go unchecked. I think it is a really important reform this Parliament is seeking to embark on to make sure that we never let it happen again, because across one-third of the state, poker machines are available 22 hours of the day or more, which is just devastating. The impact of this is felt deep in our suburbs – in Knox, in my community where I grew up in Dandenong – and it is absolutely reflected in Victoria’s gambling losses. This is a real problem.

Some of the other reforms are that we are extending contingency offences to interstate gaming providers. We are also strengthening the casino manager provisions. We are clarifying payment-of-winnings provisions, and of course there are a range of other reforms that this legislation commits to. I thank the minister for her work and the commitment of this Allan Labor government, and I support this bill and commend it to the house.

Tim BULL (Gippsland East) (18:07): It is a pleasure to rise and make a contribution on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. We are led to believe that this will be the first of a couple of tranches of industry reforms – announced, I think, in the middle of this year – that will be coming into play. The introduction of mandatory closure periods for gaming machine areas is probably the key element of this tranche of legislation – other than Crown Casino, I might add – and those hours impacted are between 4 am and 10 am.

Now, I want to focus if I may for a little while – because there will be issues that have been earmarked that are likely to come in in the second tranche of amendments that are to be made. I will not try and forecast what will be in that legislation, but what I want to say here is the timing of some of these changes that are being proposed is not quite right when you look at the lay of the land. It was less than a year ago – and our lead speaker on this bill may have provided this commentary – that the government entered into arrangements with pubs and clubs on electronic gaming machines. They negotiated financial outcomes that look at really the next 20 years – 10 years by 10 years – and then within 12 months of those negotiations taking place on electronic gaming machines the government came in and changed the goalposts. What they have done is they have set parameters for the pubs and clubs to negotiate on, and those parameters have resulted in them working out their business models, working out what they were prepared to pay. They went through long meetings. They met with their own boards, their own committees, and they came up with what they were prepared to pay for gaming machines. And then it got changed. Within 12 months we hear of proposed changes, not only changes around opening times but other changes mooted to be legislated early next year.

How can you as a government negotiate in good faith around gaming machine licences and then within 12 months move the goalposts? It is not right. Governments of the day – this goes for governments in all jurisdictions in Australia – and not just governments but parliaments, need to have at the forefront of our minds the harms gambling can cause within our communities. They have certainly been very, very well documented. They are very, very real, as I am sure we have all seen through our electorate offices with people coming in who have been impacted by these changes. But the government needs to be made aware that, having entered into negotiations and licences having been allocated, it cannot make a raft of changes that impact on the bottom line of those that have been successful in obtaining machines. The second tranche of reform that we are told is coming in after Christmas really, really needs to consider this because, as has been mooted by members of the government and the minister in a public announcement, there are changes that are proposed that could have an impact on the bottom line of a lot of our pubs and clubs. Of particular concern are the suggested mandatory precommitment and carded play – I think the shadow minister, our lead speaker, covered off on that – and the reduction in load-up limits from $1000 to $100 and also reduced spin rates.

Without going into the merits of these actions and the impact that they will potentially positively have in relation to problem gambling, all these mooted changes should have been laid on the table before negotiations on gaming machines were entered into. The one that has a little bit of contention in this tranche of legislative amendments is the operating hours. I certainly support the member for Gippsland South’s amendment relating to opening hours, because that will ease the impact on those venues that are immediately around Crown Casino and indeed competing with it, but it is a position that we should not have been in in the first place.

We are told mandatory carded play and other reforms that have the potential to impact on those entities that negotiated in good faith are now the subject of ‘new engagement’ in relation to the government. I would certainly hope they are. As part of this engagement process I have no doubt that our pubs and clubs sector in Victoria will raise the concerns that I have just raised in relation to the negotiations in good faith and then having decisions made that will potentially significantly impact on their bottom lines. I hope this engagement results in dropping some of these changes, delaying some of these changes or, if indeed the changes are going ahead, paying some compensation to those entities that are impacted by the changes that are being made. It is fair to say that these reforms came out of the blue; they were certainly not expected. It was probably in the pipeline for some time, but I am assuming that the government went through its negotiating process around licences and thought, ‘We’d better not make these changes until after the election, because we don’t want to risk a campaign being run against us by the pubs and clubs of Victoria’, so this bill has come in within 12 months of the government being re-elected.

The government changes also need to take into consideration not making New South Wales a more attractive proposition for those who like to have a little flutter. Despite gambling problems being an ongoing and constant issue in our community, we need to be aware that there are many who love to have a gamble and there are many who can afford to have a gamble. They have worked hard all their lives and this is their chosen social pastime – to get out with a few of their mates and put a few dollars through the poker machines. I certainly do not want to see any changes in this state that will make New South Wales a more attractive option because social gamblers have to go through a process in Victoria that they do not have to go through in New South Wales. For instance, Lakes Entrance is a big tourist town in my electorate. I do not want people who are going on holidays – and a lot of people only put money through the pokies when they go on holidays, even though they can probably do it around the corner – having to sign up and provide all their personal information in Victoria when they do not have to in New South Wales. What they will do is they will drive over the border to Merimbula. They will say, ‘We’re not going to be fussed or bothered with all that stuff.’ I mean, imagine if you were in Echuca–Moama or imagine if you were in Albury–Wodonga, but that will be an issue in Lakes Entrance. A lot of people toss up whether they are going to come to Lakes Entrance on holidays or whether they are going to stay in the car for a few extra hours and go to Merimbula once they are on the road. Let us not put that hurdle in place that they drive through areas like mine to go interstate because it is going to be a bit easier to for them to have a casual flutter. It is the casual gamblers that will be mainly impacted by this.

Having said that, there is certainly one element of the bill I want to mention before I finish that I strongly support. That is the amendment to allow the minister to prohibit wagering firms from offering or taking bets on certain activities not occurring in Victoria. They have had that option in Victoria, but now the act will give them the power to limit betting on certain events either in Victoria or elsewhere – I think that is the terminology that is being proposed in this bill. We do know that change was stimulated from reports of some gambling agencies offering markets on the Women’s Under-19 T20 Cricket World Cup, which indeed included a number of players who were minors. It is inappropriate that we are having betting markets on events that do involve players who are certainly under-age. That should not be allowed, and that is something that I certainly support.

I just reiterate before finishing that we know problem gambling is an issue in our community. We do need to take steps. I have no issue with that whatsoever. My concern, probably more so with the legislation that is potentially coming rather than this, is the sector was not advised of these changes when they negotiated in good faith on gaming licences and the value of them. And I also do not want to see changes made that disadvantage those who genuinely want a flutter, can afford to have a flutter and want to have a flutter with their friends, so they go over the border interstate and do not spend their money in Victoria. The parlous state of our finances in this state means that we need as much economic stimulus as we can possibly get at the current time, and we do not want to provide an incentive for people to spend their dollars in New South Wales. I fear that that is a potential outcome.

Luba GRIGOROVITCH (Kororoit) (18:17): Unlike the speaker before me I do not fear much at all apart from the fact that this reform will actually do good for Victorians. I am really proud to be standing here and speaking to this bill that is before us, because I know that it will help many, many Victorians. Gambling harms too many families, and I have seen the effects of gambling firsthand. It is awful and it ruins families, and that is the reality. In my electorate of Kororoit we have 5.66 poker machines per 1000 adults. Kororoit is the number one for pokie expenditure in the state. Literally $350,000 is spent in Kororoit per day on poker machines. We need to reduce gambling harm, and I am pleased to support this bill because I know what it is hoping to achieve.

Now, the Shadow Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation in his remarks has questioned why the casino is different. The answer is quite simple. Unlike in pubs and clubs, there are limits on the time that a patron can play before taking a break. The code of conduct requires that patrons of the casino must take a break in play. A patron of the casino cannot play for more than 36 hours a week. A patron of the casino cannot play for more than 12 hours a day, and a patron of the casino cannot play for more than 3 hours without a 15-minute break. These rules do not apply for pubs and clubs, so I hope that the member is listening to that.

Secondly, from December of this year mandatory precommitment and carded will be implemented on poker machines in the casino. This means that if a patron wishes to play a machine, they must set the amount which they are willing to lose. This also does not apply to pubs and clubs.

Thirdly, the casino is subject to extraordinary levels of regulatory oversight. The regulator has a dedicated team that focuses just on the casino and is based in the casino. This level of oversight is warranted, but it does not apply to pubs and clubs.

We know that ease and convenience of going to another location to gamble causes harm, and that is what this bill will address. I note that the member for Gippsland East spoke about potentially inconveniencing casual gamblers. I cannot even fathom that: inconveniencing casual gamblers. It is just something I cannot believe someone would say. Also to refer to gamblers as ‘having a little flutter’ – it ruins people’s lives and ruins people’s families, and it is something that we as politicians need to recognise and try to get changed, so I hope that we do have full support for this bill.

As I have just alluded to, I believe that gambling reform in Victoria still needs to go much, much further, and it needs to get to the root of the problem. We need serious and permanent measures to stamp out the scourge of problem gambling in our community, and these measures need to be designed in consultation with people with lived experiences of problem gambling and harm reduction advocates. It is estimated that 330,000 Victorians experience harm related to gambling every year. Just last week the Alliance for Gambling Reform reported that losses to poker machines in Australia have surged to a staggering all-time high of $14.54 billion. Victoria suffered an increase of 12 per cent in losses to pokies, or $3,021,644,869 in losses. That is how much Victorians lost. Australians already lose more to poker machines per capita than any other country in the world – in the world. I would not refer to that as a little flutter; I would refer to that as a major problem.

The impact of problem gambling on our communities is devastating. It stems way beyond financial loss. It leads to family violence and family breakdown and to mental and physical health issues as well as alcohol and substance abuse. We have known this for decades, but we have not done much about it. This bill is addressing the issues and doing something now. Recent research suggests that gambling could be responsible for up to 20 per cent of suicides in Australia. As I have said in this place before and alluded to earlier, in my seat of Kororoit, Brimbank LGA suffered the worst total losses to electronic gaming machines out of any LGA in Victoria in the 2021–22 financial year, with $128 million lost, while Melton LGA in Kororoit ranked number 16 in total losses, with $68 million lost to pokies. This is something that the member for Melton and I have discussed on a number of occasions, and it is not okay. Change needs to be made.

We believe that urgent reform to tackle problem gambling needs to continue to go much further, and it needs to happen in the lifetime of this Victorian Labor government. In saying that, legislation like the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, which is before us today, is making a good start. On 16 July the then Andrews Labor government announced Australia’s most significant package of gambling reforms, and I want to congratulate Minister Horne for her hard work and the team that were with her. This followed on from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. These reforms, which are being carried out by the now Allan Labor government, will improve the protections afforded to all Victorians that gamble, with a specific focus on helping those who experience harm.

The bill delivers on the first of these reforms. This legislation will make sure that all poker machines outside of the casino are shut off between 4 am and 10 am. Up until now venues have had to close their gaming rooms for 4 hours, but it has been up to them to choose when those hours are. This has led to venues staggering their opening hours to provide 24-hour access to gambling in pubs and clubs. This opportunistic behaviour is widespread. I proudly sit on the VRGF, the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, and I have heard firsthand from people who have actually hopped from club to club. It is not okay. Across one-third of the state poker machines are available 22 hours of the day or more. The impact of this is felt deeply in our suburbs and especially in my electorate of Kororoit. We know from data which has been collected by the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission, the VGCCC, that when venues stagger their opening hours, patrons move to nearby venues to continue gambling, and the research shows that gambling late at night is strongly associated with gambling harm. A mandatory shutdown between 4 am and 10 am will help to give people the opportunity to stop and reassess their gambling. These breaks in play are important, and this is a measure that gambling researchers say will help vulnerable people who are experiencing gambling harm.

This bill also makes important changes to stop harmful betting products being offered to Victorians. This change will give the VGCCC the power to enforce bans on betting on events that are not in the interests of Victorians, even if these events occur outside of the state or country. We have seen bookmakers offering bets on minors in amateur sports. As was mentioned by the member for Melton earlier, betting on players as young as 15 years of age is simply not okay. Likewise, we also know that bets are also being offered on low-tier amateur sports, which not only is harmful but also presents a serious integrity risk. Most of these wagering services providers are licensed outside of Victoria, with many of these events also occurring outside of Victoria. This legislative change will ensure betting practices that are not in line with community expectations cannot be offered to Victorians.

This bill also makes several changes to improve the implementation of the recommendations of the royal commission. The royal commission found Crown Melbourne unsuitable to hold the Melbourne casino licence as it engaged in illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative conduct but that the immediate cancellations of Crown’s licence would cause considerable harm to the Victorian economy and innocent third parties. In response, this government put the casino under the management of a special manager and provided for the automatic cancellation of Crown Melbourne’s licence unless the VGCCC is clearly satisfied that Crown is suitable to continue operating the Melbourne casino after a two-year period of review. As we move towards the gambling regulator’s decision on the suitability of the casino operator, we need to ensure that they have the tools at their disposal if the licence is not returned. This bill is not an indication of the VGCCC’s decision. The independent gambling regulator will make this decision by themselves. This bill will, however, ensure that the casino is able to keep operating if the current or a future casino licence is cancelled, suspended or surrendered. Importantly, it includes provisions to allow a casino manager to deal with casino property and provide the manager with access to shared services across the casino complex.

Amendments passed in Victoria last year restricted the payment of cash winnings to a maximum of $1000 in a 24-hour period. To improve the workings of these reforms, the bill will amend the payment of winning provisions and definitions so that they commence at the same time as carded players on all games at the casino, including table games. Labor is doing all of this for the courageous advocates who have generously shared their experiences of gambling harm and to help our vulnerable communities. I support the bill, and I hope everyone does.

Emma KEALY (Lowan) (18:27): I rise today to speak on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. As we know, and as earlier contributions have rightly pointed out, there are people within the community who have serious issues when it comes to their ability to know when enough is enough; when they are able to recognise that their gambling has turned from something that is fun to do every so often to something that is costing individuals and families more and more money to the point where people are having significant impacts on their own mental health; where there are significant impacts on families and livelihoods; and particularly when there is secrecy involved. It can put an enormous amount of pressure particularly on families but also on individuals when they get to that recognition point, that ‘I cannot control my ability to choose whether I want to gamble or not, whether I want to put a certain amount into a poker machine or not’, as we are talking about in this instance. They are not making rational decisions about where money from their income is going in their family home. All too often we have heard of horrific stories, and most members in this place would have stories where there has been a family impacted in a way that simply shows that problem gambling is a problem for more than just the individuals who are in front of the machine or putting a bet on. It is something that impacts on many, many people.

I would like to counterbalance that with the difficult line that government and I think all MPs and decision-makers have to find, which is: how do we ensure that if you earn money and if you want to put 10 bucks through the pokies once every year you still have the right to be able to do that and have the freedom to be able to do that? That is an incredibly difficult line to get right, because for the people who we do not catch who do have an addictive personality or who do become addicted to gaming or gambling, the outcome is catastrophic. But you need to balance that against the vast majority who do gamble responsibly, who do use gaming machines appropriately, and while I do recognise that within this legislation that is before the house today it is making some steps towards addressing a certain element, there are other aspects that need to be considered as well.

I would like to reference the consultation paper that the government announced on 16 July, which put forward a number of proposals in regard to managing gaming and gambling differently in the state of Victoria. There are elements in this, as of course we see in the legislation before us today, which is the first tranche of changes in relation to that consultation paper, and to be quite honest the biggest change is around the mandatory closing periods. In my electorate of Lowan I have spoken to local pubs and clubs that are gaming venues, and they have no concerns about this. In fact, it does not really impact on them. They are not open during those hours in any case, so this legislation is not controversial by any means at all. It is very interesting when you are speaking to these gaming venues, because they really do take their role as a balanced entertainment venue versus making sure people are safe and identifying if they are getting to that element where there are gambling harms and they may be a risk to themselves or harming their family inappropriately, and trying to do their best to step up where that is appropriate. In my view these gaming operators are doing an exceptional job in my electorate. They speak with quite a lot of passion about people who have faced gambling harms in their own organisation – sometimes even their own staff have been involved in that – but they are doing all they can to participate and ensure that people are kept safe while enjoying the entertainment aspects of gaming.

But what has rightly been raised with me is that pokies are just one form of gambling and gaming. Even through the mandatory closure period, while it will have some impact in the metropolitan areas, and that is something that has been raised by other members today, where there is maybe a higher density of gaming operators and where there has been an attempt to shift opening and closing hours to ensure there is 24-hour service, we live in a world where there are so many other avenues to place a bet or to gamble, to get that thrill of putting money on and taking a risk that you might win something and get something out of it the end of the day, that this only hits a very, very small market. We all know on every single phone you can download any number of gaming-like apps where you can put real money on that. That is not controlled by hours of service. That is not controlled by any of the proposed changes through the government’s consultation paper. So while this is one step forward, it is a small step forward and only targeting pubs and clubs, and there is an aspect of it here as well of course which addresses the casino.

There are aspects of the consultation paper that are of great concern to pubs and clubs. As I said, there is no concern in my local area around the mandatory closing periods; however, there are other concerns, and some of that is just around whether it will hit the mark or not and whether it will simply turn people away from a gaming environment, where there are staff who are trained up to identify problem gaming and gambling, where there are staff who are able to provide direct support and help people link in with addiction support services, and instead shift people into perhaps an environment where they are by themselves, there is not a support network around them and they are able to gamble unlimited amounts online, which is a massive growth area for gambling which impacts not just our local area of Victoria but is something that you can of course access internationally as well.

Some of the key concerns are around the YourPlay system turning from a voluntary to a mandatory scheme. There is a real concern that if government is tracking when they are placing their bets and what they are putting their money on that information could be used in a way that was not intended and was not part of the scheme that was put forward to them, and that people would therefore be pushed out of these types of gaming venues and be pushed into other areas which are not so heavily monitored by the government.

There is also a significant concern around the limits, particularly how they will work in practice. For example, if you put 100 bucks into a machine and you have a big win and you have got $1000, do you have to continue to spend that money in that same pokie machine? Can you withdraw it and put into another machine? Is it seen as the same gambling opportunity or situation or is it seen as different circumstances? Is that sort of ticket-in, ticket-out system seen as cash? Is it the initial investment? Is it follow-up? How will that work? I know that these are things that are not going to take place before July 2024, but these are concerns that are really having a big impact on what people in the pubs and clubs environment are thinking about and talking about at the moment.

Just going back to YourPlay for a moment, we know that YourPlay has been voluntary, and there has been limited uptake of it. That is because for the most part people do not think that they are problem gamblers, and for the most part they are not problem gamblers. To have Big Brother looking over your shoulder for a precommitment which is set at a certain amount treats everyone in exactly the same way, but, as we know, everyone has a different disposable income. I am not saying it should be one thing or another, but we have to get that line right to make sure we are minimising gambling harms and the associated harm around that, whether it is impact on families or mental health – suicide rates, as we know, are enormously high through some of these gambling harms. Family violence comes into it as well. There are so many negative impacts when you see those extreme levels of gambling addiction and gambling harm, but we also have the vast majority of people who see it as a way to get out of the house. They see people that they may not see otherwise. It is a form of entertainment, and we need to look at that and make sure we get the balance right in terms of the ability and the freedom of Victorians to spend their money that they have earned in a way that they see fit versus making sure we have got a controlled environment for problem gamblers. As I mentioned, we need to make sure that we get it right in terms of not inadvertently pushing people out of a secure environment and into an isolated environment, which may just exacerbate the problems.

The member for Gippsland South has put forward an amendment to ensure a fairer arrangement in relation to approved venues in operation around the casino. I strongly support the member for Gippsland South’s amendment, and I look forward to listening to further debate on this legislation.

Michaela SETTLE (Eureka) (18:38): I am delighted to stand and speak on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. On 16 July the previous Premier and the wonderful Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation announced landmark gambling reforms. Many people in this house will know that gambling reform is an issue that is incredibly close to my heart. I have spoken many times on the harms of gambling, and I will continue to do that. When these reforms were announced I had never been prouder this government, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge the commitment and work that the minister has put into these reforms. I am forever grateful for her absolute commitment to reducing gambling harm.

Martha Haylett: Hear, hear!

Michaela SETTLE: Indeed, hear, hear! Before I go on, I would just like to address some of the comments from the other side. This is something I am passionate about, and it absolutely grinds my gears when I hear the hypocrisy coming from the other side. They are preaching at us on the one hand that we should be mindful of gambling harm while on the other they are being cheerleaders for the pokies industry. The member for Lowan said that we are concentrating here on pokies and what about online gambling. I do not know if she is aware, but online gambling sits within the federal arena. It is not something we can work with, which is why we are not dealing with it in this bill. The member for Eildon is either disingenuous or utterly ill informed, because she went on to tell us –

Darren Cheeseman interjected.

Michaela SETTLE: Yes, probably both. She went on to tell us that the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation financial counselling service is gone. That is not true. Financial counselling services continue to be provided to people who have gambling issues. I know Acting Speaker Addison is as proud as I am of Child and Family Services and all the work that they do in providing that financial support. It would be nice if those on the other side stood with Victorian people instead of the industry, a business.

Now, the member for Gippsland South suggested that this government had no mandate. Well, let us just be very clear about this: the opinion of Victorians is clear. The Age reported on a Resolve poll that was done in September which showed that the majority of Victorians support mandatory precommitment limits and carded play on all Victorian poker machines – so that is people of all wages. There seems to be a suggestion from the other side that we need to worry about mandatory precommitment depending on someone’s wage. It sounds a lot like the sneakers comments that we know from the other side. But the survey by Resolve, conducted exclusively for the Age, revealed that 57 per cent of respondents backed the pokies crackdown. So while the member for Gippsland South says that we do not have a mandate, I would say that the election was that mandate and Victorians stand with us in wanting to do something in this space.

Many people have spoken already about the harm that gambling causes; 330,000 Victorians experience harm as a result of gambling each year, costing Victoria around $7 billion annually. The Alliance for Gambling Reform did a study recently which showed that poker machine losses in clubs across five states last financial year surged by $14 billion. Victoria thankfully had one of the lower increases, though it did show an increase. What I really want to say here is that these figures are horrifying – we all know how horrifying they are – but to some of us they are much, much more than figures. To me it is the devastation of my family. To me it is having to look my sons in the eyes and tell them that I am leaving Daddy. It is much more than figures. I would ask that while those on the other side sweat and worry about the income of large corporations, perhaps if they spent a bit more time thinking about Victorians, thinking about Victorian families, then they might even have a hope of doing a little better.

With this bill, we are looking at what is going to be the first tranche. Those on the side of the member for Lowan seemed to think that this was a fearful thing that was to come upon us, all of these new reforms. For me those sweeping reforms were just extraordinary. As I said earlier, I have never been so proud. Of course there are the mandatory closure periods, which will come into this bill, but there is also a reduction of load-up limits from $1000 to $100 which will come into play, and there is also the adjusting of spin rates. They are things for further down the track. We are doing lots of consultation at the moment about that, but what we are bringing into legislation today is around mandatory closing. It is interesting that those on the other side think that this is going to cost us thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. What we have at the moment is a system where there is a mandatory closing of hours but not specified hours. I do agree that this legislation increases that closing by 2 hours, but ostensibly it is the same. It just fixes those times. So I suppose what they are talking about on the other side is a loss of income for 2 hours.

Now, a long, long time ago, in my wilder youth, I remember visiting a place called the Taxi Club in Sydney. The Taxi Club was open 24 hours a day. I remember the first time I went there being absolutely horrified that people were there gambling at that hour – I was being much more civilised in drinking. But I guess what has to be said in this space is that nobody is recreationally gambling at 4 am. For those on the other side the member for Lowan is like, ‘Oh, you know, some people want to do this, this is fun and this is their right’. Well, sure, then they can do it at some reasonable hour. I would ask her to question if she knows anyone who is having fun and is in a recreational environment at 4 or 5 am in front of a pokie. I very much doubt that there is much recreation involved there. They also seem to be fixated that it is going to change the jurisdiction and it is going to be so much worse for the clubs and pubs in Victoria. Well, I would point out that New South Wales already has the mandatory closing period with the same hours so this in fact brings us into line with New South Wales and South Australia. On this sort of panic that everyone is going to cross the borders, they have got quite a few borders to cross before they get anywhere. Certainly in my electorate if someone is driving to cross the borders to continue gambling – the reason why we are instituting this is that it is about trying to take a break – to get from Ballarat to the border is a good 4 or 5 hours, and that will give you the same break.

The reason why it is important to have that break is we talk about people being in the zone, and as I said to you – I am very open about this – I know what the zone looks like. I have told this story before, but I remember saying to my ex, ‘When you were raiding the ATM, did you not think of me and the kids?’ And look, he is a good bloke. He is a good dad. He said, ‘No, I wasn’t. You’re not there, you’re in a zone.’ He did not think about us – and he did love us; that is not what was going on there. Addiction is a mental health issue and a really bad space. What these mandatory closing hours do is give you a chance. It gives you a chance to go home to your wife and kids, to go home and think again about whether you want to be there, and that is what is so important about this legislation. It gives people a break to try and collect themselves, to get out of that zone. For those on the other side to be so concerned about a potential loss of income for 2 hours at 4 in the morning over families – families need the gambler to come home. They have got to wrap their arms around them and make sure they do not do it again.

It is Gambling Harm Awareness Week. The theme is ‘Talk. Share. Support.’ If there is anyone out there who has gambling issues, just talk to someone. Talk to your best mate. Talk to someone in the street. Get it out there. There is no stigma. This government supports you and we will continue to support you. Yes, there are counselling services, and this bill will go further in supporting you. So in this week in particular, if you are concerned about your gambling, reach out to someone. That is how we make the big difference. Again I just have to say thank you to the minister. This is about changing families’ lives.

Jade BENHAM (Mildura) (18:47): It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. When this was announced on 16 July, this series of gambling reforms, that is the length of time that I like to do some stakeholder consultation. It gives me plenty of time, because when venue managers contact me or committees of community clubs contact me with concerns – or with questions rather than concerns – there is plenty of time to meet with them, sit down and work through all of those, which I have done. I like to do stakeholder consultation by myself. There is nothing better than firsthand information, as far as I am concerned. If you can sit down and have a conversation with someone, it serves the entire cause better, so I have done that over the last month or so. I have sat down and spoken with the management committees of the Mildura Working Man’s Club, the Gateway hotel and the Robinvale Golf Club. These smaller clubs that are situated right on the border are concerned only because they are community-owned clubs that are owned by their members and governed by their members, with New South Wales clubs across the other side. That is more of a concern for those entities – when the club across the river in New South Wales have very lax rules and very different rules. What would be great would be if New South Wales would come along and be consistent in the changes. We are all about reducing harm as far as gambling goes, but when the rules are not consistent on both sides of the river and when it is only a 5- or 6-minute drive away, that is a real concern.

But some other points were made. Sitting down speaking to Gordon, who is the CEO of the Gateway hotel in Mildura – sometimes some real points of common sense come out of these conversations – one thing that he brought up was to get tougher on enforcing gaming licences. If someone does the wrong thing, if a venue does the wrong thing, enforce their licence. Close them down. Close them down for 30 days. The industry would reform itself overnight is his argument. If they do the wrong thing a second time, close them down for three months. Three strikes, that is it, you lose your licence. These are the sorts of reforms that the industry and people working in the industry would like to see. That is a pretty commonsense, simple suggestion. But it is one that I thought at the time had a bit of merit, and this is coming from someone who operates a gaming venue.

The clubs and pubs that have gaming machines in our electorate do not operate 24 hours a day anyway. They are not concerned about that. They are all for closing earlier. That is neither here nor there. What is a concern is that the rules are not the same on both sides of the river when they are so close. It is not a 4- or 5-hour drive to get to the border, like the member for Eureka said. It is 5 minutes away. If New South Wales would come along for the ride, maybe these sorts of reforms would pave the way for New South Wales to at least do that with regard to the cash-out limits, the ticket-in, ticket-out system – all of that – because if the load-up limits on gaming machines in Victoria are $100 and still $500 in New South Wales, that will make a difference to some. They already do. When the clubs close in Victoria, they will go to the other side of the river. These are the concerns that the industry has.

The community clubs, in particular the Robinvale Golf Club – and I have had many conversations with the committee there; to them, to that committee, they are first and foremost a golf club, but the gaming is an arm of that – I do not think are open until midnight on any given night, but they are concerned. They do give a lot of money back to the community. There are certain parts of the community that rely on those donations back. For example, last year the local preschool needed a popcorn machine – they do a lot of fundraising events at markets, the Christmas festivals, things like that, and they needed their own popcorn machine because hiring one was costing them a fortune. My suggestion to that particular committee was, you know what, go and see the golf club – they have a community grants program and I am sure they would be more than happy to fund that for you. And they did without question. They did. When sporting groups are going away – the Robinvale Pathangals go away to the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Limited carnival in Shepparton every year – and they need support they go to the community clubs that have a stream to fund that. So there is a concern from not just a business feasibility point of view but also giving back and just the inconsistencies between the Victorian side and the New South Wales side. That was the conversation that consistently came up, the load-up level difference between gaming machines in Victoria and New South Wales.

That is really what I wanted to touch on today, just that stakeholder engagement, to highlight that. Everyone that I spoke to that is involved in a venue that has gaming machines said to me no-one wants to see gambling harm. They do what they can, but if there were means to enforce licences more greatly, as I suggested before, if a gaming licence is breached, close it down. If they do it a second time, close them down longer. If they do it a third time, three strikes and you are out. It is pretty simplistic, but is there merit in it? Is it something that should be explored? Perhaps it is in a series of gaming reforms. I think it is certainly worth exploring, and my point is that that comes about from having firsthand consultation with industry. When you are given enough time and know that these changes are coming, you can sit down and have meaningful conversations, and out of that perhaps comes something beneficial for everyone. That is really what I wanted to add to this debate.

Gary MAAS (Narre Warren South) (18:55): I too rise to make a contribution to the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, and I do so knowing that it will be truncated somewhat this evening. To me, the difference between the government and those opposite just could not be clearer, really. You either continue to be apologists for an industry that exists for the sole purpose of taking money out of the pockets of working people – you know, those who can least afford it – or you actually just stand up for them, people who experience gambling harm. The sorts of experiences that the member for Eureka just took us so clearly through – and thank you for sharing your lived experience with the house tonight.

The bill introduces gambling harm reforms and implements recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. The amendments to the Casino Control Act 1991 include the establishment of a statutory management regime to manage the casino in case of licence suspension, cancellation or surrender, and the statutory manager will have specific functions and powers including the statutory property in case of administration or liquidation. The bill allows the manager to seek legal advice and provides protections against third-party claims and personal liability. It inserts those new provisions related to the payment of winnings and restrict payouts above $1000 to be made by cheque or bank transfer.

The amendments to the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 prohibit the approval of 24-hour gaming venues and standardised gaming hours, and most importantly venue operators outside the casino are prohibited from allowing gaming machines to be played between 4 am and 10 am. I understand that this is already consistent with the laws that are in New South Wales. The legislation aims to reduce gambling harm by preventing late-night gambling, provide a break for players to increase awareness of their decisions and introduce penalties for violations of those rules.

I too would like to note that this bill is being brought to the house during Gambling Harm Awareness Week, and as I always do when I speak to gambling-related bills in this place, I would like to especially shout out to the Alliance for Gambling Reform. They do incredible work in our community. They identify gambling as a public health issue and an issue that needs to be addressed that way, and like the member for Eureka, I am so proud of our government in bringing these harm minimisation reforms to the house.

I would also like to give a very special shout-out to a parliamentary intern of mine who, through the Victorian Parliament’s internship program, put a report together on electronic gaming machine usage in my electorate of Narre Warren South this year. The report evaluated as well as looked at the impact that comes from the harm caused by electronic game usage and how it could be mitigated throughout suburban Victoria. It was a tremendous body of work that he produced, and I really thank him for putting that work together. His findings incidentally reported that Narre Warren South has very much shown above average density of electronic gaming machines in comparison to the rest of Victoria, as well as one of the highest annual player expenditures on electronic gaming machines, with many households experiencing at least $1000 of gaming losses per annum. So I would like to thank Jack, and on that note I will also commend the bill to the house.

Business interrupted under resolution of house today.