Thursday, 23 June 2022


Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022



Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Ms SYMES:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (10:25): Thank you for the opportunity to rise today to speak on the Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022—hardly the most exciting bill that has ever come through this house, I have to say. It is very much a housekeeping bill by nature. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Casino Control Act 1991 to permit casino licence holders to pay winnings via EFT in line with the current regulations that apply to clubs and also to hotels. It is designed to amend the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 to remove obsolete provisions and references, such as chapter 7 of the GRA, due to discrepancies with the commonwealth legislation and the 2012 gaming restructuring. It provides more flexibility for the government to alter the requirements of a wagering and betting licence by revoking the current fixed term of 12 years.

It allows the current monitoring licensee, Intralot, to provide technical services for gaming machines and equipment in a bid to make the licence more lucrative and align it with similar jurisdictions. It amends the act to make changes to requirements for unpaid jackpot funds to ensure player funds are returned and unpaid jackpot funds are allocated to linked jackpots. It increases the requirement for a minor gaming permit from $5000 to $20 000. It bans bingo and lucky envelopes from being conducted or sold online. It increases the holding of unpaid prizes for wagering and betting, keno and public lottery licensees from six months to 12 months. It also amends the Liquor Control Act 1998 to remove obsolete provisions and references; authorise certain licence categories to supply liquor through all forms of remote ordering; amend the online-only vendor packaged liquor licensing category; and extend measures introduced by the liquor amendment act regarding the new pandemic legislation.

This would go close, I have to say, to being the most boring bill I have seen in this place, because it is highly technical in nature. It is designed to clean up some things the government should have done a long time ago. It is also designed to simply clean up some of the inconsistencies with commonwealth legislation, as well as remove some obsolete provisions and definitions due to a 2012 restructure which transitioned the state’s gaming legislation and the machine industry from a gaming operator model to a venue operator model. Under this model venue operators interested in operating a hotel, club or gaming venue need to bid for a 10-year gaming licence as part of a competitive bidding process. It also goes to allowing Crown to pay out winnings over $2000 by EFT, which will bring it into the same regime as clubs and hotels. So finally in 2022 we have indicated to Crown that they can perhaps pay by EFT; they do not have to get the chequebook out and pay people. Goodness me, government, you have finally worked out that EFT is something that exists in this state. It is bizarre it has taken this long. There are many Victorians, younger ones particularly, who have been paying their bills and paying for theatre tickets and a range of things via EFT. The government have finally worked out, on 23 June 2022, that maybe EFT is a thing in this state, and this is what this change is about.

The current wagering and betting licence will expire in August 2024, almost two years on, with expressions of interest already closed. While the current licence is for a sole operator on a fixed term, the government is considering changing the term limit and the option of multiple operators. The current monitoring licensee, Intralot, who manage the YourPlay system and are the sole monitor of the electronic gaming machines (EGM) in this state, will now be allowed to provide technical support and services relating to those gaming machines. The expansion of this power is in line with their current operations in Western Australia and would make the contract more lucrative and competitive when it expires in 2027. The licence was awarded in 2014 to Intralot, who operate in 52 jurisdictions worldwide with over €1.1 billion of turnover. There are some sensible changes to the minor gaming permit system. Increasing the threshold to $20 000 will cut red tape for charitable organisations and sporting clubs. Online gambling is becoming a concern. The increase of the minor gaming permit threshold is being offset by the banning of bingo and lucky envelope sales online. The bill also seeks to clean up some of the inconsistencies relating to the online sale of packaged liquor by allowing orders to be received by other communication means.

There are a whole lot of changes to sections of acts in this bill. Clauses 10 to 14 allow for payment of casino wager winnings via EFT, as I have outlined. Clause 19 allows for the monitoring licensee to provide technical services to EGMs, as I have outlined. Clause 81 allows the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation to determine the term of a wagering and betting licence and specify the terms of that licence, handing control of this to the minister.

Clauses 126 and 127 remove the inconsistencies with the commonwealth legislation; they clean up the act. Clauses 128 to 132 deal with unpaid jackpot and linked jackpot funds, as I have talked about—that six- to 12-month time period—as do clauses 123 to 135. They allow for unclaimed prize money to be claimed for up to 12 months, rather than the currently existing six months.

I have talked about the banning of bingo and lucky envelope sales online. Clauses 136 to 138 deal with that. Clause 140 brings the casino into line with current practices by allowing payments of over $2000 via EFT. I have talked about the minor gaming permit threshold, which will be increased from $5000 to $20 000—clause 142 deals with that.

Clause 144 is about making sure that if a provider commits an offence by permitting a minor to gamble, regardless of whether they did so knowingly or otherwise, it will be deemed as an offence, and we will talk about that perhaps a bit later in the committee stage of the bill.

Clauses 150 to 157 replace the references to orders placed online and off-premises requests to authorise general licensees to supply not only online but by other communication methods. The industry has a few concerns about this—very few concerns.

Ostensibly, as I outlined at the very start of my contribution today, this is pretty well a rats-and-mice clean-up of existing legislation and largely submits references to obsolete licences and repeals other definitions. Last year, late last year I think it was, the government overhauled the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998. The fact that they are now back in this place after doing it late last year to make amendments to the definition of ‘online providers’ really reflects the government’s failure to anticipate issues such as liquor being sent by post or other delivery methods. We have talked to a whole lot of people about this—to Community Clubs Victoria, to Tabcorp, to the Australian Hotels Association, to Crown, to Australia Post.

This is, as I say, largely a technical bill in nature with no major legislative alterations. It cuts red tape for charitable organisations and sporting clubs through an increase to the minor gaming permit threshold. That is a good thing. The Liberals and Nationals coalition will not be opposing this bill today. It is highly technical in nature, and I have to say it is perhaps one of the most boring bills I have ever seen in this place. I wish it a very quick passage.

Ms SHING (Eastern Victoria) (10:33): It is always a difficult challenge, one might say a Sisyphean challenge, to follow Mr Ondarchie in this place when he is talking about bills of a highly technical nature.

Mr Ondarchie: I’m sure you’re up for it.

Ms SHING: It is nice just to take up that interjection. I am indeed up for it this morning, Mr Ondarchie, because this bill in fact addresses subject matter which has been a significant social policy challenge not just for the Victorian government but for other jurisdictions not just around Australia but globally—that is, the way in which gambling and related activities are undertaken and the regulatory framework that exists around them in order to minimise harm, in order to facilitate community-based engagement and in order to make sure that there is a consistent framework for online activity. It is also making sure that at the same time as delivering refinements to the legislative framework within which gambling is regulated, certain obligations and responsibilities are set and certain compliance mechanisms are activated for enforcement purposes and that we are also in a position to make sure that the statute book keeps up with the changes and challenges of the subject matter in an everyday and practical sense. Mr Ondarchie talks about this being a dry bill. In fact here in the upper house we are very accustomed to dealing with matters of a very technical nature, and this is, I think Mr Ondarchie said, one of the driest bills that he has ever seen in the course—

Mr Ondarchie: I don’t think I said that.

Ms SHING: You didn’t say ‘dry’? All right. Well, you said one of the least exciting, words to that effect—I am going to paraphrase you there, Mr Ondarchie—bills that we have seen in this place, but nonetheless it is really important. It is really important—

Mr Ondarchie: I know. I’m not saying it’s not.

Ms SHING: You are right. You are not saying that it is not. Nobody is saying that these sorts of amendments and updates to the statute book are not important. What this does, however, is provide a more consistent and streamlined framework by which gambling and related activities in settings including as they relate to community fundraising and raffles occur, and we are in a position in government and indeed through the parliamentary process to walk and to chew gum at the same time. When I think about the Crown Casino investigation and implementation of those recommendations, when I think about the way in which betting limits have been invoked and indeed enforced and when I think about Fair Play, the engagement with local venues to identify people either who are at risk of excessive spending or indeed who are problem gamblers, the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s work and the work associated with the regulator more broadly, I am fortified by the path that we are on to make sure that we combine the various interests of stakeholder and industry groups, of communities and indeed of those focused on harm minimisation to strike a balance which does enable people to participate in various gambling activities whilst also removing harm, damage and distress wherever possible.

I note that, in looking through this bill, community fundraising and raffles have been a feature of what Mr Ondarchie has talked about, and I think that is worth touching on here today because we know that for communities, whether they are the soccer club, whether they are a local kinder or indeed playgroup or whether they are a Neighbourhood Watch organisation, there is a really key theme around fundraising and connectivity that goes through the nature of a community raffle. I have participated with very limited success in community raffles around regional and rural Victoria. I am no good at winning any of the prizes, but what I do note is—

Mr Ondarchie: You’ll have to declare.

Ms SHING: You do not have to declare it, Mr Ondarchie, if it has not led to any yield in benefit and where I have not in fact ever managed to walk away with a meat tray. So I am hoping that maybe my fortunes will change, and indeed maybe the fine produce of Gippsland would mean that I have to declare what I win on the register, because it would be worth more than $500. That being said, I am in a position to talk about the way in which we can increase competition as well as reduce red tape and improve the operation of legislative provisions.

But back to the community fundraising for a moment, if I can, the way in which community fundraising works not only is about financial improvement to the budgets, to the bottom lines and to the treasury kitties of individual clubs and organisations, it is also about the way in which we engage with these community groups and they can come together for the purpose of community connectivity, and a raffle is a really important part of that. You do not have to go far on a Friday night to head along to a club or indeed to an RSL or other organisation to find a raffle in train, and you do not have to go far to find people egging each other on in order to hopefully maximise their chances of coming away from the raffle with a decent prize or two to take home. You do not have to go far to understand the importance of that sort of connectivity and that sort of collegiality, particularly within rural and regional communities.

That is one part of this bill, making sure that we are cutting red tape for these organisations who themselves are not geared towards spending vast amounts of time on compliance activities, to increase the threshold that is required to have a permit for a raffle. This then means that permit applications will not be required in a significantly greater number of cases and that in fact community organisations can get on with the business of what they are there to do, which is to engage with communities, to connect with members and to raise money for the purposes that are relevant to them. So these sorts of changes are actually really important in a practical sense. They mean less time over a keyboard and more time being able to muster support for people to come out on a Friday or a Saturday night, have a meal, spend some money on a raffle ticket and benefit their local club or association in the process.

We are also wanting to make sure that in these changes we are in a position to cut red tape by extending the time line for payment of unclaimed prizes to the Treasurer. That is where again we want to make sure that that time line is not a fetter on the claiming of unclaimed prizes in the way that it currently is, and that is about striking a balance. It is about equity and it is about fairness, but it is also grounded in the reality of the world in which we live. That people do not get around to claiming prizes but should not therefore forfeit those opportunities in the way which has been identified in a range of cases I think deserves the sort of attention that has been effected by this bill.

In noting that the opposition is more than not opposing this bill but in fact supporting it, it is good to see that around the chamber we will have an opportunity to pass this bill and to make sure that improvements are able to be made in the steady and methodical way that the statute book needs to be updated from time to time to accommodate changes in the way in which regulation occurs in this space. It is subject matter which requires constant and quite methodical attention and attention to detail. It is subject matter which has been a lightning rod for a lot of concern, criticism and commentary around problem gambling, around regulation of large-scale gambling operations and around subject matter which in fact, whilst connected to this bill, goes far beyond it in the way in which it is emblematic of a range of broader social concerns.

I want to touch on the issue of problem gambling with the time that I have available today, noting that the miscellaneous amendments that are in this bill are about improving gambling and liquor regulation and tidying up that existing legislation. But I want to talk about the impact of problem gambling on the everyday lives of Victorians, their families and their communities. This is where I think there would be nobody in this chamber, and indeed nobody in this Parliament, who would ignore or want to downplay the impact of problem gambling over the course of lifetimes and indeed generations. Family fortunes are lost consistently and repeatedly, relationships are torn apart, family homes are lost, opportunities for people to get ahead are lost and, particularly in an environment with an increasingly prohibitive cost of living, people find themselves unable to make ends meet.

There are a whole range of factors at play in that setting, but one of the things that has been so important with bodies such as the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation and its successors is that this has led to a discussion about harm minimisation and how that might be incorporated into the sorts of practical steps that are required to be taken by operators, including as they relate to break times and to non-24-hour operating cycles, including as they relate to interventions that are available for problem gamblers in certain situations and environments and including as they relate to, to the extent possible, limitations or controls on the way in which online gambling occurs and in relation to the way in which the very design of gaming environments is conducive to a drop in inhibitions, an inclination to spend more money and an environment of a hypnotic sense of time being irrelevant that typifies many gaming facilities and many gaming operations.

I have had cause to be in a number of large-scale gambling environments over the course of my life. Again, I am not a gambler—well, one might say that coming here to politics, that is a different story—but I did come in here today thinking that the house always wins, and I would like to think that the house that wins in this instance is indeed this house of Parliament and perhaps the lower house as well. But all jokes aside, having walked through gaming floors and having actually seen the way in which people engage with a slot machine or with a gaming table, I have never been left in any doubt as to the sorts of tinkering and refinements to the environment of a gambling operation that are geared towards helping people to stay and to stay for as long as possible. It is about the offers of drinks and parking, of instantaneous change delivery services and of automatic withdrawal from ATMs, and it is about making sure that wherever possible people can feel comfortable and can feel indeed content and can in many cases feel completely relaxed about staying in those environments for long periods of time.

I am hoping that we will continue the work that we do as a government in working not only across Victoria with operators here but also with interjurisdictional counterparts to recognise that gambling and betting are an important part of community activity and that people are inclined to have a flutter or indeed are inclined to attend their local club for the purpose of connecting, spending a few bucks, having a meal and perhaps, as I indicated earlier, participating in their local footy, netball, soccer or archery club’s raffle as the case may be. But it is about when we tip into that point of harm and those points of isolation, lack of contact and disproportionately high spending and that hypnotic state that takes place in an environment where the lights are dimmed, there are no windows, there are no clocks and there are all of the environmental considerations that have been put into the construction and placement of not only a facility but the machines that are in it to keep people gambling for as long as possible. We do know that problem gambling is not just something which is a really pervasive characteristic of the gambling environment; it is also something which we need to continue to tackle in very active terms now and into the future.

So these are measures that require a really concerted effort in the picture of what we do to respond to the Crown Casino recommendations and indeed to other recommendations from inquiries that have been conducted over the years. That work needs to go on and is going on. It is about making sure that from the perspective of monopoly, commercial and competition law we are in a position to make those macro changes and to incorporate changes as required following matters that are recommended through independent inquiries, but it is also about making the sorts of changes that are set out in this bill. It is about making sure that the entire system of gambling regulation and control in Victoria occurs in the most streamlined, efficient and consistent way possible.

To that end I would echo Mr Ondarchie’s comments in relation to this bill being a somewhat straightforward bill, but also I would add to that that it is an important bill. It is an important further step. Have we reached the finish line? No. Is this an important step forward in continuing the work that we are undertaking? Yes. And on that basis, I commend this bill to the house, and I look forward to its speedy passage.

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (10:48): Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. I welcome any improvement and reform with this bill. The clarification of functions of the independent review panel established to oversee the regulatory review and licensing processes for major commercial gambling licences and prohibition of some of the online forms of gambling, like bingo, is a good step.

I wonder why the government does not use this opportunity to further introduce measures to reduce harm from the insidious addiction of gambling. The government seems always willing to take the easy path with gambling giants in Victoria. It seems easier to turn a blind eye to the gambling industry at the expense of working people than to undertake sensible and beneficial reform. We seem to allow companies like Sportsbet to advertise on an open playing field and allow pubs to operate through the night so people can gamble with no time limits and no maximum amounts they can lose. I cannot see much good happening to someone gambling at 3.00 am, someone who may be mentally impaired or someone with too much alcohol or drugs in their system. Where is our duty of care?

Earlier in the year I met up with the Alliance for Gambling Reform. That is an alliance of more than 60 local groups who share the vision to advocate for public health reforms that prevent and reduce gambling harm. Many of us have personally experienced gambling harm in our lives or seen its negative impact on friends, families or workplaces. I support the Alliance for Gambling Reform’s platform aimed at creating a safer and healthier community.

Prior to COVID shutdowns $34 million was being lost through poker machines every single day in Australia—$34 million. Victorians lost a record sum of $257.3 million just in the month of March 2022—in one month. The Alliance for Gambling Reform says this is in line with a ‘nationwide trend of gamblers returning to poker machines’. Gambling preys on people with mental health issues and addiction and other vulnerable members of the community. Gambling intensifies domestic violence, suicide, bankruptcy and crime. The Reverend Tim Costello says:

Our courts are clogged with pokies crimes because of the nature of addiction.

Here I would like to say that I will be supporting Dr Ratnam’s amendment today. I think that that is a valuable step in lessening the harm done by poker machines.

Aside from Nevada, Australia has more electronic gambling machines per capita than anywhere else in the world. They seem to be spreading like a cancer into the suburbs, where people are already experiencing great financial distress. With 55 000 children being categorised as problem gamblers, we need to seize the critical opportunity to rise above the increasingly intense and well-funded lobbying of the betting and gambling industry. We have the perfect opportunity right now to set new boundaries on poker machine use, availability and operating hours to minimise harm done by poker machines and gambling addiction. Reducing gambling harm in Victoria will see a reduction in mental illness, homelessness and violence amongst other important community issues. This should be a priority of our government.

Saying that this bill is boring—well, it may be so, but it is not boring for what it leaves out. The irresponsible regulation—or should I say deregulation?—of gambling is causing harm, harm amongst our people, as well as the irresponsible increased accessibility of alcohol, almost a promotion of alcohol, which this bill also seems to support. I do support the changes in the bill, but we have a long way to go to get the regulation of alcohol and gambling industries fit for purpose in the interests of the people of Victoria.

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:53): I rise to make a brief contribution on the Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 this morning, and in doing so I thank the Shadow Minister for Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Steph Ryan—my colleague—for doing much of the legwork and providing some information to us on this side of the house, as is the requirement and the purview of shadow ministers. In speaking with Steph this morning, I wanted to understand a little bit more about the consultation process that she went through, and she said who she had been speaking with. One of the things that she did say was that across the board the key stakeholders, the stakeholders that government should have consulted with, were not consulted. To my mind that is a discourtesy. When you put out a bill for tender that is going to go through the house, there is a level of consultation that keeps people in the tent, that enables various stakeholders to have a good degree of oversight and understanding of what is happening in that bill but also to make commentary on it. That is a disappointment and a frustration for those stakeholders.

Also, I do take up the point from others who have made a contribution today about gambling and the unfortunate circumstances where gambling is not a flutter. It is not something that many, many people do. It is either a mild touch—maybe a flutter on the horses—or maybe every now and then a little bit of money into the pokies. For some people unfortunately moderation cannot be adhered to and it does become an addiction, and unfortunately or otherwise since the dawn of time—I think probably since there have been rats running up a drainpipe in the Roman era or various other quite more gruesome types of gambling that human beings have participated in as a sport. But there needs to be significant oversight, and this gambling legislation bill really seeks to tidy up a number of parts of legislation; it fixes definitions and tidies up obsolete provisions and outmoded legislation.

It also then seeks to amend the Casino Control Act 1991 to permit casino licence holders to pay winnings via EFT, and as Mr Ondarchie said, that is bringing it certainly very much into the 21st century and is a reasonable and appropriate response. It seeks to amend the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 to remove redundant provisions and references such as chapter 7 of the Gambling Regulation Act with regard to discrepancies between the commonwealth legislation and a 2012 gaming restructure. It provides more flexibility for the government to alter requirements of wagering and betting by revoking the current fixed term of 12 years. And indeed it also looks at the current monitoring lessee, which is Intralot, who provide those technical services for gaming machines and equipment in the clubs and various pokie venues.

One of the conversations I had during COVID, during the long lockdown, was with many of those types of our local clubs, our RSLs and community clubs, about the frustration that they had whilst being in lockdown—because they were not essential services—for a considerable time, months on end, and the fact that Intralot certainly I think did give them a concession in terms of paying their licensing requirements but that was still a very considerable burden when there were payments going outward but certainly no income for those clubs. Many of them actually really went to the wall or very close to it.

Also during that period of time many of those clubs provided essential food runs, and I can speak to my own local RSL in Leongatha and the manager there, Anne Davies, who has been a wonderful community support person as well. They did runs into the homes of people who would have normally come in as a social interaction—for their regular Tuesday lunch or the like. They ran food drops to people’s homes as a service, and it was particularly those returned service personnel and family members—so the widows or widowers of Returned Services League personnel. That was a really tremendous thing that they did to keep that connection that those groups and clubs often provide. But she said that certainly that was a very significant issue, that isolation and dislocation, and they were attempting through their own pathway to support communities.

The other thing that she mentioned—and as I said, for bowling clubs, the RSL, social clubs—is that really it has been a new normal, post COVID. She commented to me that trade is increasing again, but there seems to be a level of cautiousness among the clientele—and I am sure we have seen that in other aspects as well. Certainly people also look to go to our local RSL for meeting rooms, training and general-purpose interactions. I know that, again, the Leongatha RSL is often well booked out with, you know, the UDV—United Dairyfarmers of Victoria—meetings and various other points. So that is good, but there is still this hesitancy that they are facing. Staffing I think is still across the board an issue in terms of our clubs—and getting people back and into the workforce and certainly providing that stability. So I wanted to put on record my thanks to all of the RSLs and community clubs who during the COVID lockdowns really still supported and reached out in their own way into our communities to provide that connection during those COVID and social dislocation periods.

Just following on from some of the other speakers in relation to the important work of community funding, community fundraising and raffles, this bill actually increases the permit threshold from $5000 to $20 000 for charitable and community organisations, so they will have to have a permit but the threshold is $20 000. Like Ms Shing, I have not had great success in terms of raffles and the like, but we always dip into our pockets. I do remember at one stage a very long time ago I won some Campbell’s soup and a Campbell’s mug. The soup is long gone but certainly the mug still survives. I have taken it into the work staffroom with all of those other wonderful mugs that you get from various groups, so that has been my success rate.

I will not go on because I know Mr Ondarchie has made a significant contribution on this and gone into it clause by clause. As I said, this is generally a rats-and-mice tidy-up of legislation and is repealing those outmoded definitions. I would ask the government to reflect on perhaps the nature of how they go about consultation. I think the government often comes in here and says, ‘We consult widely’. Well, the feedback from stakeholders is that it has not. I support Mr Ondarchie’s recommendations for this bill today.

Mr ERDOGAN (Southern Metropolitan) (11:02): I rise in support of the Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This is a largely technical bill, for sure. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are serious about tackling gambling-related harm and making sure the regulatory framework is fit for purpose. I noticed that Mr Hayes talked about gambling reform more broadly, and it is important to note that our government is implementing further reforms this year to continue acquitting all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. So we are a government that acts upon any misdoing. Nonetheless, I think it is a technical bill which brings broad benefits and removes red tape and makes the operation of the sector more efficient as well as ensuring that harm is minimised more broadly.

I noticed that Ms Shing and Mr Ondarchie have already gone through some of the technical elements, but it is important to understand the context in which this bill is before the chamber. The gambling industry underwent a major restructure in 2012. The restructure saw the end of the gaming operator duopoly model under which the operation of gaming machines, keno and wagering was conducted under licences held by Tattersall’s and Tabcorp. New licences for keno, wagering and betting, and gaming machine monitoring were established under the Gambling Regulation Act 2003, and a new gaming machine industry structure was created, allowing venue operators to operate the gaming machines in their venues. The wagering and betting licence project within the Department of Justice and Community Safety was established to develop and implement future licensing arrangements for the post-2024 wagering and betting licence. The current wagering and betting licence held by Tabcorp is due to expire on 15 August 2024. The proposal in the bill to enable the term of the licence to be specified in the licence allows the government to determine the most appropriate term at a point in time, having regard for the best available evidence and understanding of the value to the state. So it is important to understand the context of the need for this bill.

This bill does tidy up pieces of existing legislation, and it does improve gambling and liquor regulation overall. These things have eventuated out of industry feedback and issues and gaps that have been identified as well as consequential amendments from other legislative changes last year. Key features of the bill include changes to the Casino Control Act 1991 reforms. The bill will amend the Casino Control Act 1991 to provide for the payment of winnings by electronic funds transfer and remove obsolete provisions and references. The provisions permitting the payment of winnings by electronic transfer replicate provisions already applying to clubs and hotels, so it is important to make sure you have continuity and a uniform approach to the way those moneys are handled. The rationale of course is that gaming venues other than the casino are currently able to pay winnings from gaming machines by electronic funds transfer, EFT.

The amendments in this bill replicate provisions applying at pubs and clubs in the casino. Cheque usage has significantly declined with the advent of modern funds transfer methods such as EFT. I might add cheque and even cash payments have probably also further declined due to the global pandemic. I have noticed, walking around the city, many businesses that were mainly cash businesses have moved to electronic payment, and it is a trend. We understand how the pandemic has sped up the way people conduct their financial transactions, so it is important reform.

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

Mr ERDOGAN: I did note that Mr Ondarchie called them long overdue, but I think it is timely. I think it is timely reform. That is what I call it, timely reform. I think permitting payment of winnings via EFT as an alternative to cheques provides a way to reduce red tape for the industry. Under the amendments a player will be able to choose whether amounts of $2000 or more are paid by cheque or EFT. In such cases the EFT transfers must be delayed so the player cannot access the funds immediately. A player can also elect to have winnings of less than $2000 paid by EFT or cheque. There is no requirement for amounts of less than $2000 to be delayed. The bill further requires that the casino must wait 24 hours before transferring winnings of at least $2000 to a customer by electronic funds transfer. This replicates existing provisions of the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 which apply to hotels and clubs. The delay is an important harm minimisation measure aimed at preventing people from immediately gambling away their winnings. That is an important point to make again—harm minimisation at the forefront.

There are other technical reforms as well to the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 to amend the requirements of the term of a wagering and betting licence, replacing the current fixed term of 12 years with provisions that enable the licence to be a specified licence; remove the restriction that prevents an associate, subsidiary or related body corporate of the monitoring licensee from providing gaming machine technical services to venue operators; make changes to the treatment of unpaid jackpot funds held by venue operators; increase the monetary threshold for requirements to obtain a permit for raffles from $5000 to $20 000, with the increased threshold to be indexed each year from 1 July 2023; clarify provisions for payment of gaming machine winnings over $2000 by EFT; repeal the redundant gaming operator and wagering licence provisions; repeal the interactive gaming licence provisions in chapter 7 to avoid uncertainty and inconsistency with the commonwealth regulation of interactive gaming; prohibit bingo, fundraising events and lucky envelopes from being conducted online; extend the period after which unclaimed wagering, keno and lottery prizes are transferred to the Treasurer from six months to 12 months; clarify the functions of the independent review panel established to oversee the regulatory review and licensing process for major commercial gambling licences; and make other amendments to reduce red tape and clarify the operation of some provisions of the GRA.

So as you can see, there is actually quite a wide array of reforms as part of this bill, very technical in nature. There is a lot of detail in there. I can see some around the chamber asking for me to look into the detail—go right into it. I can see Acting President Gepp saying he is really enthusiastic about me getting into the technical elements of this bill, but I will just start by talking about some of the rationale and why it is needed.

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

Mr ERDOGAN: I will not go into every single one line by line, but I will touch on some of the rationale behind it—just for some of it.

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

Mr ERDOGAN: I know Mr Ondarchie is looking forward to my contribution—

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Gepp): Can I remind both the member speaking and Mr Ondarchie that all comments should be through the Chair and to not engage in a conversation across the chamber, please.

Mr ERDOGAN: Thank you, Acting President. Allowing the government to specify the term of the wagering and betting licence, replacing the current fixed term of 12 years, will enable the government to determine the most appropriate time that a licence term should end. This will allow the government to consider the best available evidence, including the latest market conditions and understanding of the value to the state.

Liquor control act reforms as well are part of this broad bill. The bill will also amend the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 to authorise certain licence categories to supply liquor through all forms of remote ordering, including telephone, mail, facsimile and other electronic communication; rename the ‘online-only vendor packaged liquor licence’ category to ‘remote seller’s packaged liquor licence’ and capture all licensees that supply liquor for delivery with no retail premises in this category; make amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 from the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Act 2021; and address issues arising from amendments made in the Liquor Control Reform Amendment Act 2021.

Why is this bill required right now? The bill contains a range of reforms to improve the regulation of gambling and liquor and reduce red tape overall. The amendments to this term of ‘wagering and betting licence’ are needed now to support the issue of a new licence before the current licence held by Tabcorp expires on 15 August 2024. The amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act are needed to now ensure that the measures introduced by the Liquor Control Reform Amendment Act 2021 relating to a state of emergency will apply under a new pandemic declaration.

Obviously we have had a broad discussion about gambling and the harm it creates, and we are a government that is proactive in this space and has taken many measures to reduce harm. The commencement of this bill is probably a question on everyone’s mind. Part 1 and division 1 of parts 2 and 3 will come into operation a day after the bill receives royal assent, but the remaining provisions will come into operation upon proclamation or on 10 March 2023 if not proclaimed earlier, so it gives a bit of time for those changes to take place and be implemented by operators in this space. It is important because obviously that is what we heard from industry—and there was broad industry consultation. This is a government that consults and listens, and many of these changes have come directly from feedback gathered by industry over recent years. Industry has been briefed on the bill before us.

As I stated earlier, our government is making a number of reforms in relation to gambling, like acquitting all the recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, but also this bill is one step towards a broader subject that has great public interest. We understand that the gambling sector overall is going through some digital transformation with the advent of online gambling. I can understand people’s concerns with pokie venues et cetera—it is very important subject matter. But also at the same time now we are seeing in younger generations people shifting to online gambling, especially in the sporting context. So there is a lot of ongoing public debate around this issue.

I think this bill is tidying up the existing legislation and making improvements and has provisions that do provide harm minimisation, such as the matter I talked about with winnings of over $2000 and ensuring there is a 24-hour delay in being able to withdraw and use those funds. I think that is a clever harm-minimisation measure that this bill includes.

I think there is a lot more to talk about in this bill. Obviously there are some changes about offences of allowing minors to gamble; there are offences in relation to that. Our government is taking this very seriously—that is obviously clause 144 I am talking about here. This is about making sure that people who allow minors to gamble are appropriately prosecuted. If you want to look at it in more detail, clause 144 is where all that information is. I will not go over all that clause specifically.

Overall I just want to express my support for the bill before the house. From Mr Ondarchie’s remarks it seems that the opposition is also supporting this bill. I think that is sensible. It is a good reform. It is technical in nature, tidies up the legislation and provides harm minimisation measures at the same time. It is what is needed right now—it is timely—and I urge all members of the chamber to support the bill that is before the house.

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (11:13): I am pleased to rise to speak to the Gambling and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This is the second gambling bill we are debating this week and the second bill that only tinkers around the edges of gambling regulation in this state. The second-reading speech of this bill makes it clear that this government prides itself on its response to harm-minimisation measures. It lists a number of measures that it describes as leading the way on reducing gambling-related harm. But in fact the state that has led the way on gambling harm is Western Australia, which bans pokie machines in the community, leaving them only at the casino. In contrast, this government has embedded harmful pokie machines in our community by its refusal to stand up to the gambling lobby. The Greens certainly do not believe this government has gone far enough on reducing the harm to families and communities from gambling. Instead this government has dragged its feet on meaningful gambling reform, leading to record-breaking rates of pokies losses and years of significant harm at Crown Casino.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greens amendments circulated by Dr RATNAM pursuant to standing orders.

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

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (11:22): This bill is largely a technical one. However, it is an important step in ensuring that laws governing gambling and liquor regulation keep up to date. In addition to providing legislative clarity and reducing red tape for industry and community organisations, the bill contains some minor but important reforms to improve gambling harm minimisation. The bill has eventuated from feedback provided by industry over recent years, and they have been consulted through the legislative process.

I thank the opposition—Mr Ondarchie, the opposition representative—for saying that they will support the bill. I think there were some concerns around the bill relating to offences about allowing minors to gamble. It goes without saying that it is incumbent upon those who operate a gambling licence to protect children from the risks of gambling. This includes having adequate training and education processes in place. The bill will amend the definition of ‘gambling provider’ to allow the regulator to prosecute the agent of the wagering and betting licensee for allowing a minor to gamble, whether they should do so knowingly or not. Let me be clear: this is about making sure that those who allow children to gamble are prosecuted properly.

I appreciate Dr Ratnam’s contribution, and I would like to thank Dr Ratnam for her advocacy to minimise gambling-related harm, which I freely say she has been very consistent on in this chamber and outside this chamber. I know Dr Ratnam has indicated amendments for a reduction to a $1 maximum bet limit for electronic gaming machines—which we call pokies—in Victoria. The stated intention of our amendment is to achieve a substantial reduction in the proportion of the population with gambling problems. Harm minimisation is a key feature of the government’s broader reform agenda, and the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, in the other place, is attuned to this important issue. With that being said, it is vital that our responses to gambling-related harm are evidence based. There is a distinct lack of evidence that Dr Ratnam’s amendments would be effective in achieving the aim, and it is on this basis that the government will not support Dr Ratnam’s amendments. Victorian gaming venues already have a maximum bet of $5 per spin. This is the lowest maximum bet in Australia, and it is not clear how gamblers would respond to further reduction limits. It may mean they would simply play for longer.

This bill complements the government’s broader reform agenda to provide minor and technical improvements to Victoria’s regulatory framework for gaming and liquor. It introduces further harm minimisation measures, clarifies legislative ambiguities and reduces red tape for community organisations.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time.



Clause 1 (11:26)

Mr ONDARCHIE: With your permission, Minister, I am going to ask some questions about the bill that I will just deal with in clause 1. I will not seek to go through the clauses individually if that is okay with you. Minister, I am touching on the contributions made by me and also by Ms Shing today, where we talked about how important fundraising is to community groups. I am wondering if you could outline to the house who the government consulted with in the construction of this bill.

Mr LEANE: As I said in my second-reading summary, industry feedback was gathered over recent years, not just in recent months, but specifically from the following: Australian Hotels Association, RSL Victoria, Community Clubs Victoria and Tabcorp. These are examples of some of the entities that were consulted.

Mr ONDARCHIE: Minister, I have had an approach and some communications from the Fundraising Institute Australia, who represent charitable fundraising organisations—that sector. They are concerned that they had no consultation on this process, and they are wondering why that was.

Mr LEANE: Mr Ondarchie, I think one of the good things is that the changes do not affect them, but I can say that they were briefed. So I am not too sure if there was some communication breakdown in their organisation.

Mr ONDARCHIE: They were consulted?

Mr LEANE: They were consulted.

Clause agreed to; clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.

New clauses (11:29)

Dr RATNAM: I am happy to speak to my amendments as circulated. My amendments are quite simple. They introduce a bet limit on all gaming machines in the state, at clubs and hotels and at the Victorian casino, of $1 per bet. The limit would apply from 1 July 2023. Dollar bet limits are one of the most effective harm reduction measures we could implement. They would drastically reduce harm among problem gamblers by forcing pokies to run in lower intensity modes and limiting how much can be lost on the pokies at a time. Right now we have $5 bet limits, and gamblers can lose around $600 on a machine every hour. Dollar bet limits would reduce this to $120.

Despite the Productivity Commission recommending dollar bets be phased in across the country by 2018, no jurisdiction has implemented this. It seems that too many states depend on gambling revenue to fill up their coffers, and the two major political parties rely on gambling donations.

We all know problem gambling causes a great deal of harm to families and communities. Families can lose their homes, problem gambling can contribute to family violence and alcohol and drug issues and people caught in the addiction to gambling suffer mental health issues including depression and suicide. In fact a measure to assist with the mental health challenge in Victoria could be to actually tackle problem gambling. There are estimates that gambling costs the Victorian economy at least $7 billion every year in providing the health, community and other services to respond to the harm that gambling causes. Victoria could lead the way on gambling harm reduction by being the first state to set bet limits of $1 on all electronic gaming machines. I encourage all members of this chamber to support our amendments and commit to ending gambling harm in Victoria.

I move:

1. Insert the following New Clauses after clause 4—

‘4A New section 62AAB inserted

After section 62AA of the Casino Control Act 1991 insert—

“62AAB Bet limits for gaming machines

On and after 1 July 2023, a bet limit of $1 applies to a gaming machine available for gaming in the casino.”.

4B Gaming machines in casinos

In section 62A(4) of the Casino Control Act 1991, after “the casino” insert “until 30 June 2023”.’.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I acknowledge Dr Ratnam’s consistency in her approach to this over a long period of time but indicate to you, Chair, that the Liberal-Nationals opposition will not be supporting this amendment.

Mr LEANE: Thanks, Dr Ratnam, for outlining the purpose of your amendment. You have been very consistent on harm minimisation measures in gambling, but in this case, as I said in the second-reading summary, the government does not support this amendment. I know, Dr Ratnam, you mentioned other jurisdictions just before. As I said in the second-reading summary, the maximum bet limit per spin is $5 in Victoria, which is the lowest in Australia, and we are not too sure what lowering that to $1 would result in. It may not result in preventing further loss to people, it may result in people actually just spending a longer time at the pokies. So at this point in time we are in no position to support the amendment.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Gepp): This amendment tests Dr Ratnam’s amendment 2, so if this is defeated we will not be moving to that second amendment.

Committee divided on new clauses:

Ayes, 3
Hayes, Mr Meddick, Mr Ratnam, Dr
Noes, 31
Atkinson, Mr Gepp, Mr Quilty, Mr
Bach, Dr Kieu, Dr Shing, Ms
Barton, Mr Leane, Mr Stitt, Ms
Bath, Ms Limbrick, Mr Symes, Ms
Bourman, Mr Lovell, Ms Tarlamis, Mr
Burnett-Wake, Ms Maxwell, Ms Taylor, Ms
Crozier, Ms McArthur, Mrs Terpstra, Ms
Davis, Mr Melhem, Mr Tierney, Ms
Elasmar, Mr Ondarchie, Mr Vaghela, Ms
Erdogan, Mr Pulford, Ms Watt, Ms
Finn, Mr

New clauses negatived.

Clauses 5 to 176 agreed to.

Reported to house without amendment.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (11:42): I move:

That the report be now adopted.

In doing that, I thank Mr Ondarchie and Dr Ratnam for their contributions during the committee stage.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Third reading

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (11:42): I move:

That the bill be now read a third time.

Motion agreed to.

Read third time.

The PRESIDENT: Pursuant to standing order 14.27, the bill will be returned to the Assembly with a message informing them that the Council have agreed to the same without amendment.