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Legislative Assembly

17 October 2023
Second reading
Vicki Ward  (ALP)


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.