The Age reports that the Victorian royal commission into Crown, headed by Ray Finkelstein, QC, recommended tough new rules to help problem gamblers, including mandatory pre-commitment limits on the amount of money and time spent playing the casino’s more than 2500 poker machines.
In 2019-20, the Victorian government raised $844 million in pokies taxes and a further $149 million in casino taxes.
Once Finkelstein handed down his royal commission findings, the government said it supported all 33 recommendations “in principle”.
But the pre-commitment recommendation is understood to have run into resistance from the government department responsible, the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
The department has highlighted how a similar mandatory system used in a Canadian province in 2012 was dumped after just two years.
Similar pokies scheme in Canada was scrapped after two years
According to government sources, the Canadian scheme received criticism that it did little to impact problem gambling and was open to abuse, including pre-commitment cards that were used by multiple players or a number of cards being used by the same players.
Commissioner Finkelstein was particularly scathing of Crown’s approach to problem gambling when he handed down his report. The commission found that YourPlay, the government’s voluntary pre-commitment system, had “not been successful” with a small take-up rate and no obligations for action once a person had reached their limit.
Commissioner Finkelstein recommended that the YourPlay system be replaced with a “full, mandatory, binding, pre-commitment system for Australian residents gambling on electronic gaming machines at the Melbourne casino”.
He said players should be made to set weekly or monthly limits on losses and the amount of time spent playing poker machines.
Under the overhaul, gamblers would also be banned from playing poker machines for more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period.
If implemented, it would give Victoria the toughest mandatory pre-commitment rules in Australia.
In 2021, the government passed legislation acting on nine of Commissioner Finkelstein’s recommendations, including installing former public sector corruption watchdog Stephen O’Bryan as a “special manager” to monitor Crown over two years before deciding whether its licence should be cancelled.
Government remained tight lipped on when 24 royal commission recommendations will go live
The government has promised a second batch of legislation in 2022 to finalise the remaining 24 recommendations, including a major crackdown on problem gambling at the casino.
However, little has so far been said in public about how or when the new system will be introduced.
A spokeswoman for Gaming Minister Melissa Horne said the government recognised the “breadth and complexity” of the remaining recommendations, including in relation to minimising gambling harm.
“We support these recommendations in principle, and further detailed analysis and consultation will be undertaken,” the spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman said a second tranche of legislation would deliver the final recommendations.
The idea of mandatory pre-commitment has been controversial in Australia for many years.
The Gillard federal government attempted to implement a 2010 Productivity Commission recommendation for mandatory pre-commitment, but the idea was torpedoed after a highly successful campaign by clubs.
Commissioner Finkelstein’s recommendation goes even further than the original Productivity Commission scheme, with default loss limits and mandated breaks in use.