Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 – Second Reading Debate
Juliana ADDISON (Wendouree) (11:26): I thank the last speaker for taking his full 10 minutes; it is much appreciated. I too am very pleased to speak in support of the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, following on from many excellent contributions from this side of the house, particularly the member for Eureka, who shared her lived experience of gambling harm and the impact that it had on her family. It is for families like hers and so many others that we are introducing these changes.
The Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 will deliver a wide range of gambling harm reforms and will improve the implementation of recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. I thank the Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, as well as her office and the department, for their work on these reforms and for bringing this bill to the house.
I want to put it on the record: I appreciate that gambling is enjoyed by many Victorians and it does not cause them harm. I enjoy a bet or two at the Ballarat Cup, and I like to join in the punters club at the Ballarat & District Trotting Club’s racing events. However, this is not the case for all gamblers across my community and across our state. Word of the day: ludomania. Ludomania is repetitive gambling behaviour despite harm and negative consequences. Interestingly, ‘ludo’ comes from the Latin for ‘to play’, so ‘ludomania’ means ‘play mania’.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics reveal that in 2022, 46 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over who gambled would be classified as at risk or already experiencing gambling harm. The data shows that men who gambled were at a greater risk, at 53 per cent, compared to women at 38 per cent. Many people have talked about statistics, and I think it is important to keep going back to them, because Australia’s average gambling losses are the highest of any country in the world, with losses of $1276 per person. Between 2011 and 2019 Australia’s problem gambling rates more than doubled, from 0.6 per cent of the adult population to 1.23 per cent.
Gambling harm is an issue of concern in my community. In the last financial year more than $64.3 million was lost on gaming machines in Ballarat. It is a lot for a city with a population of approximately 120,000 people. More than $42 million of that figure was lost at venues in my electorate of Wendouree – $42 million – and the impacts of problem gambling are well known to many across my electorate. These losses are not just financial. Gambling harm leads to relationship breakdown, to mental health issues and to a decline in general health and wellbeing. It impacts on friendships, it impacts on trust, it impacts on so many different aspects of people’s lives.
I want to acknowledge and recognise the work of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Ballarat Community Health, CAFS – which stands for Child & Family Services Ballarat – the City of Ballarat, the Ballarat East Neighbourhood House and the many other organisations that address gambling harm in my community. Just yesterday the Ballarat gambling harm prevention taskforce held an event at the town hall and this year’s focus was how to have a conversation with someone whose gambling is becoming a concern. I think we all agree that this is an important conversation to have, so I hope that event was successful. I was sorry that I was unable to attend.
For many Victorians gambling is not a benign activity, and so we need to ensure that protections are afforded to all of those who gamble. Far too often we see stories in the news of upstanding citizens’ lives destroyed by gambling addiction, such as the high-profile case of the former Melbourne High School business manager who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $430,000 over 10 years from the school. She was sentenced to two years jail with a minimum of 14 months in prison. On 254 occasions between 2012 and 2021 she transferred school funds into her personal bank account. The reason for the theft was to fuel her gambling problem. Frances Walshe’s lawyer explained that her gambling habit had got out of hand extraordinarily quickly and that playing those machines provided some of the only solace that she enjoyed. It is hard to believe. I am a former teacher, and we all know the business managers, who work so hard in our schools. They are in a respected position, a position of trust. Just think that Frances Walshe, who was in that position of trust, is now in prison because of her addiction to poker machines.
In supporting this bill I think of people in my community who have suffered from the harms of problem gambling and the devastating effects it continues to have. Sadly, the impacts of gambling harm are intergenerational and widespread, and this needs to be addressed.
I would like to share the experiences of a constituent I met during pre-poll at the 2022 campaign. Over the two weeks I came to know a man who was at the shopping centre first thing every morning. I would watch as he would walk around the centre car park and outside the building looking for discarded cigarette butts that he could smoke. It was clear by looking at him that life had been tough on him, and he was a broken man. Each morning I would greet him and ask him how he was going. As the days went on I asked him about his life, and he explained to me that his life had been destroyed by gambling.
He shared with me that as a child growing up his father was a problem gambler on the horses. This took a monumental toll on him, as his father’s losses led to violence and economic hardship for the family. However, after his rough start to life, things were looking brighter. He married, bought a house and had his own family. Sadly, the harmful impacts of gambling would once again haunt him after his wife became addicted to gaming machines. This had a devastating impact on him. Money for the family and for the household bills would be gambled away, and then she would become aggressive and violent, demanding access to more money to gamble. The impacts of her gambling addiction led to the loss of their house and the breakdown of their marriage, leaving him with nothing. He now lives in public housing and, very sadly, has very little to live for. For the people like this man and his family and so many others, I am supporting the reforms to reduce gambling harm.
That is what this government is doing. A comprehensive package of gambling reforms was announced in July that will better protect all Victorians who gamble and which particularly focuses on improving protections for those who experience harm. The reform agenda includes introducing mandatory closing times for gaming machines in areas outside a casino, reducing load limits from $1000 to $100 and increasing spin rates to slow the rate of play. I have got to get my head around that. We are increasing spin rates, but it will actually slow down the rate of play on new gaming machines, which consequently reduces the speed at which money can be lost and, very significantly, the speed at which money can be laundered. As well we have statewide mandatory precommitment and carded play, which will be an important safeguard for gaming machine users, preventing them from spending and, very importantly, losing outside of their limits.
The Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 is a step towards the delivery of vital gambling harm reforms. They will further improve the implementation of recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. Importantly, the proposed amendments to the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 – this is what is proposed – introduce the mandatory closing period that many people have talked about, from 4 am until 10 am, during which gaming machines outside of those in the casino cannot be played.
My former office was next to the George Hotel in Ballarat. It was amazing to see how early people would get there each morning to play the pokies, so I think that this closing period from 4 am to 10 am is going to have some positive impacts. This is an improvement on the current requirements, which mandate a daily 4-hour break but not at a specific time. What is important as well is that this 6-hour shutdown will provide an important break in play. At the beginning I talked about ludomania – play mania. If we are able to disrupt play with this 6-hour shutdown, which means that you cannot shop around and find another venue that will host you, we will be trying to reduce that mania and trying to say that your gambling is a problem and you need to have a break.
I have run out of time, so I will just quickly explain that I support this bill for the many important reforms that it is delivering, including the closing times, ensuring that offences can apply if prohibited betting products are offered from interstate – in order to further protect Victorians from gambling harm – and strengthening the role of the statutory manager. I commend this important bill, the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill, to the house.