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Victoria regulator to hold operators to account over gambling harm

| By Robert Fletcher
The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) has put operators in the Australian state on notice to minimise gambling harm.

In what the VGCCC described as a world-first announcement, the regulator said gambling harm is “preventable”, but only if operators take the necessary measures. 

The VGCCC took over as the state’s regulator in July of 2022 with a mandate to minimise gambling harm and problem gambling. VGCCC chair Fran Thorn said that the organisation would hold operators to account over both their regulatory and social responsibilities.

“We are committed to holding gambling operators to account against their social licence, not just their regulatory obligations,” Thorn said. “The link between gambling and harm is established, just like the link between smoking and cancer is established.

“We are making our views on gambling harm crystal clear to the industry and the wider community. Without qualification, gambling causes harm to people who participate, as well as their family, friends, colleagues and the community in which they live.

“Gambling operators have a duty to care and act to prevent causing harm to their customers and the broader community.”

Changing narrative 

Thorn said the VGCCC would break away from the traditional narrative that marginalised harm by only referring to in the context of “problem gambling” or linking it to players not gambling “responsibly”.

Setting out its new position, the VGCCC said that “a possibility of harm remains whenever someone is gambling” and “disregarding the possibility of harm is equivalent to disregarding harm”.

The statement added that preventing harm would be classed as acting immediately and decisively whenever there are signs of harm or possible harm.

“Gambling markets gravitate toward harmful offerings in the competition to attract customers,” the statement said. “The fact an offer may be lawful does not mean it is not harmful, the statement says. 

“Gambling providers’ duty to care for the wellbeing of their customers extends beyond merely complying with the law,” the statement says. “Providers are responsible for turning their minds to identifying and preventing harm.

“Failure to honour the duty invites scrutiny into whether a gambling provider is complying with its legal obligations.”

VGCCC’s chief executive, Annette Kimmitt, added that the organisation was making it clear to the industry it will take a zero-tolerance approach to those that deliberately contravene their obligations to protect the community from gambling harm.

“Putting it as bluntly as we can: the VGCCC expects gambling providers to operate decently as well as legally,” Kimmitt said.

Launching new initiatives

To support operators in their efforts to minimise harm, the VGCCC will roll out a number of new initiatives.

These include a “Harm Minimisation Assessment Tool” covering harm minimisation criteria when assessing applications for new, or variations to existing, electronic gaming machines (EGMs).

The VGCCC will also impose new conditions to improve harm minimisation measures at venues seeking to increase the number of EGMS. Maximum bet limits will also be added to a new online keno game.

In addition, anti-harm measures will be set at Crown Casino in Melbourne. These include a direction banning marketing programmes targeting at-risk and vulnerable consumers.

The VGCCC in April fined Crown Resorts AU$30m for breaches related to the “blank cheque” policy at the casino. Crown allowed its patrons to gamble through cheques made out to themselves, rather than the casino, even before the cheque had cleared.

This was a violation of the Victorian Casino Control Act 1991 which prohibits the use of cheques at a casino, with a few specific exceptions. The policy is designed to prevent the casinos from extending credit to gamblers and as an anti-money laundering measure.   

New South Wales warning

The statement comes after Liquor & Gaming New South Wales this week warned all venues in the state to ensure they do not have any ATMs with credit access. This is in line with the Gaming Machines Act 2001 and followed the detection of two such machines at two separate Sydney locations.

The regulator ordered the Wentworth Hotel at Homebush to remove the credit card withdrawal function from an ATM on the premises Liquor & Gaming NSW also issued a direction to the Earlwood Hotel to remove the credit card access from its machines.

Meanwhile, Liquor & Gaming New South Wales also revealed it had issued 77 penalty notices in the past seven months for gaming-related breaches.

Penalty notices were handed out after 875 inspections of pubs and clubs were carried out across the state. The regulator also commenced three prosecutions.

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