I rise to speak on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. The Greens support the intent of this bill, but like the Labor government’s other gambling reforms we believe the new regulations do not go far enough to minimise gambling harm and improve Victoria’s regulatory framework for gambling.
The social and economic harm of gambling is well documented but is always worth repeating, because gambling, and particularly poker machines, are hurting families and communities, and we have a responsibility to do what we can in this place to stop the harm. Just some of the harms being caused across the community include over 80 per cent of Australian adults engaging in gambling of some kind, which is the highest rate of gambling in the world. Australians lose more money on gambling than any other country, roughly $1000 per adult each year. Australians spend more money on gambling than on any other activities that can be addictive and dangerous, including alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. In 2017 Australians spent $24 billion on gambling, half on pokies in pubs and clubs. Victorians lost $2.6 billion on poker machines between 2016 and 2017 — in just one year. That was only 0.27 per cent less than losses in 2015–16. So we have to ask the question: are our harm reduction efforts really having an impact?
Gambling is a major driver of household debt and family and personal dysfunction. It is a significant public health issue, with around 80 000 to 160 000 Australian adults experiencing significant problems from gambling and a further 250 000 to 350 000 experiencing moderate risks that may make them and their families more vulnerable to even further harm from gambling.
The research shows us that gambling addictions are linked to high suicide rates, violence against women and violent crime. Newer betting forms such as sports betting, though small in money at the moment, are the fastest growing part of the gambling market, but it is having a significant impact when you consider that 75 per cent of kids who watch sports on TV think gambling is a normal part of the game and can recite betting odds. In light of all the evidence we are supportive of any moves to reduce the amount of advertising of gambling products that the community and particularly children are subjected to.
The bill will ban the display of static betting advertising by wagering service providers within 150 metres of the perimeter of a school, in or on public transport infrastructure, and on roads and road infrastructure. We support this ban as far it goes. Research clearly shows the impact of advertising on gambling behaviour, including that advertising reinforces the normalisation of gambling within sport, which is a growing problem, especially for young people. For example, betting odds have become part of the conversation kids have about sports; it is normalised. One in five kids can identify three or more sporting betting brands, and two-thirds of kids can name one. Teenagers are four times more likely than adults to develop a gambling problem, and one-fifth of adult problem gamblers start gambling before the age of 18 years.
We note that the ban on static advertising covers billboards, banners, signs, images, rolling displays, digital billboards and panels, including those that display video and movable billboards and displays. But this prohibition does not apply to advertising that is publicly broadcast by commercial television, radio or digital media or commercial print media. We appreciate the difficulties for the Victorian government in regulating TV, the internet and the intranet, but we do urge the government to take this issue up with the federal government and its fellow state governments. We note that the prohibitions in this bill are important. They are nothing compared to the bombardment on TV and the internet that the gambling industry thrives on.
The bill also includes a number of exemptions to the advertising prohibition. Of particular concern to the Greens is that the ads will continue to be permitted at sporting grounds, which are places our children frequent. As noted by the minister, the bill seeks to limit the community’s exposure to betting advertising and especially children’s exposure. Research indicates that the two places where children report seeing gambling ads most frequently are on television and at sporting stadiums. So we will be moving an amendment to expand the prohibition on advertising as widely as it can be, including prohibiting gambling advertising at sporting stadiums. We see no reason why gambling advertising should be prohibited only in certain areas.
We believe the ban should be as wide as possible to minimise the extraordinary harm gambling does to our community. Our amendment will remove the specific locations for the prohibition and simply ban the static advertising of gambling by wagering service providers. The only exemptions we believe are necessary are to allow gambling service providers to put their names on their buildings and for bookies at racecourses to display their names.
The bill provides for a transitional period, whereby the betting ban will not apply until 17 September 2019 to any gambling advertising published under a contract or agreement entered into before 17 September 2017. We believe that the transitional period is time enough to implement a more substantial ban on the advertising of this extraordinarily harmful product.
The bill also includes amendments to the role and governance of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), which we do not oppose, but we stand by our motion that we moved last year that there should be a full inquiry into the VCGLR, a motion that was voted down by the government and the opposition. This voting record goes to the broader issue of the failure of successive state governments to protect our community from the harms that the pokies industry continues to inflict on our community.
Over the last few months we have seen pokies licences extended to 20 years, when we should be starting to curb them and reduce them. This Parliament voted against a more substantial inquiry into the VCGLR. At the same time, we have our largest casino being investigated about allegations of blanking out buttons, making poker machines even more dangerous. That is what happens when you do not have good regulation; you create an environment where providers feel they can continue to flout the law and are not fearful of the consequences. That is why we need a stronger regulator and a proper inquiry. The reality is that Victoria desperately needs to do more to reduce the harm of gambling. Yet in this place, despite the attempts in this bill, the government and the opposition have supported entrenching harm from poker machines for decades to come.
Why is banning advertising and why is a more extended ban on advertising necessary? It is because the problem is so deep and so harmful to so many. Just look at some of the statistics. We know that this is particularly harmful in terms of the link between the AFL and gambling. A Deakin University study found that children who play or attend AFL games are the most likely to recall gambling brand names and sponsorship deals, which tells you why we need the ban on sporting grounds. The Alliance for Gambling Reform released statistics that show that pokies owned by clubs take $93 million each year, the majority of which comes from problem gamblers, who lose on average $21 000 a year each, which is a quarter of the average wage.
A recent study by Dr Charles Livingstone from Monash University found that gambling losses on 1316 machines at the 17 venues operated by nine Victorian clubs hit $94 million last year. We have demonstrations of good civic responsibility, with clubs like North Melbourne being the only Victorian club not making its money from pokies.
In the north-western local government area where AFL pokies were located the average increase in family violence between 2013 and 2017 was 21.5 per cent, and we know there is an increasing link between harmful pokie machines and family violence.
More than half of the 1316 machines owned by AFL clubs are located in Melbourne’s socio-economically disadvantaged suburbs. Machines in the north-west accounted for $54 million in punter losses last year, which equates to 57 per cent of the AFL clubs total — devastating figures.
Dr Livingstone also found that pokie concentrations are associated with higher levels of family violence incidents — overwhelmingly violence against women. He argues that a key way for the AFL to pursue their social goals would be to take steps to help clubs withdraw from the pokies business, and that is a call that we absolutely support.
It was also reported today that the VCGLR, as mentioned before, is investigating Crown for its breaches. It has allegedly been testing blanking buttons that block various gambling options that would otherwise be available to punters, particularly lower bet amounts. The aim is to boost the losses on the machines by blanking out those buttons. We welcome the VCGLR considering taking action against Crown and investigating this, but we want to see a stronger regulatory environment that prevents this happening in the first place.
The reality here is that there is a lot more to do in Victoria to get rid of the harms of gambling that hurt so many families and communities. If we saw anything on the weekend in terms of what happened in Tasmania with the courageous policy announcement to ban pokies over the next five years, we saw an industry that was so scared that they poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to ensure that their vested interests were protected for generations to come. Their vested interests are going to cost the interests of everyday Australians into the future unless we take strong action.