Royal Commission essential to get to bottom of gambling industry in Australia - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Royal Commission essential to get to bottom of gambling industry in Australia

Media Release: 13 July, 2020

Inadequate fines for illegal practices off the back of whistleblower revelations and a COVID-19 breakout in a pokies barn have underscored the need for a Royal Commission into gambling.

Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said the tentacles of the gambling industry spread far across federal and state politics, with devastating consequences.

Rev Costello pointed to news that the Woolworths-controlled pubs and pokies company ALH group received the largest penalty ever imposed by the regulator, for "systemically" giving patrons at two NSW hotels free alcohol to encourage their gambling. Yet the retail giant escaped a six-figure fine because of "gaps" in the state’s poker machine laws.

“These long-running cases were exposed by whistleblowers and show the true nature of the lengths the vicious, nasty and predatory gambling industry will go to in order to encourage people to gamble more as these gamblers are the prime source of revenue in pubs and clubs,” Rev Costello said.

“The apparent inability for the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to fine ALH for these outrageous, illegal practices is shocking. How can the community have confidence in a system unable to effectively hold operators to account when they break the law? How have we got to this point?

“This is just the latest in a series of scandals involving poker machine clubs and pubs in NSW. From openly boasting about “heavily influencing” the government's plan to reopen venues during the COVID pandemic, to applying to permanently expand gaming room floor all in the name of ‘public health’, and turning a blind eye to accusations of money-laundering - this is an industry that clearly believes it is above the law.

“The gambling industry’s influence runs deep and a Royal Commission is the only way to get to the bottom of exactly how far and wide this reach is, and who is connected and benefitting.”

Rev Costello pointed to a large coronavirus outbreak at the Crossroads Hotel in NSW as another reason for a Royal Commission.

“We ended up with 600 people in a pub in a day, just one month after reopening, and look what happened,” Rev Costello said. “And now Star Casino has reported a case that needs contact tracing. This is the result of a predatory industry being able to “heavily influence” governments.”

Rev Costello said another news story from recent days about a man who was targeted by gambling companies to increase his gambling exponentially to the point he lost $8 million was yet another example of why a Royal Commission into gambling was needed.

“This man was in the thrall of a serious addiction and lacked the insight to realise how dire his situation had become. He believes that mental state was compounded — even exploited — by the behaviour of the betting agency. How can something like this happen?” Rev Costello asked.

“The gambling industry is among the biggest political donors in Australia. They donated $1 million in the last Victorian election to prevent the Greens getting the balance of power and pushing for gambling reform. The industry also spent so much in the Tasmanian election that some say the industry influenced the result.

“Then there are questions to be asked about why Crown Casino in Melbourne had a special exemption to keep operating in the early days of the coronavirus.

“We don’t call for this Royal Commission lightly. The gambling industry is one of the biggest in Australia. More than $2 billion was saved with poker machines switched off around Australia, and millions continue to be saved in Victoria every day while they are off.

“That money comes from people experiencing gambling harm, targeted by an industry comfortable including addictive features in its product, and with no concern for the Australian people.”

Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or rebecca.thorpe@agr.org.au

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