Victorian Regulator Reportedly Failed to Investigate Alleged Poker Machine Misconduct

Victoria’s Gambling Regulator Allegedly Failed to Investigate Crown Poker Machine Misconduct

Victoria’s gambling watchdog is in the firing line for failing to investigate alleged misconduct at the state’s Crown Casino.

Serious misconduct

In May, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) was reportedly feeling the pressure to investigate the use of plastic picks on the Crown Casino’s poker machines.

The picks in question were allegedly being jammed into the play button on a gambling machine enabling continuous automatic play. Marked with the Crown Casino logo, the picks are no bigger than a guitar plectrum. At the time, it was reported that this was leading to an increase in losses for problem gamblers.

Yet, despite a whistleblower posting a video on YouTube of the pick in action on a poker machine, the VCGLR reportedly failed to investigate the alleged misconduct at Crown Casino because whistleblowers who worked there wanted to remain anonymous, reports ABC News.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, the man responsible for using parliament to highlight the allegations of misconduct at the casino last year, explained that he was shocked to learn that the regulator wouldn’t accept the information presented by the whistleblowers.

Writing to Ross Kennedy, chair of the VCGLR, Wilkie said: “To my mind this is unfathomable. Police and regulators often take information from anonymous sources for investigation — in fact, Crime Stoppers’ campaigning makes a virtue of this.”

According to Wilkie, members of the commission staff told his team that investigators had been informed not to focus on the issue of picks in poker play. This is despite the fact that state rules in Victoria ban the use of a machine spinning continuously without a user pressing a button for each spin.

Fit to hold a license?

Such allegations would bring into question whether Crown Casino needs a thorough review of its license.

In April, the gambling watchdog fined the casino A$300,000 (£168,000; $222,000) in an unrelated breach. Last year, it was reported that Crown Casino had tampered with poker machines by removing betting buttons from 20 of its machines in what is known as “blanking buttons.”

The report also notes other allegations, including the fact that the casino regularly reset the machines’ memories in order to reduce returns to players. Yet while the VCGLR had previously discovered machines had been altered, no action was taken against the casino, it adds.

The fine is a relatively small bump in the revenue that was generated by Crown Casino in the first six months of 2018. According to the report, it raked in more than A$1.1bn (£615m; $814m).

Australian PoC Taxes

This story follows news of the introduction of point of consumption (PoC) taxes on bets in the country.

Last year, South Australia became the first state to implement a PoC tax on corporate bookies, at a rate of 15%. Since then, other jurisdictions have followed suit. Queensland has also set a tax of 15% as has the Australian Capital Territory, while New South Wales has placed theirs at 10%. Western Australia and Tasmania are expected to do the same in the coming months.

Notably, Victoria was believed to be introducing a tax of 8%; however, a report indicates that the Victorian government had failed to announce a PoC tax on corporate bookmakers in its 2018-19 state budget. It remains to be seen if and when the state of Victoria does announce its own PoC tax on corporate bookies.

According to the Australian Government Department of Social Services, “online gambling is the fastest growing gambling segment, growing at 15% per annum, with over $1.4 billion gambled online each year”. Not only that, but Australians are losing between A$64m (£36m; $47m) and A$400m (£224m; $296m) every year betting in illegal offshore sites, meaning tax revenue is also lost.

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