Problem Gambling and Licensing Debates Down Under

Signpost with Australia and New Zealand flags

Regulations and licensing in both New Zealand and Australia have come under the microscope in recent days.

In New Zealand, a study has reported that scratch cards and fixed odds betting machines compounded problem gambling, spurring a campaign for tighter regulation. In Australia, Crown Casino has had its license renewed even though the company faces large fines for breaching regulations.

Scratch cards linked to relapses

Researchers in New Zealand have published papers suggesting that Instant Kiwi and online gambling are responsible for increased problem gambling in the country. These claims result from a long-term study into the causes and issues linked to problem gambling, published in the National Gambling Study.

New Zealand’s Ministry for Health funded the research, which was conducted by the Auckland University of Technology. It is one of only two similar studies worldwide that followed and assessed large numbers of people from one nation over time.

The study has shown that, even though participation rates are falling, gambling-related harm is increasing. Max Abbott, the director of the Gambling Addictions and Research Centre, said: “We’re capturing the onset of problems and are able to look at transitions over time. Gambling participation dropped during the 1990s then plateaued, but a population increase, relapsing gamblers, and concentration of high-risk groups exposed to gambling machines had contributed to an increase in gambling-related harms.”

Issues with online and land-based gambling

The Kiwis’ problem gambling habits are said to be further confounded by local and internationally licensed gambling websites. Abbott commented on this problem: “We found that Instant Kiwi and overseas internet gambling are all significantly involved in relapse. They weren’t so strongly implicated in the development of problems in the first place.” Two-thirds of the people reported as having a gambling problem had previously suffered from a similar condition.

The research found that relapses are more likely among patients who live in areas with high concentrations of gambling machines. The research came as New Zealand’s Department for Internal Affairs carried out mystery shopping tests to see whether or not venues were taking responsibility to prevent problem gambling. The results showed that most venues were not. Mr. Abbott suggested that community services that offer gambling machines should be offered alternative revenue sources to discourage them from installing fixed odds machines as a sure-fire source of revenue.

Australian licensing debate

Meanwhile, in Australia, Crown Casino has had its license renewed despite the company’s failure to keep up with legislative obligations. The Australian company has faced fines and has been found to be in breach of compliance in relation to a range of issues. The Victoria-based gaming regulator has turned a blind eye to these breaches and has renewed the operator’s license. The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, however, has ordered that the company implement “new or refreshed” strategies to prevent and resolve problem gambling.

Although the VCGLR has granted the renewal of the license, they were less than complimentary about the company, saying there had been “failures of governance and risk management, contributing to compliance slippages,” a “lack of innovation” for responsible gaming “such as might now be required of a world-leading operator to meet heightening community and regulatory expectations.” According to Reuters, Crown Melbourne Ltd accepted the VCGLR’s recommendations. Despite this, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation will continue to hold the firm’s license, stating that it’s in the public interest.

Record fines

Crown Casino faced record-breaking fines last year for removing betting options on 17 poker machines. The fines for that breach amounted to around $221,000 (£170,505), and the company was fined another $414,000 (£319,407) over a five-year period for eight compliance breaches that included minority gambling.

Allegations had also been made against Crown in relation to non-compliance with Victoria’s anti-money-laundering policies, but the company has always denied these allegations. In a statement, John Alexander, Crown’s chairman, said: “Crown recognizes the importance of responsible gaming measures to the future of the industry and is committed to further engagement with relevant stakeholders and development and refinement of its responsible gaming program informed, as far as possible, by research and expert opinion.”

The decision to grant the company a license in spite of these fines has come under fire from many campaigners who are seeking to prevent problem gambling in the country. After the 209-page report was published on Friday, the Alliance for Gambling Reform published a statement in response, saying: “Crown was criticized for its performance in a number of areas such as governance, regulatory compliance, and responsible gambling, but the sanction from the VCGLR was overly focused on reviews, rather than specific actions or changes to license conditions.”