Labor Accused Of Going Back on Crown Pokies Limits

Government opposition accuses the Labor Party of going soft on recommendations to impose loss and time limits on Crown pokies.

The royal commission into Crown Melbourne was damning of the casino operation. Commissioner Finkelstein deemed Crown unsuitable of holding a gaming licence and gave 33 recommendations for the government to implement. Limiting losses by players of Crown pokies was high up on the agenda. The Andrews government agreed with limiting Crown pokies losses, but is reconsidering its stance.

There are a staggering 2,628 Crown pokies on the gaming floor right now. This is the most of anywhere across Australia. Ray Finkelstein QC, the man who headed last year’s royal commission into Crown, recommended tough new rules if Crown wanted to keep its lucrative gaming licence. He suggested mandatory pre-commitment limits on the amount of money and time spent playing on Crown pokies.

The government passed legislation on nine of Finkelstein’s 33 recommendations. Gaming Minister Melissa Horne promised further legislation for the remaining 24 recommendations. Limiting losses and imposing time constraints on Crown pokies is among those outstanding. However, such limitations ran into resistance from the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

Crown Pokies Contribute Massively to the Government’s Funds

The 2,628 Crown pokies generate huge sums of money for the government. Figures from 2019-20 show Crown pokies raised $844 million in poker machine taxes. In addition, Crown Melbourne paid $149 million in casino taxes.

The opposition accuses the Andrews government of going soft on their “donor mates.”

Greens Leader Samantha Ratnam is damning in her assessment of the situation.

“Once again we see that what Crown asks for, the Victoria Labor government delivers. After the damning royal commission into Crown, Labor asked us to give it a second chance, and now they’re backing down at the first hurdle. They just won’t stand up to their donor mates.”

Steph Ryan, the opposition liquor and gambling spokeswoman, asked Victorians to make up their own minds why Labor is going back on its promise to limit losses on Crown pokies.

“The Andrews government must release the advice from the public sector on a pre-commitment scheme in full and without delay. Victorians can make up their own minds as to why the Labor Party is making yet another decision in Crown casino’s favour.”

Pre-Commitment Rules Could Push Problem Gambling Elsewhere

The government is concerned that the under-fire Crown pokies rules could push problem gambling and money laundering elsewhere. Imposing restrictions at one venue would result in those affected heading to nearby pubs and clubs.

Former chairman of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, Ian Dunn, agrees with those thoughts. However, Dunn sees the greater picture too.

“There would be leakage to other venues but if Ms Horne had any sense of leadership in this area, let us see how well it works at Crown, to see if it should be introduced more generally.”

Other Experts Chime In

It is not only the government’s opposition who are critical of Labor’s seeming U-turn on Crown pokies reforms. Charles Livingstone is a gambling expert at Monash University. He is flabbergasted the government did not make Crown pokies changes in the first instance. Furthermore, backtracking on the changes is a betrayal of the royal commission.

“It would be a real betrayal of the findings of the royal commission and more importantly a tacit endorsement of Crown’s malfeasance in failing to prevent harm.”

The Reverend Tim Costello is a staunch opponent of gambling. He is the chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform. Costello believes Crown is putting pressure on the government to water down the changes. It is doing this with its own bottom line at the front of its mind.

“To only focus on the regulatory and criminal side would be to fail the recommendations of the Finkel report. The chances hit the bottom line of the industry which depends on problem gamblers playing the pokies for profits.”