Gambling addiction front and centre of Crown royal commission in Victoria

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
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The royal commission tasked with looking at the operations of Victoria’s only casino has shared dozens of public submissions it had received about gambling addiction.

The ABC reports the submissions included several first-hand accounts of the ongoing trauma left behind after relationships were torn apart due to addiction.

In its submission, the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association’s gambling counsellor, Ai Nguyen, said “most” of her clients had developed problem gambling at Crown.

Ms Nguyen said the lure of luxury restaurants, brands and 24/7 operating hours had drawn vulnerable people in from the suburbs.

She said the Crown rewards system, which offered tiered benefits to patrons, also drove people into the casino.

“The quickest way to move up the tier is by playing at the casino,” she said.

Ms Nguyen said some of her clients looked to Crown to escape unresolved emotional conflicts and sadness.

She said her clients told her loan sharks were regularly at the casino to target people they knew had a gambling addiction.

“All our clients who are on parole, or released from prison informed us that the reason they committed criminal offences was to pay off their debt,” she said.

“Loan sharks harass the ones who can’t pay up and either suggest or push people to commit crimes to get the money.”

Ms Nguyen said she wanted to see Crown staff check on patrons more regularly to ensure they were not straying into problem gambling beyond at least a 12-hour session.

“Crown as the business is putting their revenues first, and putting the community at risk,” she said.

Advocacy groups share their concerns with gambling harm management

The Victorian Arabic Social Services community support group wrote to the commission to flag its concerns about the “self-exclusion” program at the casino.

The program is offered for customers who want to ban themselves from the casino if they are battling a gambling addiction.

The service said several community members it had helped found the process “intimidating and off-putting to engage with, especially where language barriers exist.”

The service said some of its clients had reported the casino allowed them to enter areas they were meant to be barred from as part of the self-exclusion process.

A separate gambler’s submission also raised concerns about the level of support they received from the casino watchdog, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, when they complained about the casino’s ineffective self-exclusion program.

In its submission, the Springvale Monash Legal Service said it was “extremely concerned” about the impact of gambling on the vulnerable communities it supported.

The service shared several stories, including one from a Hazara person from Afghanistan who did not speak much English and described being unable to understand the terms and conditions on machines.

The person described falling into addiction after first visiting the casino in 2018.

“I started playing on simple ones just pressing the buttons,” they said.

“I watched other people play too. I felt lonely in these so I just kept playing to keep myself busy.”

The legal service also shared the story of an Iranian migrant whose wife left him after he brought her to the casino one night and she watched him play through the night.

“She asked me to go home several times,” he said.

“I was so busy playing that I constantly postponed her request.

“I was drunk and all I could think about was to make up for the few hundred dollars I lost any way I could.”

When he stopped playing at 6am because he had run out of money, he could not find his wife.

“When I came home, I did not find any trace of her and I have not seen her since that day,” he said.

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