- »Crown Scandal Prompts Fresh Gambling Harm Warnings
Crown Scandal Prompts Fresh Gambling Harm Warnings
The revelations that have emerged over the past several months about Crown Resorts and the alleged crimes taking place in and around the company have elevated public concern about gambling and gambling harm.
Gambling reform advocate Tim Costello decided it was the perfect time to rally the public behind the idea of a royal commission. It might be the first of many steps to address gambling harm in Australia.
Enough is Enough?
The allegations were severe when first revealed by an in-depth media investigation this summer. Crown Resorts was reported to have links to money laundering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, and numerous related crimes. Whether complicit through participation or overlooking actions of employees, junket operators, and VIP customers, Crown was at the center of the allegations.
That immediately spurred investigations.
From the Victoria Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) to financial crimes agency Austrac and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Crown was the focus of numerous cases opened to investigate the allegations.
Most recently, yet another allegation emerged. This pertained to a notorious arms dealer with connections to a Liberian war criminal. Despite a global travel ban recognized by Australia, Joseph Wong Kiia Tai was able to gamble at Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth numerous times.
All of it has let to several lawmakers to officially request a royal commission.
Op-Ed for Royal Commission…At Least
Reverend Tim Costello is an outspoken advocate against the proliferation of gambling in Australia. Officially, he serves as the chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
The group is a collaboration of organizations that have banded together to express concern about the impacts of gambling and campaign for reforms in the gambling industry. The hope is not only to reduce the harmful effects of gambling on social as a whole. But, to keep gambling from being normalized in Australian culture.
Costello had been calling for a royal commission as soon as the first Crown allegations emerged, but the spectrum of further reports that have become known since prompted further action.
In the form of an opinion piece in The Guardian, Costello called for state and federal governments to stand up and order the royal commission.
Citing the massive financial donations to lawmakers by the Australian Hotels Association, Costello pointed out the curious lack of actions taken against Crown by the Victorian government. He claimed that donations of $500K to Labor, $300K to Coalition, and some to independents puts the AHA at nearly $1 million in political donations last year.
“The Victoria government remains effectively silent about gambling in Victoria,” he wrote. “Why is that? A royal commission is the only way to get a proper answer to that question.”
Reforms Unlikely without Public Support
SBS News spoke with Shane Lucas of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation about problematic gambling behaviors. He said that people should reach out and also take advantage of the support offered.
“In Victoria, we fund gamblers’ help services across the state, which provide a combination of financial and therapeutic counselling to people and can link them to a range of services, depending on their circumstances,” Lucas said.
But Costello feels that it’s not enough. Gambling continues to be more prevalent, while those sponsoring the gambling opportunities take less responsibility for the problems that ensue.
Costello told SBS that reform is unlikely without a royal commission to hold lawmakers and industry stakeholders publicly accountable. He said that the revenue is too easy. The political donations flow too easily for anything to happen without the public.
As for the public, they support less gambling. “Most people hate pokies,” claimed Costello. “Every survey says up to 75% of them in Victoria want them all removed.”
Government Support Required
Government ministers must formally request a royal commission. This is highest form of inquiry on a matter of public importance like gambling.
The Royal Commissions Act of 1902 authorized them for “any public purpose” of the Commonwealth. Also, to ensure the “peace, order, and good government” of it.
An appointed commissioner, usually a judge, will arrange for public hearings and also collect testimony from witnesses under oath. They can also secure evidence and research. They can even provide governmental protection to whistleblowers.
At the current time, advocates like Costello and lawmakers like Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie and Victorian MP Fiona Patten would prefer a federal royal commission beyond the borders of Victoria. The hope is that such an investigation will reveal that further legislation is needed to restrict or reduce gambling in Australia. At the very least, it also provides greater oversight with more levels of accountability.
A royal commission could cost tens of millions of dollars. This is one of the reasons it might also need to happen on the federal level.
Either way, Costello will keep pushing until gambling receives the attention it deserves.