I’ve written a fair bit about the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation over the past few months. No surprises there, as they continue to make bewildering and questionable decisions about poker machine gambling in Victoria, and are seen by many (least of all me) as little more than a rubber stamp for the gambling industry.
But I have a confession to make. I’ve recently come to a troubling conclusion, one that has rocked me to my core.
When it’s all said and done, the VCGR isn’t that bad. It could be a hell of a lot worse. There, I said it.
But wait! I hear you cry. What has brought you to this insane conclusion? It’s simple really. I recently turned my attention to the gambling industry in New South Wales, a state I lived in for some years. I intended to analyse the statistics of the industry, the regions, the number of venues, the breakdown of spending and profits, much as I’ve been doing for Victorian pokies.
That was my intent. But once I started my investigation, I soon realised it wasn’t going to be that easy.
The VCGR is the regulatory body for gambling in Victoria. In NSW, it’s the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (aka the OLGR). Naturally, their website was my first port of call. I expected to find similar information there to what I’d become accustomed to on the VCGR website.
This is where things started falling apart. The VCGR website, for all its faults, contains a wealth of information that can be pulled apart and examined at length. In addition to regulatory and policy information, there’s comprehensive data on the number, size and location of venues; the amount spent, month by month, year by year, in each venue, suburb, city and shire; the companies behind every club and hotel in the state, and the people associated with those companies; the list goes on. A veritable wealth of statistical information.
But the OLGR? Oh dear. Someone must have told them once that less is more, because they’ve got practically nothing. The one place on the ‘net where I would expect to find official and detailed information about the state of the poker machine industry in NSW, and what do I find?
A statistics page. Fifteen bullet points that relate to poker machines (and that includes casino stats). And that’s it.
Shaken by not discouraged, I spent time wading through the rest of the website, and came up blank. I widened my search, looking for another organisation, another governing body for NSW that might host this information. Nothing. The data isn’t there… or at least, it’s not publicly available.
All I could find out through readily-available public channels was that NSW has almost 3,000 gaming venues with over 95,000 poker machines, in stark contrast to Victoria’s 514 venues and 26,682 pokies.
Not only is the NSW pokies industry a monster, sweeping criticisms aside and lumbering on its merry way… but the body that’s supposed to regulate it has zero transparency, and by correlation, zero accountability. Apparently, the first thing that the OLGR is responsible for is “developing and implementing policy” with regards to gambling. Do you think I could find any mention of the NSW gambling policy on their site.
It’s a joke, albeit a sad and twisted joke. Surely the public has the right to know how much money their local pokie venue is ripping out of their community? How many venues are in their area? Who runs the show behind the scenes? It seems not… at least, not in NSW.
And so, safe behind their screen of non-information, the clubs and hotels (especially the clubs) of NSW can continue to expand and bleed billions of dollars out of the citizens of that state. And the NSW state government will continue to reap the benefits of massive gambling taxes… small wonder they oppose the $1 gambling cap that Independent Andrew Wilkie has recently made a priority. As a non-local, I’m left wondering who’s really running the state… the government or the clubs?