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Australia’s gambling regulatory capture: inside the sector’s controversial Sydney extravaganza

For five whole days, representatives and regulators of the lucrative gambling industry will wine, dine, mingle and network. Noticeably absent? Anyone serious about reform.

Stephen Mayne
6 March 2023

For five whole days, representatives and regulators of the lucrative gambling industry will wine, dine, mingle and network. Noticeably absent? Anyone serious about reform.

If you want insight into how regulatory capture works in the gambling sector, look no further than the five-day extravaganza the industry is rolling out for global regulators in Sydney this week.

As former NSW gambling regulator turned industry advocate and conference organiser Paul Newson wrote on LinkedIn last week:

After navigating a challenging couple of years to get Regulating the Game up and running during the pandemic and ensure we delivered a unique and compelling event, we are thrilled to share that Regulating the Game 2023 Sydney is now fully booked!

Delegates spent three and a half hours at the opening cocktail party on HMAS Vampire last night, no doubt enjoying what was a sparkling night on Sydney Harbour.

Earlier today, Victoria’s new chief gambling regulator Annette Kimmitt delivered a one-hour keynote address, although the program gave no clue as to the territory she was covering. Kimmitt came to public attention in March 2021 when she exited as CEO of law firm MinterEllison after sending an all-staff email raising concern about the firm acting for Christian Porter.

After 38 years working for legal and accounting firms, 12 months ago Kimmitt suddenly became CEO of the reconstituted Victorian Casino and Gambling Control Commission. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has long been a gambling industry champion and neither he nor the new chief regulator has shown any sign of moving on club and pub pokies losses, which jumped 12% from the previous record to hit $3.05 billion in calendar 2022.

If Kimmitt stays at Regulating the Game 2023 all week, she’ll have plenty of access to industry and regulating peers — the new Tabcorp CEO Adam Rytenskild is speaking after lunch on Wednesday and Dan Hartman from the Colorado Division of Gaming has the floor for an hour on Friday morning.

Sydney is the most gambling-captured major city in the world, so the charmers in the pubs and clubs industry were heavily involved in putting together the program to help “educate” gambling regulators. The ClubsNSW name has become so toxic that it’s rolled out alternative official sponsors of Regulating the Game, namely Leagues Clubs Australia and Norths Collective, which is the inoffensive brand name for a bunch of pokies venues from Sydney’s Northern Beaches up to Tweed Heads.

However, when I clicked on the Norths Collective logo on the conference sponsors page over the weekend, it led to the homepage of the NSW division of the Australian Hotels Association.

Norths Collective is directly sponsoring Tuesday evening’s “Presentation Night”, which sounds like a lot of fun:

Presentation night is an opportunity to tell a story about your organisation’s compliance and regulatory arrangements, and hear about approaches across the sector and different jurisdictions. It’s a working session to be sure, but the labour is eased by the spectacular food, hospitality and networking over plentiful upscale food and drinks.

Annual global gambling revenues, both illegal and legal, are fast rocketing towards $1 trillion a year, with Australia delivering a record $25 billion of legal gambler losses in calendar 2022.

The secret to the industry’s spectacular growth has been a combination of technology, sophisticated marketing and regulatory capture, which usually involves finding small, obliging, unsophisticated or cash-strapped jurisdictions to start doling out licences, a bit like the way Panama is a flag of convenience for the global shipping industry.

As Crikey has noted previously, the Northern Territory has performed that role admirably in Australia, having dished out 30 licences to online bookmakers such as Sportsbet, Ladbrokes, Bet365 and Betr. Collectively, these outfits are still barely paying $10 million a year in tax to the NT government, despite fleecing Australian gamblers of more than $4 billion a year after flooding our television screens with gambling ads at all hours of the day.

Sure enough, the chairman of the NT Territory Racing Commission, veteran Darwin-based public servant Alastair Shields, is scheduled to deliver a one-hour keynote at 3.30pm this afternoon, leading into the exclusive “invite-only” Monday night dinner at an “undisclosed” location.

Shields will be followed at 4.30pm on Monday by Carl Brincat, CEO of the Malta Gaming Authority. Malta is the smallest country in Europe, with a population of barely 500,000, but has sold its soul to the online gambling industry, issuing licences like confetti.

After the succulent food and wine at “Presentation Night”, Shields will be back for a Tuesday afternoon panel on “Responsible Gaming” alongside the general counsel of Entain (the parent of Ladbrokes), the CEO of Ebet, Harry Ashton from pokies giant Aristocrat Leisure, and Professor Sally Gainsbury from the University of Sydney — which has received more than $5 million of gambling industry funding over the years.

One of the many criticisms of gambling industry regulators and the companies they regulate is that they meet with neither critics in the gambling reform movement nor any genuine gamblers harmed by their addictive products.

With hundreds of regulators and gambling industry types getting together for a whole week, you’d think at least some of them would think to invite Tim Costello, Professor Charles Livingstone, Andrew Wilkie or even former NSW gaming minister Victor Dominello to give their perspective, particularly given the world-significant cashless pokies proposal by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

The best they could do was an address from Australia’s go-to ethicist Professor Simon Longstaff at the “gala dinner” to be held at Nour in Surry Hills on Thursday night, but attendees are also being promised a performance by “acclaimed violinist Yena Choi”.

The signature banquet at Nour will set you back $119 per person, which raises the question: who is paying for this five-day indulgence? And is it appropriate for global gambling industry representatives and regulators to commingle for a whole week in the world’s most gambling-captured city?

With NSW in a caretaker period and cashless pokies a hot political topic ahead of the March 25 election, don’t be surprised if the decision of Jane Lin, executive director of regulatory operations and enforcement at Liquor & Gaming NSW, to present for an hour from 1.15pm this afternoon causes some consternation.

Then again, former Richard Alston adviser turned ACMA deputy chair Creina Chapman is presenting, as is the NSW Crime Commission after its high-impact report on money laundering last year.

No gambling industry conference would be complete without a News Corp presence, and that is being provided by Sky News commentator and Australian columnist Gemma Tognini, who runs a PR business on the side.

The NSW gambling industry is all over News Corp influencers, as can be seen by this ambassadorial endorsement that Sky News host Erin Molan has with the Bankstown RSL, a gold-plated pokies palace in one of the poorest parts of Sydney. Crikey has long documented the increasing ties between the Murdochs and the gambling industry, so don’t expect to read much about this controversial conference in News Corp publications this week.

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