What has happened in the past 10 years since this young man, husband & father of two children lost his way to the wicked trap of problem gambling. We need to take immediate action to better know and understand what can happen before one of us becomes a mourner and have our life indelibly scarred.
NORTH NOWRA TAVERN PATRON SUICIDE
Mr W. D. SMITH:
My question without notice is to the Minister for Gaming and Racing.
What is the latest information on the suicide of a Nowra man who gambled heavily at a local hotel?
Mr FACE: I commend the honourable member for South Coast for his persistence in bringing this matter to my attention. The prosecution was launched against the North Nowra Tavern following an investigation into the hotel’s gambling practices by the Director of Liquor and Gaming. Court action was taken against the hotelier for permitting cash advances, which has been of concern to the honourable member for South Coast for some time. The hotelier was not exercising his licence in the public interest and he permitted practices likely to encourage gambling abuse. The investigation followed the suicide of a former patron of the North Nowra Tavern, Gavin Richardson. His death is a tragic downside of gambling in our community. It is tragic that Mr Richardson left behind a wife and two young children.
Over a six-month period in 1998 Mr Richardson cashed cheques totalling more than $100,000 at the hotel so he could gamble on the hotel’s poker machines. Most of those cheques were dishonoured by the bank. At the time of Mr Richardson’s death it was estimated that he had lost more than $93,000. That debt is a tragedy and has affected many people in the community, including me. I congratulate the honourable member for South Coast on keeping in touch with Mrs Richardson, as did my department, throughout the proceedings. It is regrettable that despite a strong case, Mr Dillon, the licensee, was fined only $5,000 by the Licensing Court. The Liquor Act provides penalties of up to $22,000, cancellation or suspension of a licence, or disqualification of the licensee as a result of complaint action, such as occurred in the North Nowra Tavern case.
Those sanctions applied in 1998 when Mr Dillon engaged in the practice of cashing cheques that bounced. I—as I am sure everyone would—find it difficult to understand the reason for such a light penalty. For a long time the Director of Liquor and Gaming in the Department of Gaming and Racing considered appealing the penalty, but the legal advice from several sources was that it would probably be unsuccessful. Presently I am auditing a few major cases involving large amounts of money. One case is in Newcastle and only half of the missing money can be traced to poker machines. Probably the most disgraceful case—which I will not give too much information about because it is sub judice—occurred in a country town, where almost $200,000 was misappropriated. The employer involved asked the club where its responsibility lay. When the club replied that it had no responsibility the practice of harm minimisation was explained to it.
I assure the House that I will be vigilant in that case, as in others. Hotels and clubs cannot escape responsibility for money that has gone into their poker machines; they are culpable and have a duty of care. One can only imagine the guilt that will be felt forever by those who help feed a gambling addiction—if they do not feel guilt, they should. The North Nowra Tavern case reinforces the Government’s resolve, and mine, to do everything possible to minimise gambling abuse in the community. This case has been highlighted in the latest liquor and gaming industry newsletter, at my insistence. The article graphically detailed this case. Honourable members would be aware of the groundswell of community concern about gambling abuse in recent years, with both research and anecdotal evidence linking the vast majority of gambling abuse to poker machine addiction. The Carr Government introduced landmark responsible gambling legislation that is still unrivalled anywhere in the world.
Mr O’Doherty: You said it is not working.
Mr FACE: This has all happened since. One of the cornerstones of this responsible gambling legislation has been the introduction of a series of cheque-cashing restrictions for hotels, registered clubs and their patrons. For example, a limit of $400 per person per day applies for the cashing of patron’s cheques. Cash limits of $1,000 apply for gambling and gaming machine prizes. At the same time an import circuit-breaker has been made available to problem gamblers through G-line, which did not exist a few years ago. That confidential telephone counselling service, along with 50-plus community-based services across the State, are funded by the Casino Community Benefit Fund.
I am happy to inform the House that as a consequence people are seeking help and more than 11,000 problem gamblers and their families sought help from G-line last year. Consumer information, known as the Play Smart Brochures, which were not available a few months ago, are now available in gaming, racing and wagering outlets, enabling gamblers to make informed choices about the actual chances of winning on popular forms of gambling. The brochures also promote the safety nets available to problem gamblers and their loved ones. In another development, from early this year every poker machine in this State carries a warning message, along with the G-line telephone number.
The remedies to minimise gambling abuse continue to be explored. In July, along with my colleague the Hon. Michael Egan, I announced a further package of responsible gambling reforms for the hotel and club machine gaming industry. Not unexpectedly, there has been industry resistance with respect to some elements of that package, particularly from large registered clubs which perceive that their massive profits from gambling revenue will be threatened. Figures available to me indicate quite the opposite. I am confident that when this package is introduced into Parliament during the current session it will be another important step in tackling gambling abuse. I thank the honourable member for South Coast for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position on this important issue. I extend my sympathy to Mrs Richardson and her two children.
Questions without notice concluded.
This article is taken from Hansard