Former New South Wales Deputy Premier Troy Grant sat on a report that recommended banning a controversial slot machine feature for nearly two years, despite being advised to release the information as soon as possible by the author of the report.
According to a report by Fairfax Media, which cited emails and notes obtained through Australia’s government information access laws, the government had the completed report ready in December 2015. However, it was not made public until October 2017 by Grant’s successor, Paul Toole.
A May 2016 briefing note expressed concern that waiting any longer to release the report could reduce its relevance, as the information might become dated. It also noted the importance of the information in regards to Australia’s popular gaming industry.
“The research provides new and important information about the harms related to gambling products,” the note reportedly states. “This will be valuable to all gambling stakeholders in Australia. It will ensure that any new initiatives are informed by the latest evidence.”
Court Case Over Pokies Features Intensifies Scrutiny
While delays for such a report may be frustrating, they might not be considering particularly controversial. In this case, however, a recommendation in the paper is directly tied to an ongoing court case targeting two of Australia’s largest gambling firms.
A lawsuit filed last year against casino operator Crown Melbourne and slots (or pokies, as they are known in Australia) manufacturer Aristocrat Technologies alleges that slot machines are designed to deliberately deceive players about their chances of winning.
In particular, the lawsuit talks about the issue of “losses disguised as wins.” This is a common feature on many slots, in which a player receives the sounds and sights of a winning spin but has actually lose money overall: say, winning a small $0.75 prize on a $1 spin.
The federal court battle over those claims is still ongoing. The report that was sat on by NSW officials recommended banning the practice of disguising small losses as wins, but the delays in releasing the paper meant the research and conclusions were not available when the case began.
Officials Claim Delays Were Normal
While that may seem suspicious, the report was completed well before the case began, making it unlikely that the delays were directly about the case. A spokesperson for current NSW Gaming Minister Paul Toole said that the delays were simply a natural part of the process of releasing any government report.
“There was…a need to draft a formal governmental response document and for both the report and response document to be considered by cabinet,” the spokesperson said. “Once this had all occurred, the report was released without delay.”
The NSW government has said that they will consider a ban on losses disguised as wins as part of a broader look at features on pokies that may need to be prohibited, though no timeframe for that review has been established.
Australians gamble more per capita than any other people in the world. According to a study released earlier this month, Australians lost $18 billion on gambling over the course of the last two years, and about 42 percent of adults in the country gamble regularly.
These figures have helped make gambling reform a hot button issue in Australia at both the state and federal levels.