This time a few months ago I would not have dreamed of writing on gaming. But a few month is a long time in social planning.
Since then we’ve been approached on number matters, from all sides and for different expert services; surveys, specialist advice on particular points and a social impact assessments. The sudden spike in interest in gaming appears driven by the impending cut off date – application of the ‘use it or loose it’ rule for all those who have purchased pokie machines entitlements and not yet successfully attached them to venues.
In the initial approach most expressed some dissatisfaction with the social planning profession’s approach to gaming regulation in its current institutionalised form in Victoria. They addressed social planners general lack of enthusiasm for working on the topic. En-masse it appears social planners recommend more effective ways to spend money to tackle problem gaming than defend applications in the VCGLR. Social planners commonly cite the dismal record of the Commission in finding either for the local or common good, or even find in line with a growing community distaste for gaming.
There is clear and indisputable evidence to support this advice. You have to search as far back as 2011 for last application for any purpose to the VCGR and its successor the VCGLR refused for any reason. Of the total 78 Applications heard and determined in the period January 1st 2011 to 30th January 2013 only one was refused.
Figure 1 Summary of Accessible VCGLR and VCGR Determinations, 2001-2013
Not only is there overwhelming evidence of the futility of mounting any defence to any application, no matter its:
- the competency of the case,
- the disadvantage of the local community,
- the overwhelming losses faced locally or the financial stressors of people in a particular location,
there is clear evidence the unconditional approval rate of applications at the VCGLR has been increasing over time.
Figure 1 Illustrates a summary of all accessible determinations made by the VCGLR and VCGR over time. Just a small proportion of total applications [12.3%] have ever been refused, most of these [10.25% of total applications] were refused between 2001 and 2006. These are for current practice purposes are ancient history.
Since 2007 only 5 applications [2.05% of the total applications 2001-2013] have been refused. 2008 was a bumper year with two refusals while 2009 and 2012-13 have passed without refusal.
Figure 2 % of Applications any Cause Granted Outright and % any cause Refused
Figure 2 illustrates the comparative percentage of applications granted outright to those refused outright. Whereas around half of all applications were granted between the years 2001 and 2009, more recent practice has been to grant increasingly higher proportions of applications without qualification or condition, particularly compared to those it refuses. Exponential trend lines illustrate a consistency with exponential growth in applications granted without condition and a greater than exponential decrease in applications refused over the period.
There appears no doubt social planners advice to do anything else but contest a matter before the VCGLR is a recommendation for more efficacious expenditure of public funds. Where mounting no defence is more efficacious than mounting one, there is a strong argument that justice is neither being served, nor being seen to be done.
By cutting red tape, time frames and limiting the capacity to seek and obtain extensions of time the VCGLR provides an applicant a significant head start enabling it to get its ducks in a row before advice to a local government of a pending application.
The VCGLR also effectively denies local communities the right to undertake due and democratic processes required to determine an appropriate response and decide mount a rigorous defence on a case by case basis if they so choose. The current time frames from application to hearing limit the capacity of Council to give notice, discuss and make decisions in processes consistent with democratic processes outlines under the Local Government Act.
Yet while gaming remains legal everyone is entitled to equality before the law and to mount a defence, even a local community so the Charter of Human Rights says. Consideration of the law, the way it works, and in particular the current odds of a decision being made against the applicant, suggest a review of the current system is required urgently both in the interests of justice being done, and being seen to be done.