Problem gambling code designed to ‘protect’ Crown, inquiry told

Giving evidence on Thursday, the casino giant’s group general manager of responsible gaming, Sonja Bauer, admitted that Crown’s problem gambling code does not allow staff – including Crown’s in-house psychologists – to recommend self-avowed gambling addicts opt for “self-exclusion”.

“When it [the responsible gambling policy] says ‘do not prescribe self-exclusion’ – that applies to all staff?“, asked counsel assisting the commission Adrian Finanzio, SC.

“This policy applies to the responsible gaming department,” Ms Bauer said.

“Does that include the psychologist?” Mr Finanzio asked.

Ms Bauer eventually conceded “in general it would apply to anyone who is able to affect self-exclusion”.

The rationale for this policy, Ms Bauer said, was based on “situations where a person feels like self-exclusion is forced upon them, which would be contrary to the legislation, of being a voluntary self-exclusion”.

The process for opting for self-exclusion, which requires the problem gambler to self-identify and then schedule an interview with a Crown employee, might ultimately discourage them from following through on the self-exclusion process, Ms Bauer conceded.

“We’ve observed that could be a barrier,” she said, adding that the casino had recently adopted a “time-out” system.

But Mr Finanzio was not convinced, alleging that Ms Bauer’s evidence to the commission on Thursday demonstrated that Crown’s gambling harm code was “directed in no small part to protecting the casino from the self-excluded person later saying ‘I was forced into it’“.

The commission heard $50,000 a day was the median cap set on Crown’s YourPlay cards, a card game designed by the responsible gambling department to give gamblers a chance to cap their losses, however the cap could reach as high as $1 million.

“It’s really the case … that many people, gambling, include limits on the YourPlay cards which are just wildly unrealistic, such as a million dollars a day?” Mr Finanzio asked

“I understand that may be the case, yes,” Ms Bauer said, adding it was “desirable to set more realistic limits”.

Crown is Victoria’s largest gaming venue. It is open 24 hours a day with 2628 poker machines, including 1000 operating in “unrestricted mode”, which means they can spin constantly and take higher bets.

Earlier this week, Mr Finanzio told the inquiry patrons who gambled at Crown were three times more likely to gamble dangerously than those who gambled at pubs and clubs.

But Ms Bauer admitted on Thursday that Crown has no way of knowing if unrestricted play reaches the patron’s cap on their Your Play card unless a staff member walks past.

“From a technical perspective, there’s no way of knowing … the only way that might be visible is if one of our staff members walks past at the time that the limit is reached,” Ms Bauer conceded.

Crown has just 12 responsible gambling advisers for Crown’s 65,000 daily patrons.

The inquiry continues on Friday.