Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Gambling Commission and "host responsibility"

SkyCity's dirty deal with the government or more pokies has meant further scrutiny of gambling in New Zealand. We've already seen some disturbing revelations about the Gambling Commission's relaxed monitoring of SkyCity Auckland's host responsibility program. And now, thanks to OIA site FYI, there's more.

First, some background: Casinos in New Zealand are required to have an Operator's Licence. This licence is granted by the Gambling Commission, and can be subject to conditions, which can be varied through a formal process. The licences for all New Zealand casinos can be found here. Every single one of them has a condition requiring the casino to have a host responsibility programme, which must meet certain conditions and be displayed on its website. Every single one of them also requires the casino to report annually (six monthly in the case of SkyCity Auckland) to the Gambling Commission on the implementation of that programme, and for the Gambling Commission to review that programme every two years.

Someone used FYI to ask for the dates of all such reports and reviews. The response was that with the exception of SkyCity Auckland (which has reported as required, but has never been reviewed), there weren't any [PDF]. A clarification from the Gambling Commission stated:

The first of the new HRPs was introduced into SkyCity in Auckland in 2007 at which point a reporting/review system was introduced. The choice of review method and why it varied from the original conception was explained in our letter.

As a result of that experience two further HRPs are soon to be released drawing on the Auckland experience – SkyCity Hamilton and Queenstown – after which a 12 monthly monitoring requirement will be introduced for them also.

The last three casinos – Christchurch, Dunedin and Wharf - will follow the same process once their HRPs are completed.

All these programmes are evolutionary and seek to lift the practice of casinos above the minimum requirements of the law, which all currently meet.

Which sounds fine. Except that the licence conditions talk about the host responsibility programmes as actually existing documents. For example, Dunedin Casino's licence [PDF] (which was varied in May 2008 [PDF], and the relevant sections do not appear to have been changed since), says:
Host Responsibility Programme means the Responsible Gambling Programme approved by the Authority in May 2002, as may be substituted or amended in accordance with licence conditions.
And here it is on their website, as required by the licence. So why is the Gambling Commission saying that it does not exist?

(As a side note: licence conditions can be varied, but this is a formal process, requiring notification to the casino, the Secretary of Internal Affairs, and other interested parties such as problem gambling groups, as well as formal submissions and notification of the decision. all Gambling Commission decisions are online here. I cannot find any which vary any casino's host responsibility programme to remove or waive reporting requirements).

This raises several questions, most notably whether the systematic failure to report puts all casinos (except SkyCity Auckland) in violation of their licences? But it also raises the question of whether the Gambling Commission is doing its job properly.

A competant authority would have noticed that it was not receiving reports. A competant authority would have demanded them. A competant authority would have threatend to suspend licences unless they were received. But as we already know, the Gambling Commission isn't competant. They don't do their job in regards to SkyCity Auckland, and they don't do it for other casinos. So why are we paying them a million dollars a year?

This needs to be investigated. The question is whether the Minister will step up, and demand that the Commission do its job - or whether they'll continue to look the other way on this rank incompetence and failure.