How to protect your patrons from gambling harm in the wake of COVID-19

As featured in the November edition of Bowls Queensland’s Queensland Bowler magazine.

It has been fantastic to see most Queensland clubs managing their COVID-19 operations well. While the changing regulations and restrictions imposed by the State Government have resulted in a dynamic, agile operational environment, we have found that most venues have been able to manage well in the recent months. Since the return of gaming operations in Queensland in early July, we have seen increased turnover for EGMs and increased regulatory attention from the OLGR, particularly in relation to responsible gaming obligations.

It is important to keep in mind that, given the shutdown period earlier this year, some patrons may be at heightened risk of gambling harm now that gaming operations have resumed. For instance, many patrons may have been driven to gamble as a result of unemployment, isolation or anxiety suffered throughout the COVID-19 period, while others may have an increased urge to gamble more frequently which has built up over the recent closure period. As such, we thought it timely to remind clubs of their general obligations relating to responsible gambling and exclusions, which are particularly relevant given the popularity of gaming and hospitality venues more generally, post-shutdown. 

Your obligations

Clubs have an important role to play – as both gaming providers and community advocates – to spread awareness and mitigate harm through responsible gambling measures, including the self-exclusion regime under the Gaming Machine Act 1991 (Qld) (the Act).

Self-exclusion is where a person requests that a club ban them from the venue or gambling activity offered at the premises. Under the Act, clubs are required to assist any person requesting self-exclusion, and receiving this notice triggers the club’s obligation to issue a self-exclusion order prohibiting the person from entering or remaining in the venue or gaming area. A self-exclusion order remains in force for a period of five years and cannot be revoked, except within a 24-hour “cooling-off” period, or otherwise after 12 months from commencing. Clubs are obligated to provide contact details of at least one gambling counselling service.

Venue-initiated exclusion is where a club reasonably believes that a person is a problem gambler and on this basis provides them with a notice banning them from the venue or gaming area. Unless the person makes a written application to the venue or an appeal is made through QCAT, this exclusion will also remain in place for five years.

Clubs must maintain a register of excluded persons and, once an order or notice is given, clubs (or employees) must take reasonable steps to prevent excluded persons from entering or remaining in the venue or gaming area.

The effects on your club

It is important that clubs and their employees uphold high standards for their RSG practices and ensure that responsible gaming policies are kept up to date. These practices will help to mitigate the risk of a gambling related incident occurring at your club and in turn, assist with the protection of your club should you be required to substantiate the club’s measures to encourage responsible gambling.

While historically there have been very few fines and/or prosecutions for breach of obligations regarding self-exclusion (and to a lesser extent, responsible gaming obligations in the general sense), recently we have seen a draft Bill proposed in New South Wales in an effort to strengthen the obligations venues have to protect their patrons from gambling harm. This proposed reform is indicative of the increased scrutiny on gaming operations we can expect going forward.

Look to the future

With the effects of problem gambling seemingly high on the community’s (and the Regulator’s) radar, and given the proposed legislative reform in New South Wales, it is not unreasonable to expect regulatory and/or legislative changes relating to gambling in Queensland introduced in the near future. Now more than ever, it is important that clubs continue to be aware of these issues and their responsibilities, in order to lead by example and ensure that the reputation of the industry continues to rise.

If you require any guidance or advice as to your responsible gambling obligations, please contact Matthew Bradford on 07 3224 0353.

“The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.”
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