It is not just COVID-19 and its effects for which 2020 will be remembered by the Australian gambling sector.
The event likely to have the most long-lasting impact is the NSW Casino Inquiry. Although a report is not due to be handed down by Commissioner Bergin until February 2021, evidence given during the hearings, as well as matters that have arisen in the course of submissions, have highlighted matters which any gambling licensee, whether based in Australia or overseas, should heed in conducting their business. Whether it be appropriate levels of corporate governance (including main board supervision), the necessity to have appropriate measures in place to detect and report money-laundering, or other matters, the NSW Casino Inquiry has considered a very broad range of issues (and in a very public manner).
It is also clear from the NSW Casino Inquiry that the gambling sector cannot operate in a vacuum. Reference has been made to the roles of ASIC (Australia’s corporate regulator), and AUSTRAC (Australia’s anti-money laundering/counter terrorism financing regulator), as well as the various gambling regulators, all of which have oversight on the business operations of Crown Resorts.
As one of the areas being reviewed in the course of the NSW Casino Inquiry is the manner in which casinos should be regulated, taking into account global best practice, the recommendations are awaited with interest, as well as the actions that will be implemented subsequently by the NSW regulator. It will also be of interest to determine what actions are taken by other regulators as a result.
Back to COVID
The pandemic had a material impact on Australian gambling operators, both land based and online. Both suffered the consequences of COVID immediately with gambling venues forced to close while the online betting operators needed to find different types of betting contingencies (such as esports) with traditional sporting events only taking place to a limited degree. By the end of 2020, the businesses of most Australian gambling operators have bounced back, save where social distancing remains in place, for example, in casinos. However, one trend which has emerged during the COVID period is digitalisation, with increasing efforts being made to the utilisation of technology to conduct gambling in a contact-free manner. I expect that 2021 will result in further steps towards cashless gambling, particularly in venues and in the operation of gaming machines.
2021 will also see increased consumer protection measures in place, ranging from the introduction of a national self-exclusion register for online betting to new verification/identification measures for players of gaming machines.
Expect more change in 2021!
*Jamie Nettleton, Partner, Addisons