Victoria’s gambling regulator has been criticised for failing to hand down a harsher punishment to Crown after it was found to have tampered with poker machines to boost profits at its Melbourne casino.
Crown was fined $300,000 by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) for disabling certain buttons on 17 of its 2628 poker machines so punters could only place a minimum or maximum bet.
In a statement on Friday, the VCGLR said this was “the largest fine the commission has issued to Crown and reflects the seriousness with which it considers the matter”.
But Dr Charles Livingstone, gambling researcher at Monash University, said $300,000 is equivalent to about 0.04 per cent of Crown’s annual revenue from poker machines.
He said the fine is “minuscule”.
“It’s like having one of their machines taken off the floor for a year.
“This has no serious consequences for Crown … It’s a mosquito bite or less.”
The fine would not deter Crown from committing a similar offence again, Dr Livingstone said.
“Until we get serious about regulating them, these sorts of breaches are likely to continue.”
A more appropriate penalty would involve a temporary suspension of its license, meaning they would have to “shut their doors”, or removing a number of poker machines for “a reasonable period of time”, Dr Livingstone said.
“Something like that which would actually make them sit up and take notice.”
But the VCGLR “unfortunately is a bit of a pussy cat”, he said.
“No one in the government wants to offend Crown,” Dr Livingstone said.
“If we looked more carefully at Crown then I suspect that the breaches would be much more obvious.”
In March and April last year, Crown was accused of instructing stuff to deliberately tamper with its poker machines for a trial.
The VCGLR revealed a small number of Crown employees acted without authorisation to conceal “play line options so that only minimum and maximum betting options were available”, it said in a statement on Friday.
“Crown acted quickly to cease the trial following a complaint and before the matter was raised with the VCGLR.”
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Stephen Mayne said $300,000 is a very small price to pay for breaching gambling regulations.
“$300,000 wont hurt a $9 billion company,” he said.
“Dangerous poker machines are being made illegally more dangerous by the biggest poker machine operator in Australia.”
Australian gambling regulation remains internationally weak, especially when compared with the multi-million-dollar fines that have regularly been imposed by the UK gambling commission over the past year, Mr Mayne said.
Alliance director Reverend Tim Costello said the Victorian Government – who is conducting its five yearly licence review of Crown – should limit shareholders to no more than 20 per cent of the company.
“In this situation where Crown has suffered the biggest fine in its 25-year history, you shouldn’t just blame anonymous staff, but instead show some clear accountability amongst senior executives and the directors,” Reverend Costello said.”