State to abolish gaming watchdog


In an admission that the regulation of gaming in Victoria has been seriously flawed for the past decade, the State Government yesterday announced plans to abolish the Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority and strip the state’s chief gaming regulator of his powers.


Amid calls for his sacking, Gaming Minister John Pandazopoulos released a government report that called for a massive overhaul of the state’s gaming laws and found the existing regulatory bodies lacked “transparency” and “accountability”.


Mr Pandazopoulos also confirmed the authority’s director of UFA gaming, betting and casino surveillance, Bill Lahey, would be redeployed in the public service in a non-statutory role after several investigations into his conduct.


“Issues have been raised about the judgment that he has made in his capacity as an independent statutory office holder,” Mr Pandazopoulos said. A spokesman for Mr Lahey, who is also chief executive of the Office of Gambling Regulation, said he was unavailable for comment. The authority’s chairman, Brian Forrest, is on leave.


Mr Pandazopoulos said the government’s review panel found the state’s gaming laws and organisational structures were confusing and ambiguous.


The panel, which is headed by a Department of Justice official, said of the authority: “The current VCGA is not seen as performing effectively and has major difficulties with its decision-making transparency and accountability.”


The panel was established by Premier Steve Bracks after a report by Ombudsman Barry Perry into Mr Lahey’s acceptance, or demand for, a $US200,000 ($364,518) payment from an American poker-machine maker he was investigating.


Dr Perry found Mr Lahey’s decision to be inappropriate and likened Victoria’s confusing gaming laws to a “bowl of spaghetti”.


Mr Pandazopoulos said the government wanted to establish a Commissioner for Gambling Regulation to replace the nine-member authority board. The commissioner will also receive assistance from two part-time commissioners. A Commissioner for Responsible Gaming has also been proposed.


“That will create more accountability, more streamlined processes, and people taking full responsibility for the decisions they make,” he said.


Opposition gaming spokesman Robert Clark said Mr Pandazopoulos knew about the payment well before he claimed and had made Mr Lahey the scapegoat for his own mistakes.


“The minister knew weeks before this payment scandal became public . . . he ought to have known it was inappropriate (but) he failed to act until the story broke,” Mr Clark said.


“He’s backed Mr Lahey every step of the way and now the minister should be going, along with his chief bureaucrat. What’s happening at the moment is a typical Yes, Minister exercise; reshuffle the bureaucrats and take the heat off the minister.”


Interchurch gambling taskforce spokesman Tim Costello said changes to Victoria’s gaming laws and regulators were long overdue and he hoped the new commissioners would be more independent.