Crown blasted over gaming tactics

Crown Resorts has been grilled on the effectiveness of how robust its internal protocols are in identifying problem gambling within its venues.

Crown Resorts relied on one person on any given day to ensure problem gambling was not occurring in the walls of its casino.

A Victorian royal commission into Crown Melbourne has raised serious concerns the gaming giant made it impossible to monitor for signs of problem gaming among patrons and admitted it was likely staff did not check on people spending hours on the pokies.

Counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio SC grilled Crown’s responsible gaming manager, Sonja Bauer, over the lacklustre number of dedicated responsible gaming advisers on deck at any one time.

Ms Bauer during the hearings, admitted she believed the number of staff dedicated to monitoring the gaming floor was inadequate, with Crown only upping the number to 12 full-time workers after the state’s gaming regulator raised concerns.

Crown usually has one to three responsible gaming officers on duty at one time and initially had seven workers to monitor the 24/7 gaming operations.

“So it’s only when the VCGLR starts rattling the sabre about the number of staff that Crown does anything about it, notwithstanding that you thought it was inadequate before then,” Mr Finanzio said when questioning Ms Bauer.

Ms Bauer replied: “We did experience times when it was more preferable to have more staff”.

It was also revealed Ms Bauer up to two weeks ago believed the number of responsible gaming staff was “less than ideal”.

“Up until two weeks ago, you were of the view that the staffing for the responsible gaming component was less than ideal,” Mr Finanzio asked the head of the casino’s responsible gaming division.

“It would have been less than ideal,” Ms Bauer said. “It is difficult to ascertain the levels of staff … an increase level of staffing is ideal.”

Commissioner Ray Finkelstein also interjected, saying it was physically impossible for the number of staff tasked to handle responsible gaming to monitor the average 64,000 patrons which visit the casino each day.

These figures are based on pre-pandemic patron levels.

Mr Finkelstein noted staff were doing “next to nothing” and it seemed they were more likely there to stop anti-social behaviour.

It was also heard roughly 30 per cent of an officer’s job was to monitor the gaming floor and was dependent on other staff to highlight issues.

“Stopping aggressive behaviour doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dealing with problem gambling,” Mr Finkelstein said. “It is just keeping order in the place.”

Staff at the casino have provided evidence to the commission that there was a lack of ongoing training in identifying problem gaming.

“Most of them said they don’t even know what the term observable sign even means,” Mr Finanzio said.

“It is not a particularly effective training system if food and beverage and dealing staff don’t remember what observable signs as a concept means.”

Ms Bauer conceded this was a serious problem.

The commission also heard more than 1000 of Crown’s slot machines are unrestricted, where a gambler can make unlimited bets and play in an automatic spin mode.

Crown is the only gaming body in Victoria to have unrestricted electronic gaming machines.

It also has a maximum bet on restricted machines which is double what is allowed in pubs or clubs.

A report tendered to the commission found 61 per cent of problem gaming at Crown was attributed to unrestricted gaming machines and exacerbated the problem of gamers entering a vortex of extended play, where a patron loses track of time.

“Some who gamble have fallen victim to loan sharks exposing themselves and families to intimidation and extortion, by putting themselves in the position of owing money to criminals,” Mr Finanzio said in his opening statement.

Crown says it implements breaks in play to ensure gaming times are limited to a couple of hours at a time.

It was revealed communication material given to staff on identifying problem gambling was on the onus of workers to read and refreshers on risks were only conducted every two years.

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