Wednesday 23 November 2005

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, from time to time this House is presented with legislative proposals preceded by long and intense public debate, and this is such a bill. We have all been lobbied extensively and our Betfair files are bulging with arguments both for and against granting a betting exchange licence. I welcome that public debate and I do not begrudge the extra filing space either, and I have had to commit a bit more today, too, after some of the files we have received. I believe a wide public debate on an issue like this helps us to weigh up the arguments and to give proper scrutiny to a bill, even a bill so complicated and with the repercussions of this one.

In the case of the betting exchange argument, Mr Deputy President, I feel that I have observed over the weeks a shift in the balance in favour of Tasmania granting Betfair a licence. Certainly some elements of the racing industry which had early reservations have become positive. However as this apparent shift has taken place, the arguments against betting exchanges have become more strident. The concept of a betting exchange involving sophisticated computer technology is a hard one for most people to grasp and misconceptions have clouded the early public debate, but that is another benefit of a debate like this one. It increases public perception as it progresses.

Many of my early concerns have evaporated as my understanding of the betting exchange system has improved. However, concerns about gambling in general do, of course, remain. We have all received submissions from people who are concerned about what is called 'problem gambling'. Whatever we may think about gambling, it seems to be becoming even more popular. Bureau of Statistics figures released on 15 November show that gambling revenue in Australian clubs and hotels increased 15 per cent in 2005. In the first nine months of this year, hotels and clubs earned $5.5 billion from gambling - that is, $5.5 billion compared to $4.8 billion a year earlier. That increase is one-sixth of the entire increase in Australia's retail turnover, so this is money which has gone into the gambling industry at the expense of retailing.

Is this a bad thing, Mr Deputy President? I am afraid I cannot be the judge of that. Some people obviously enjoy gambling almost as much as they enjoy buying things. Can we suggest that people spend less time in pubs and clubs gambling than they do shopping? It is certainly food for thought. But betting exchange gambling is nothing to do with pubs and clubs, it is about people sitting in front of computer screens for fairly long periods - in other words, it has little to do with traditional gambling - and in the future I suspect it will involve few Tasmanian gamblers and certainly not those who could be termed 'problem gamblers'.

As we have heard, problem gambling has been one of the factors that clouded the argument about Betfair in Tasmania and I feel that can be dismissed - not the problem gambling but certainly in respect of the Betfair argument. There have been numerous other counterarguments. The legal opinion obtained by the Australian Racing Board says that a betting exchange licence in Tasmania could facilitate and lead to offences which other States would be all but powerless to detect or punish. But surely the other States will quickly follow Tasmania in licensing betting exchanges and this will not be an issue.

The ARB's legal opinion also says the ability of the Tasmanian Gaming Commission to investigate betting exchanges and impose disciplinary sanctions will be of little comfort or use to regulatory authorities outside Tasmania. Surely it is up to the other States to regulate in their own jurisdictions.

Mr Deputy President, there are many arguments raging but a lot of them will, I believe, prove baseless. Betfair itself does not expect to have the betting exchange field to itself for very long. What it is hoping for is to have a lead and retain the bulk of customers against what is expected to be fierce competition. That is what happened in the UK. They still now have 80 per cent of that market even though, if my memory serves me correctly, there are something like 20 betting exchanges operating in the UK. The Tasmanian racing industry seems to have much to gain during this period.

Mr Deputy President, bookmakers with their black-labelled, white bulging bags are a thing of the past. So are spivs, snouts and signalmen, semaphoring across the paddocks. They are a thing of the past, as much as the bookies' runners are and the two?up schools in the Collingwood backblocks.

Mr Aird - I can see the nostalgia coming through your words.

Mr FINCH - It gets worse.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - I promise you it does not. Like everything else, gambling is coming into the electronic age. We cannot stop it. Perhaps it is time the flow of inside information was brought out into the open. It is interesting to see the quote presented today from Peter Savill, the ex?chairman of the British Horse Racing Board who came here to Australia as an opponent of Betfair. He said:

'Having inside information in horseracing is not a criminal offence. Betting on horses, the lifeblood of that is inside information and what you do with it.'

Perhaps it is time that information is available to all.

Mr Deputy President, I am of a mind to support these massive changes to the gambling industry. Even after seven-and-a-half hours of briefings on this bill I am still prepared to listen to my fellow members' opinions. But let us not forget that it is the punters who fund the racing industry, not governments. Punters, by the way, help to fund governments, and technology has changed. Future generations of punters will be lost to racing unless it becomes more competitive. Betting exchanges led by Betfair in Tasmania fill a clear gap in the wagering market. They offer punters more choice, greater flexibility and better value.

Mr Deputy President, there are of course much wider arguments about all forms of gambling. But those arguments are not going to disappear if betting exchanges are refused a licence in Tasmania.

I will go back to the quote. I quoted from Peter Savill, the ex-chairman of the British Horse Racing Board, but there was an interesting quote presented at our briefing today by the current chairman, Martin Broughton, and this is his quote:

'I'm not against betting exchanges. I think they've been a great invention. It's very imaginative, very innovative. And I think it's brought a new public to racing, which is what we need.'

At this time I support the bill.