Gary Van Duinen was a VIP club member of RSL who was inducted into the elite club owing to his gambling addiction took his life in 2018 after a 13-hour gambling session.
In just a period of 2 years, Gary gambled for $3.7 million losing $230,000. Following the incident, NSW independent Liquor and Gaming Authority fined the club for a record $200,000 for promoting “misuse and abuse of gambling activities”
Gary’s wife Sonia Van Duinen said that her husband’s death shows the inadequacies in the mechanism used to detect and deter problems.
Her calls have been acknowledged by advocates who said the current regulations were a “joke”.
Special treatment boosted the addiction
Gary who was a 45-year-old father and “lovable rogue” had an interest in pokies, but Mrs. Van Duinen said the VIP privilege made her husband gamble more.
“He was given free drinks, a special parking spot with red-carpeted VIP entrance and treated to glamourous cruises on Sydney Harbour,” Mrs. Van Duinen said
“They literally rolled out a red carpet for him, gave him wonderful treatment for being such a big spender and it’s heartbreaking,” She said while speaking to ABC Radio Sydney’s Richard Glover.
“He didn’t want to go anywhere else — he said, ‘Why would we bother when we can eat and drink for free and be treated like kings and queens?’
“Towards the end, he just could not control himself … it was like something had taken over him.”
Mrs. Van Duinen even spoke to the club on multiple occasions pleading them to intervene but the club refused and suggested she seek counseling.
In May 2018 Mr. Van Duinen took his life after a 13-hour binge gambling.
When investigated by NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, they found that RSL has “wined and dined Mr. Van Duinen while ignoring his serious gambling addiction”
The club was later fined with $200,000 and also imposed conditions like round the clock marshal to monitor and check for players with problem gambling.
Staff’s negligible intervention
Mrs. Van Duinen said that the fines do not address the underlying issues that run deep in the gambling industry.
In NSW, patrons have the option of self including themselves from the venue in case they have a gambling problem, but this is something that the player must initiate.
The staff although trained to see the red flags, the study showed the staff rarely intervened.
The staff said they did see problem gambling but intervened just once or twice in a year.
Some staff were even trained to ignore such signs while some thought it was illegal to intervene.
Mrs. Van Dunien wants more steps to be taken by the industry and the ability of a third party that can initiate an exclusion.
“Self-exclusion does not work,” she said
NSW regulations are laughable
Mrs. Van Dunien’s call for a ban on VIP treatment of high rollers has been acknowledged by the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
Chief executive Tony Mohr said the regulations of NSW were a “joke”
“The regulations are very weak, there is very little that the venue is required to do,” he said.
Mr. Mohr said NSW should take the learning from countries like New Zealand, that had better infrastructure and training for the casino staff in detecting problem gambling.
“Often we hear the staff are under pressure from managers to turn a blind eye,” he said.
“The managers who have access to that data should be responsible.”
Before the 2019 election, Clubs NSW and the state government signed an agreement to implement harm minimization schemes like third party exclusion.
The introduction of this agreement however is unclear.
Mr.Mohr said the loyalty program needs to be scrutinized
“They are designed to encourage people to gamble to excess,” he said.
“The first people who know someone is going off the rails is the clubs, who encourage people who are gambling heavily to join their loyalty program.”