Masters of the game

Gambling is coming to Melbourne Law School, with the Melbourne Law Masters presenting one of the first subjects on gambling law in Australia.

With a reputation as a nation of people who will "bet on two fl crawling up a wall", Australians have been enthusiastic gamblers. Casinos, lotteries, gaming machines, racing and cup sweeps, two-up and making a bet at the TAB are distinctive aspects of Australian culture.Yet regulation of this national passion has been a complex and changeable business.

Jamie Nettleton, one of Australia's leading gambling lawyers, says that historically regulation has been ad-hoc, growing out of particular campaigns in each state to eradicate various evils of gambling.

"Over time the focus changed from prohibition to placing controls on gambling licensees and protecting the revenue, to harm minimisation and back again," says Nettleton, who is a partner at Addisons in Sydney.

Gambling is now one of the most heavily regulated industry sectors in Australia. And with the Federal Government becoming more involved in gambling regulation than ever before, issues of how that regulation should take place are critical.

Nettleton, with co-presenter Professor I. Nelson Rose, will present the new subject, Gambling, Policy and the Law, in the Melbourne Law Masters. The subject will look at how gambling is regulated in Australia and overseas and how it may be regulated in the future.

"There is a need for a subject on gambling policy and the law. This is an industry in which hundreds of thousands of Australians are involved, whether through participation or employment," says Nettleton.

"However, the conflict in the policies behind gambling regulation has  never been closely examined on an academic level, and it needs to be looked at specifically from an Australian context."

Professor I. Nelson Rose is one of the world's leading experts on gambling law. A Distinguished Senior Professor of Law at Whittier Law School in California, he will bring the international perspective to the study of legal gambling.

"Gaming law is a wonderful area to study. This is one of the rare times in human history when we can actually observe how the law struggles to keep up with changes in public policy. Most laws were made when there was complete prohibition.Now gambling is not only generally accepted but actively promoted by governments," says Professor Rose.

An author of numerous works on gambling and the law, Rose describes the 21st century as witnessing a vast proliferation of gambling.

"Legal gambling is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and it has finally hit Australia's backyard. Just a few years after opening its markets to outside operators, Macau has become the largest casino market in the world, with gaming revenue larger than Las Vegas and Atlantic City, combined. And the two casinos recently opened in Singapore are expected to soon surpass all the casinos in Australia, to make that city-state the world's second largest gaming market."

The new masters subject will give students the opportunity to find out the latest thinking on emerging issues, including the impact of new technologies and the globalisation of the industry. Nettleton points to controversial issues such as the concept of pre-commitment in relation to gaming machines and the regulation of online gaming.

"Protecting consumers from the harms posed by gambling will continue to be an over-arching policy. The manner in which these harms should be minimised will be a focus of gambling regulation going forward," says Nettleton.

Professor Rose says that changes in the law always trail changes in society.

"Legal gambling seems to come and go in waves that are many decades long. The immediate questions revolve around the constant push for more expansion, including whether Internet gambling should be allowed across national boundaries. But the big, long term issues are whether the great permissiveness sweeping the world will, once again, be followed by a religious crackdown and complete prohibition."

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 6, October 2011.