Request to Department of Internal Affairs for gambling venue cost guidelines
The complainant requested the Department of Internal Affairs to provide him with a copy of a document entitled ‘Class 4 Venue Costs: Licensing Process’ (the guidelines). The Department refused to release that document to him in reliance on section 6(c) (“the maintenance of the law”), 9(2)(g)(i) (“free and frank expressions of opinions”) and 9(2)(j) (“prejudice or disadvantage to negotiations”) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).
Under the Gambling Act 2003 (the 2003 Act), licensed venue operators are entitled to deduct their “actual, reasonable and necessary” expenses from gambling proceeds. The guidelines set out the “upper limits” as to what the Department considers are reasonable deductible expenses. The Department uses the guidelines as an alert – for example, an alert to investigate whether the expenses listed in venue operators’ schedules of expenses returned to the Department are “actual, reasonable and necessary”. The Department stresses the amounts in the guidelines are only indicative of the “upper limits”. During my investigation, the Department released the guidelines with the indicative amounts deleted (the information at issue).
In reliance on section 6(c), the Department submitted the release of the information at issue would prejudice its ability relating to “the maintenance of the law”, especially regarding expenses deducted from gambling proceeds detailed in the schedules. Its particular concern is that venue operators would deduct significantly higher expenses than is now the case. The schedules each contain 25 items of expenses. Given its limited resources, the Department considers the release of the information at issue would put at substantial risk its ability to ensure that deductions are appropriate.
The complainant submitted that section 6(c)’s examples of “prejudice [to] the maintenance of the law” – “the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial” determined the meaning of “the maintenance of the law”. Accordingly, he submitted the expression “the maintenance of the law” was limited to criminal enforcement of the law and was not apt to include regulatory breaches of the law not attracting criminal sanctions. The complainant also contended that many venue operators make reasonable guesstimates of the “upper limits”.
I formed the opinion that the expression “the maintenance of the law” in section 6(c) was not limited to the criminal enforcement of the law. The expression was wide enough to include, in certain circumstances, regulatory breaches of the law – for example, venue operators deducting excessive expenses from gambling proceeds. I accepted the Department’s submission that there was a substantial risk that the release of the information at issue would cause venue operators to deduct significantly higher expenses than is now the case. Given the Department’s limited resources, I am satisfied that the release of the information would impair its ability to check all the items in venue operators’ schedules and thus “the maintenance of the law” under the 2003 Act. The guidelines efficacy as an investigatory tool would thus be undermined.
I formed the opinion that the Department was entitled to rely on section 6(c) to withhold the information at issue.