The ACT Government currently holds shares in several companies that profit from the gambling industry, including the US-based real estate company that owns Caesars Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
However, a spokesperson for the ACT Government has flagged that an updated definition of its Responsible Investment screening criteria will come into effect in December 2021 and could affect investment in companies that profit from gambling operations.
The ACT Government, according to its September update, has direct shareholdings in companies that manufacture gaming machines and technology, such as BetMakers Technology Group, Aristocrat Leisure and Tabcorp Holdings Limited.
It also has shares in Crown Resorts Ltd.
In ACT Budget estimates hearings, ACT Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury was questioned about these shareholdings by Opposition spokesperson on Gaming Mark Parton. Mr Rattenbury said he was unaware of these investments, but would now raise them with ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
Mr Rattenbury said the Greens had long been advocates for “cleaning up the ACT’s investment portfolio” and these shareholdings had “escaped his attention” until now.
“I don’t think that is a place we should be seeking to benefit from, from an investment portfolio point of view.”
Mr Parton told the hearing that if a bank held shares such as these, Mr Rattenbury would encourage protests and a boycott against it.
“This is the sort of investment portfolio that if a bank or some other organisation had I could imagine you supporting protests outside the door,” he said.
Canberra Liberals MLA Peter Cain questioned how Mr Rattenbury could have been unaware of these shareholdings, given his former colleague and fellow Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur had previously raised it in estimates hearings in 2017.
Mr Rattenbury later said in a statement he was grateful to Mr Parton for having brought these investments to his attention.
“I will raise with the Chief Minister the need to make changes so the ACT divests from shareholdings in companies that derive profits from gaming,” read the statement.
A spokesperson for the ACT Government flagged an update to its Responsible Investment screening criteria from December 2021 to include business activity exclusions including gambling operations.
The ACT Government defines gambling operations as “companies that own or operate gambling facilities such as casinos, racetracks, bingo parlours, or other betting establishments, including horse, dog or other racing events that permit wagering; lottery operations; online gambling; pari-mutuel wagering facilities; bingo; pachislot and pachinko parlours; slot machines; Jai-alai; mobile gambling; and sporting events that permit wagering,” according to the spokesperson.
However, this will only apply where gambling operations lead to revenue greater than 10 per cent.
It’s unclear exactly whether this updated Responsible Investment screening criteria will mean any of the aforementioned shareholdings will have to be sold or divested.
Other new additions to the criteria include tobacco companies, and companies where there is strong evidence of involvement in controversial weapons and direct exposure to proven fossil fuel reserves.
The ACT Government spokesperson said it already supports industry exclusion-based, or negative screening, as part of its Responsible Investment policy.
They continued by stating that the current decision-making process in relation to investments in directly owned company shares takes into account internationally recognised norms and conventions relevant to responsible investment.
The norms-based investment criteria applied are based on the United Nations Global Compact, said the spokesperson.
According to the ACT Government spokesperson, the government’s total investment assets currently sit at $5.5 billion, and these are diversified across a number of asset classes, including money market securities, fixed interest, equities, unlisted property, private equity and infrastructure assets.
The full 21-page list of the ACT Government’s listed company shareholdings as of 30 September, 2021, can be viewed here.