Friday, 19 December 2008

Leadership? Do Woolies and the 'Pies have it?

There is no question that Woolworths is Australia's leading retailer. I agree with Eddie McGuire that the Collingwood Football Club is Australia's #1 sports team. So why is it that they wonder why my efforts have them lead in drawing the line with our children so that Australia's addiction to pokies can start to fall?
Since the long Herald Sun article I have been posting on the Magpies bullet in board called Extreme Black n' White. Please have a look at the whole discussion. I've reproduced one of the posts below.
[ Next Thread | Previous Thread | Next Message | Previous Message ]

Date Posted: 09:06 18/12/08 Thu
Author: ramhead
Author Host/IP: NoHost / 165.12.252.111
Subject: I look forward to your campaigns against hawthorn, essendon st kilda and...
In reply to: Paul Bendat 's message, "Paul Bendat is a Crikey stooge" on 22:49 17/12/08 Wed

all the other clubs with pokies then. As well s every single NRL club. Singling out one club when the issue is competition wide is unfair and leaves you open to agenda setting accusations. Particularly when you bob up on the very same day that Stephen Mayne takes a pot shot.

[ Next Thread | Previous Thread | Next Message | Previous Message ]
Two days before the Woolworths' Annual General Meeting back in November I was invited to talk with 4 senior executives of that company plus 2 auditors. One of the people at the meeting Tom Pockett, Chief Financial Officer and member of the Board of Directors asked (in so many words):
Why have you singled out Woolworths?
My notes of the meeting were that I was asked the same question 2 more times.

Whenever you hear these two organisation spruiking themselves they mention "leadership". They also have something else in common; they are both well run organisations and hugely profitable. Neither need pokie revenue to prosper. For both, it has nothing to do with their core business. In my view, neither do a particularly good job in implementing responsible gaming practices.

It is appalling how they are luring families with children into their pokie venues. To make matters worse, Woolworths' associates manage Collingwood's Coach and Horses in Ringwood and promotes it as "Ringwood’s leading family entertainment venue". The venue's pokies and the addictions make the Coach and Horses anything but a family entertainment venue.

And there is a huge downside for both Woolworths and the Magpies.

The success of both their organisations depends upon the goodwill of their brand. The 'Pie's need to recruit and maintain members. They need to sell sponsorships that want to attach the glow of the Magpies brand. Likewise, Woolworths supermarkets, credit cards, insurance, and petrol business depend upon the attractiveness of the Woolworths' brand.

Around 70% of Australians take a negative view of the pokies business.

For this, my last post of 2008, I leave with the question as to why Woolworths and the Collingwood Football Club would want to have their brands and their heritage tainted in anyway by an association with this awful pokies business? I urge both to make their pokie places kid free.

My best wishes to all of you and your families for a healthy and prosperous 2009.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Eddie McGuire Loses It At The Pie's AGM

Last night I witnessed the most disturbing outburst at a stakeholder's annual general meeting ever. It came from Eddie McGuire at the beginning of question time.

Let me set the scene.

While I have not had any business ties with Stephen Mayne for over a year, we have remained friends and share a concern about the harm that results from pokie gambling. As a result of the Collingwood FC's coverage in the Herald Sun we both felt that we should have a presence at their AGM last night. Click here to read the story.

I wanted to speak about Collingwood's pokie performance as a result of my work on PokieWatch.org. I called to enrol as a member provided I could attend and speak at the AGM. I was told this was OK over the phone. I went down to the Lexus Centre to pay up and was told that unless I was a 2008 Social Club member I could not attend. That was the end of my effort to speak as a paid Magpies member.

The restrictions on attending and speaking at Collingwood FC annual general meeting is the worst I have experienced. Every AGM I have been a part of allows members to appoint proxies to speak on their behalf. The vast good that the Australian Shareholder's Association or international organisations such as Risk Metrics do would not exist without the ability to appoint proxies. The 'Pies don't allow proxies.

During the meeting, every time a person wanted to speak they had to state their membership number. At the entrance to the AGM there was a flurry of checking of membership cards and photo ID's.

How did I get in? Went in as press. We were told that we were not allowed to speak. No worries.

After some extensive awarding and reporting, question time began over an hour and a half after the start time and, surprisingly, Eddie began with an emotional tirade about Stephen Mayne.

He mentioned that Stephen had been downstairs handing out leaflets.

True. I helped. The one page flyer asked members to get the Maggies out of the pokie business.

Courtesy of www.maynereport.com Eddie's full statement is this:
"I saw earlier on that apparently Stephen Mayne of Crikey was handing out leaflets down the front. I will make it very clear that unless you're a Collingwood member, don't even try to get up to the microphone tonight. He did that once before, he lied to us, he tried to humiliate our club, we won't cop that tonight from anyone.."


Untrue.

The events arise from a 2001 AGM where ABC financial journalist Neil Woolrich asked Eddie some questions about his conflict of interests. Click here to read the story. Stephen said nothing.

Anybody asking fair questions is not trying to humiliate the club. It's about making sure that the people in charge are not trying to feather their own nest by virtue of their position with the 'Pies. Last night, I found it fascinating to listen to Eddie deflect questions about the web site by indicating that these problems might be solved if his associated company was still running the CFC web site.

And then Eddie lost it entirely by suggesting that members go to the Collingwood web site and click on as many pages as they could because that's the basis upon which Telstra pays the club.

Here's what Eddie said:
"The other thing I ask is for you to do me a favour, is to click onto the website, click on few pages, even if you reckon it is no good, because we get money by the click. So you can sit there looking out the window, just click away, click away, keep going, click on, click on, click on, pages watched, all that, click it away, maybe getting RSI from putting it on."
Eddie... Isn't it cheating, just a little, to urge members to click on web pages to bump up the $$$? If it was light hearted entertainment, then it was in poor taste. If your interests were running the web site would you be making the same suggestion to members?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

'Pie's Poor Pokies Practices Part 2

Not only does the Collingwood board exploit senior loyalties, they exploit families too. The result may be a whole new generation of pokie addicts.

Remember that the first task to improve the pokie take is to get people in the door. Once in the pub door, the second step to promote pokie gambling is to expose the visitor to the sights and sounds of the pokies. Not everyone will bite the lure, of course, but to hook the next generation exposure to pokies will have an impact when that visitor if a child.

Dr Charles Livingstone, a Senior Lecturer at Monash University said "One of the ways in which pokie gambling is made to seem like an everyday, average sort of activity is by exposing young children to poker machine venues in the company of family and friends. Pokie gambling is a potentially dangerous activity and children should not be encouraged to think it's just another harmless pastime."

Here's the latest design at Collingwood's pokie venue - The Club - with 60 pokies. Note the play area on the left which is located outside and exposed to the elements. Getting to the bistro takes the family past the pokie room.

There is a Magpie pledge on web site to donate $1.45 million over the next ten years to support the region with focus on special projects involving local community and sporting associations. The numbers on the web site of the Victorian Gambling Commission suggests there is a long way to go. So far:

2006 total was $2,028

2007
Education $9,245
Recreation $775
Sport $325,533
Art $9,960
Charity: $24,487
Functions held for the community at no cost $1,975
Donations to Charities (free food vouchers) $8,093

2008
Culture $15,000
Sport $21,760
Art $17,793
Science $10,280
Educational $24,594
Recreation $7,900
Charity $22,673
Rental costs $216,550
Functions held for Community groups at subsidised rates or FOC $6,569

Here's a photo from the Woolworths' associated Coach and Horses "Ringwood's family entertainment venue" with "a marvellous indoor kids playground" where free face painting is offered as a lure to get members and their kids in the door. The bistro here is open to the sights and sounds of the pokies while the kids eat.

It's a disgrace...


and they can't even get their spelling right.

Monday, 15 December 2008

'Pie's Poor Pokies Practices

Anyone who has spent any time in a pokies room has seen the number of elderly people sitting in front of their pokies passing their time and spending their money. It is a lonely sight to see. Kind of like a mutant use of computer technology to create a life support system in reverse that sucks life out of people attached to it.

This is why I am disgusted by the Collingwood FC endeavour to turn their pokie venue The International into a focus of a Lilydale based retirement village.

Don't believe it? Check out this 9 second video of their main road sign with the retirement village banner flapping in the breeze:

video

In case you had any doubt about the direction of Collingwood's investment look at this photo of the signs at the entrance.


What seems to be happening here is that the 'Pies are turning over their membership for conversion to pokie gamblers at a vulnerable time for seniors. People in these villages crave the company of others and the club pushes their pokie venue front and centre.

Still got some doubts about whether the 'Pies are exploiting their membership and the history of their own mascot? Check out the scan below from The International's own web site:

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Collingwood Football Club

"Heartbreak Hotels" is how yesterday's Herald Sun described the Collingwood Football Club's investment in 5 Melbourne pokie venues. The 'heartbreak' writer Damien Barrett focuses upon is the financial loss of $8 million incurred over 18 months.

The bad decision to buy the pubs was a certain result of Eddie McGuire, his board and his management who are not dealing with their own money going into a business none of them knew anything about. But this misses the point about the financial engine of their investment and what that says about the morality of the decision makers. The financial engine was the pokies at each venue.


What these men did was to utilise everything the Collingwood Football Club has stood for to make a dollar by luring Magpie fans into these pokie places inevitably turning a portion of their own supporters into pokie addicts. Evidence shows that it is the pokie addicts who return a disproportionately large percentage of pokie cash to the pokie operators. It is over simplistic but true to say that the growth in revenue from these pokie places would ultimately depend upon how many 'Pies fans became pokie addicts.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Launch of Presents Not Pokies

Although our the media were there in force and coverage was extensive, on television it was compressed. Have a look at this video of the event courtesy of Stephen Mayne's production crew.

Regretfully TV coverage of Rev. Tim's appeal for support for World Vision was omitted from the ABC and Seven's broadcasts. Fortunately, we can show you the whole story and you can watch it when you want. That's why the Internet will continue to grow in stature as a news medium.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

PokieWatch goes to Brisbane

The last 20 years have witnessed Brisbane becoming a truly great international city. Its suburbs set in rolling hills with tropical vegetation are very attractive. It is also the home of pokie pubs associated with the Wesfarmers, Bunnings, Coles/Liquorland group of companies. They operate over 70 pokie pubs in Queensland.

Like the picture below; Coles' Queensland practices send a mixed message. Some are near perfect, excluding the pokie room almost completely from the rest of the hotel, some far less so.


How can you lay out a welcome to a family hotel where children are not admitted?

Two thirds of the activities in this venue exclude children. The play area is located next to the rubbish area. KENO gambling is advertised in the 'family' bistro with two large flatscreen LCD televisions. The 'family' bistro is an effective tool to introduce children to the pokies as it has a complete view of the pokies area as if it were one large room.

video

The answer is that its not a 'family' hotel. It's a gambling venue with a play area tacked on. There's no good reason why children should be there.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Making a Difference?

Today's demonstration on the Bourke Street mall was a success. It was a splendid idea on the part of Senator Xenophon's people to position the handing out of government checks so that the news services broadcast the concept that it was better to spend the money on presents than on the pokies.

It was equally splendid of Rev Tim Costello to seize the opportunity to publicise how little a 'present' to World Vision will make such a difference to a poor family. He brought along two goats to the mall underlining how a small donation to World Vision will enable a family to buy a domestic animal and thereby benefit from the nourishment it can sustain.

It was positive and creative chaos with TV, radio and press all in attendance. All the money tins were handed out and quite a few PokieAct.org flyers as well. Our chief advocate Gabriela Byrne joined Rev. Tim and the Senator to speak to the media.

Public relations professionals would consider the lack of coverage for PokieAct.org in the subsequent reports as a failure. They would be right if success is selfishly measured in PokieAct.org mentions or extra people who signed the PokieAct.org petition. However they would be wrong. Our success is measured in increments of how we are able to lead the public to consider the waste that is pokie gambling.

Our objective is a massive negative. PokieAct.org seeks to re-position pokie gambling so that the next generation turns away from it. The core of the PokieAct.org 30 second announcement is to brand those who play the pokies as losers. In this light, PokieAct.org enjoyed success this weekend as several hundred thousand Victorians read this headline on Sunday.
Congratulations to Senator Xenophon and World Vision's Rev. Tim Costello and our gratitude for allowing PokieAct.org to be involved.

Thanks to the headline writer for the Sunday Herald Sun.

So goes the campaign to Make Pokie Places Kid Free.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Presents not Pokies

Tomorrow I will join World Vision CEO, Rev Tim Costello and Senator Nick Xenophon in the Bourke Street Mall to launch the Presents Not Pokies campaign.

Presents Not Pokies is intended to direct people away from spending on pokie gambling the family assistance payments and other windfalls due to the drop in interest rates and petrol prices. As a sponsor of Presents Not Pokies, I have some thoughts in mind and Reverend Tim put it well:
"Children learn what they live."
The presents I bought for us to give away are 100 money boxes. This might be considered a strange gift encouraging saving rather than spending. My son and his mate helped me Presents Not Pokies stickers on each of them. Here's what they look like, stacked up and ready to be given away:
In the last few weeks, I have tried, as best I can, to put the point to senior executives at Woolworths to Make Pokie Places Kid Free. There is, of course, another way for this goal to be achieved; parents make the choice not to take their children to a pokie pub to eat, play or watch a free movie.

Likewise what we do with the government's assistance payments is a matter of choice and what parents do with that money will teach a lesson to the children under our care. The point about the money boxes is to make people think about their choices. Nearly all the publicity I've read focuses on spending. It might be considered a 'downer' but what about saving?

The money boxes I bought also reminded me of tins some people use to beg for money and where these people end up spending thier money on. Shelter? Food? Drugs? Pokies?

Senator Xenophon put it well when he said:
"Christmas is the season of good will. It's not the season for turning up at Goodwill for a free lunch because you've lost your Christmas bonus on the poker machines."
Christmas is the season for goodwill and thinking about our families and freinds. What is better than a meal at lovely restaurant where all are gathered around the table? Even better, buy something really special to share at home. Something where everyone shares the experience. Those are positive choices. It is these experiences we have with others close to us that we end up valuing the most.

Not sitting in some dimly lit room, by yourself, at a pokie and pressing a button,

hoping to break even.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Tabcorp Agrees to Make Pokies Places Kid Free

Your read this correctly but it bears repeating:

Tabcorp Agrees to

Make Pokies Places

Kid Free

At its Annual General Meeting held in Melbourne on 23 October, 2008, Tabcorp showed true leadership.

In what can only be described as perhaps the most progressive and welcome step taken by any pokie industry participant, the CEO and Managing
Director, Elmer Funke Kupper, publicly and unequivocally agreed with shareholder activist Stephen Mayne' suggestion at the meeting that Tabcorp do all that it can to remove children entirely from pokie venues.

Here is the text of Stephen's question:
"The first one is the whole luring of kids into our venues, you know, free food, playgrounds that aren't effectively supervised, a glass wall does not constitute supervision, children orientated entertainment, coin operated games of chance. Things like that are designed to lure children into our venues. I think we need to exclude children from our venues. I think we need to get ahead of the curve and make this a practice. No more children in our pokies venues. Point taken. That's it. We're ahead of the curve."
Mr. Funke Kupper's response was can only be interpreted in one way, he agrees;
"So for kids in venues its hard to disagree with your basic point."
You can listen and watch Mr. Funke Kupper's response by clicking on the video below:

video

This question was something that Stephen and I worked on together and we are delighted with the response. It demonstrates what can be achieved for the benefit of company shareholders by shareholder activism at annual general meetings.

It is my intention to inform as many people as possible of Tabcorp's thoughtful initiative and look forward to its implementation.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Victoria subtlely sustains addictive gambling

The Victorian government recently conducted a billboard campaign about pokie gambling. For me, it looked like they spent a lot of money. The billboards were placed on the major motorways and many public transport stops. The campaign made a lot of statements;
  • In the end the machines will win
  • Set yourself a limit & do not exceed it
  • Stay in control
  • Don't chase your losses walk away
Here's one obvious thing they did not state:

Don't Gamble on the Pokies

The fine print on the billboards advertised the logo and telephone number for Gambler's Help. My guess is that the creators of this message somehow expected motorists to grab a pen (while driving) and write the number down.

Here's an image from the billboard campaign that made it onto posters and signs in Victoria's pokie pubs and clubs. There is a subtle difference from the billboards which I'll point out at the bottom of today's post.This message does not even imply that a gambler should stop. Rather, it urges moderation. It could be that the possible loss of revenue motivates Premier Brumby to not try too hard to reduce pokie gambling. It has been reported that Mr. Brumby said that the Victorian Government's overall pokies revenue is worth about $1 billion per year.

Check out this video from Singapore and compare the messages being sent:


video

I'm sure you'll agree that the message in the Singapore ad is a lot more effective.

When seeing the Victorian billboard that stated "In The End The Machines Will Win" with the picture of a distressed but contemplative woman, I thought it was promoting a new sci-fi flick, Something like Wall-E goes bad.

Now for that difference....

Remember that the Victorian produced signs are to be placed on every pokie in the pokie room. They are to be placed on the 'Electronic Gaming Machine' where the gambler can see it while pokie gambling. When seeing these signs the gambler is sitting down, distracted only by the sights and sounds of the pokie room itself.

What the Government changed on the pokie room signs and posters was to delete the logo and phone number of Gambler's Help. Substituted for this message (providing a way for direct help) was a suggestion that the problem gambler pick up a free brochure (providing only indirect help). In this way, the possible addict has to front up to the cashier, pick up a brochure and then read through it.

If they call the VCGR as suggested, the gambler will get no Gambler's Help type service; just a referral. In fact, the sign tells you that you won't get any gambler's help from the VCGR just information on the conduct of gambling.

Why didn't they simply display the Gambler's Help phone number?

The answer seems that Mr. Brumby does not want addicts to stop gambing on the pokies. It seems that Mr Brumby's intent in spending this vast amount of advertising money was

Let's help.... but not too much.


video

Friday, 17 October 2008

The Not-So-Good, The Bad and The Really Ugly

Finding out who is actually puts into action responsible gaming practices reminds me of the famous spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Except for one thing. There's no "Good". So far. For some atmosphere while reading this blog; click on this video of the famous theme music from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.



With the PokieAct.org web site nearly finished, its time to have a look at the large pokie operators in the other states and territories. The first thing is to find out the identities of the pokie operators are. Then, see if these operators are luring children into their venues to expose them to pokie gambling at an early age. On the way, I'd like to see if they are meeting the voluntary codes of responsible pokie gambling.

I thought it would be easy to find out so that I could share the information. This is the golden treasure I'm seeking. However, it looks like the pokie bandidos and the sheriffs (the State and Territory regulators) want to keep this treasure to themselves.

Why should my quest have been easy? Please follow this argument:
  • Pokie gambling is an illegal activity that is allowed by the government. No person or company has a right to run a pokie room. Even when legal, I've not read anywhere suggesting that gambling on the pokies is anything but an adult entertainment.
  • The size and the complexity of the legislation that allows pokie gambling is immense. This immensity underlines the goal of Government to keep an eye on things.
  • A lot of those legal rules concern who is doing what with pokies. You need to know who is providing the pokies, who is running the pokies, and who is collecting the cash. If you don't know the 'Who', then Government can't make sure the business is being conducted honestly and responsibly. Government also wants to collect their taxes too.
So Government knows who all the participants are. You would think they would make it easy to find out who the players all. Most political speeches boast achievements of transparency and clarity. I take this to mean that its easy for the public to see what is happening.

Not so with the pokies.

Over the last few days, I've been searching the Internet to find out who runs what. Below is what I've found out so far.

The Not-So-Good - Northern Territory and Victoria
I first thought it might be easier to lift up Uluru and find out what's underneath than to figure out, online, who runs the NT's pokies. Have a look at this effort. I did call their Department of Justice to see what information is available to the public. The person I spoke to both courteously and enthusiastically promised to get back to me. I report twice (further down) on this blog as to the outcome. While there is still some unknown information about who controls what, the NT's web site impressively shows the gross profit at each pokie venue. I've not found that information from any State.
I hope they update that information for 2008.
In Victoria, the VCGR Website allows the public to search by venue, by licensee and by associate which provides the public with close to the full picture of ownership and control. It's the best of these bad boys. While the VCGR steps up and informs the public about associates (which is very helpful) it avoids leading you to the gold by not telling you why people and companies are associated, which venues they are actually associated with, and the nature of their control over the pokie venue.

The Bad - South Australia and New South Wales
Neither of these states tell you anything about control.
South Australia plays hide and seek. If you can guess the name of the licensee then there's a fair bit of information. Nothing about directors other than noting changes but not telling you who changed. Want to find out if Coles/Wesfarmer's operate pokies in South Australia? You have to type in Liquorland in the search box and information about their 39 pokies at the Hampstead Hotel is displayed.
New South Wales makes you pay. A lot. Check out the this ransom note:Yes, you added it up correctly... its over $1,800 to get a club and pub search and I'm not even sure if controlling interests are traced for this price. One good thing, Karen at the Sydney office is both polite and efficient.

The Really Ugly - Queensland
Queensland give you nothing about who runs the pokies. Remember that this is a state where one has to have a hotel license to be able to operate off license sales of beer, wine and spirits. So these ownerships affect a lot more than just pokies. After spending some time on their web site I called them up and sure enough, there is no public access to information about who runs the Queensland pokies. I did figure out a work around. Click here to see the liquor licenses search page. If you enter only the post codes, a list of hotels appear. Some hotels have extraordinary long operating hours and I'm going to guess that they are the pokies pubs.
There is no place to search by name of licensee. You have to seach post code by post code.
Ouch!
It's going to take me days but I am going to try and figure out how many pokie pubs Woolies and Coles/Bunnings run in the Sunshine State.


NT Update 18 October 2008
I emailed the NT people and asked them to :
"describe the pokie venues in the Territory, the number of pokies at
each venue and what persons and corporations control (either partially
or fully) the conduct of pokie gambling at those venues."
The speed of their response should be commended even though I was disappointed in its substance.
"I have consulted with a some of the senior inspectors and there is not a public register which stipulates what you are asking for. The website I have forwarded you is what is available to all, and if investigated have some questions you have asked- to an extent."

The website link sent to me is http://www.nt.gov.au/justice/licenreg/gaming/gaming.shtml . I could not find any answers although it seems that the NT gathers all the information.

NT Update 20 October
Again, with unfailing efficiency, the NT administration has come through. They sent me a link with information that's just over a month old. Click here to see a list of Community Gaming Machine Performance in the Territory. And you can click here to download an Excel spreadsheet of all the liquor venues. Put together these two documents and you get a reasonable idea of who are the licensees. The only part missing is who controls those licensees and I'm hoping that the NT will come through on this one too.
In the first post of this blog I graded the NT as 'Ugly'. They are Ugly no more.

One big reservation.
I may have missed something out. If this information is like my car keys, I'll never find it. What I am going to do is send a link to this blog to all the general enquiry email addresses asking them to correct the record.

It would be great to be fantastically wrong and find that a regulatory Clint Eastwood will rifle shoot the noose from my neck leaving me and the public to fall on a golden treasure of pokies information instead of an open grave of dry dirt.



Saturday, 11 October 2008

Weird Coincidence? I don't think so.

Help for problem pokie gamblers is as easy as a caring tap on the shoulder and the offer of a break and a chat.

The last PokieAct post was about a woman who had lost $350,000 at the Skyways Tavern. I expressed the view that if Woolworths were truly committed to minimising the harm that pokies cause, the gaming staff at the Skyways would have helped this woman.

No elaborate electronic devices needed.

No focus group research.

Just human touch.

But you have to have the right people in place and then train them to do the right thing.

With at least one of their pokie venue hires Woolies seems to have failed even this standard.

A man who persuaded his pregnant lover to help him stage a $200,000 holdup at the pokies venue where he worked has been jailed for at least 15 months.

Read the full report by clicking here.

Obviously, this guy was not the kind of person who you would employ to supervise your pokie venue as night gaming manager.

The pokies venue he worked at and robbed was the Skyways Taverner Hotel. The same venue where Connie lost her $350,000. This is another piece of the Woolworths pokies pub management picture. Its ugly.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Let's Blame The Fresh Food People

Safeway / Woolworths are advertised as The Fresh Food People. This implies that the Woolworths' organisation is made of people who care enough about their cutomers to not just bring you food but to bring you 'fresh' food.

Contrast this with the response of the associated Safeway/Woolworths pub management in Victoria to a brutal bashing resulting in death at their QBH Hotel in Melbourne.
We're Not To Blame!
I had the privilege to be interviewed yesterday for an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of BRW. In so many words, I was asked why I was concerned about Woolies management of pokie pubs and clubs. My response was that, in my opinion, they do not manage their associated pokie venues in a way that will minimise the harm caused by problem gambling. That standard of care is the main objective of the pokie regulation laws.

This sweeping statement made me think about why I feel that way. A program that aired on the ABC last night confirmed what bothers me.

It was a segment on how pokies are configured to keep people playing. Have a look at the program. It's the first segment. There's a lot about mechanical configurations that I was unaware of but I was more interested in the sub-story about how a woman lost $350,000 at one venue.

The venue was the Skyways Taverner Hotel controlled by Woolworths.

This woman's story is an example. If she lost that much money at one venue she must have been a regular and a regular loser. The venue staff should have gently tapped her on the shoulder somehow telling her to 'cool off'. The woman even talked about her 'lucky car space' that she used.

Put another way, there is no human concern. And that's irresponsible.

I have seen clear signs of problem gambling being ignored.

At one Safeway / Woolies pub there is a sign prohibiting the playing of two machines at once. For good reason. Yet, at another Safeway / Woolies venue right in front of the service bar with two staff looking right at her, I observed a woman playing two machines at one time. No doubt there will be a "We're Not To Blame" excuse from Safeway/Woolies as they would have to go beyond the system's technical rules to truly help people.

This might explain my concern about how responsibility is abandoned when you consider The Fresh Food People luring children into their pokie pubs.

Finally....

In April 2007, The Age in Melbourne wrote about the Skyways "One of the state's most profitable venues, Skyways Taverner in Airport West, claimed $1.9 million in community benefits but did not make any gifts, donations or community sponsorships."

This is from Safeway / Woolworths, the company that likely spent more on a recent billboard campaign to promote their community sponsorships than the $4,000 spent on the sponsorship itself.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Beliefs? What Beliefs? Consequentialism and Pokies

Roger Corbett, ex CEO of Woolworths and mentor of present Woolworths' CEO Michael Luscombe was asked (in 2006) how he reconciled his Christian beliefs and Woolies' pokie business;
"MOORE: This is a very personal question but it is probably going to be the last chance we get to speak to with you on Business Sunday. You are now the biggest pokies operator, the biggest pub owner, the biggest liquor retailer in Australia, how does that sit with your very well known personal Christian beliefs?

CORBETT: Ali, right across the community lots of people like a drink, I like nice glass of wine myself, like lots of people go to their local hotel and it is their club, it is their social life, lots of people like to use a gaming machine. I think from our point of view we are anxious that the retailing of liquor, and the providing of hotel services to our customers is at the highest level, so we create environments where it is conducive with people enjoying it in the way that I think it is best used. You have got to remember, a person asked me the other day, 'why do you sell cigarettes?'. Well people have a right if they want, they are adults, we cannot be the type of standard setters for society, that is not our role."
The goal of a business is to survive. To survive a business must be profitable. How a business reaches its goal of profitability is up to the leaders of that business. A business can conduct itself with a moral conscience. Or not. They have a choice as to what products or services they wish to make a profit from.

Mr. Corbett, by this statement reveals that Woolworths cares not at all about what the harm Woolies products might do to people. So long as its legal. And it makes a profit.
"... we cannot be the type of standard setters for society, that is not our role"
So, as long as its legal and makes a profit; Woolworths under Mr. Corbett had no problem with the products or services he sold. Like Stalin, for Mr. Corbett, the end (profit and shareholder value) seems to always justifes the means (pokies, smokes, TAB betting, booze). Consequentalism rocked Roger Corbett's world.

Can we look forward to a Safeway chain of brothels with a "conducive" environment? After all, brothels are legal too.

No one forced Woolies into the pokies business.

No one forces you to buy groceries at a Woolworths or a Safeway, household items at a Woolies' Big W, electronic gadgets at a Woolies' Dick Smith or alcho-pops at a Woolies' Dan Murphy's.

We all make choices. Some choices are a reflection of our true personal beliefs. I don't shop at Woolies anymore.
"MOORE: Did you ever consider walking away?

CORBETT: In the broader — it is a very difficult question. But my greatest obligation is to do what I‘m employed to do by the shareholders and that is to do my very best in their interests at all times. And that was the overriding principle here."

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Oops!...Woolies Did It Again.... and Again

Oops!...I did it again
I played with your heart, got lost in the game
Oh baby, baby
Oops!...You think I'm in love
That I'm sent from above
I'm not that innocent
Today's Sunday Age published a story on page 1 about the Hawthorn Football Club claiming $2m pokies revenue as community benefit.

The Sunday Age did not disclose was the signatory of the community benefit statement was Ross Blair-Holt. Mr. Blair-Holt is reported to be the Chief Operating Officer of the ALH group which is in turn is reported to be 75% owned by Woolworths Limited.

In fact both the Vegas at Waverley Gardens (Hawthorn Football Club) and Club Leeds (Footscray Football Club) are disclosed to be associated with Woolworths Limited. Click here to have a look at the PokieWatch.org web pages on the Vegas at Waverley Gardens and Club Leeds.

By virtue of the article in the Sunday Age, it is self evident that the management of these venues is of interest to the public. Minister Robinson should be proactively getting all of this out into the public instead of keeping all this information locked away on an unsubstantiated claim that it is confidential because its 'commercial'.

But there's more. And if my speculation proves correct, a lot worse.

And you won't read about it in The Age. I told them about it in June and got no response.

Click here to have a look at the statements lodged for the Aces Sporting Club. Again the signatory is Mr. Blair-Holt. Again Woolworths is disclosed as an associate.

In the latest statement a sport sponsorship of $162,727 is shown. The same questions might be raised for this venue as for the Hawthorn Football Club.

Firstly, There may be an association with respect to this venue that has not been disclosed. Inspection of the venue on 21 June 2008 indicated an association of the venue with the Melbourne Storm Social Club. Have a look at the admission ticket I signed, scanned and attached to this blog.

An executive of the Storm, John Ribot, is disclosed on the VCGR web site as being associated. Publicly available information indicates that the Melbourne Storm is 100% owned by News Limited. Yet there is no association disclosed with News Limited on the VCGR web site.

If Woolies are responsible for doing everything required by the gambling laws then shouldn't they disclose this?

Secondly, does an indirect payment to an enterprise wholly owned by News Limited qualify as a 'sports sponsorship'? If it does not, then it is in the public interest to know about agreements which could have the ultimate effect of an evasion of the requirements of the Gambling Regulations legislation.

Finally, have a look at the Aces Sporting Club web page on PokieWatch.org. I think it's nasty to place a pokies club next to a driving range and alongside a miniature gold course and visually incorporate a Chinese resturant into the pokies room itself.
Chorus:
Oops!...I did it again
I played with your heart, got lost in the game
Oh baby, baby
Oops!...You think I'm in love
That I'm sent from above
I'm not that innocent

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Research? Evidence? Excuses to do nothing.

"We do no research. We don't hire consultants"
Who made these outrageous statements? You might guess this is the statement of the CEO of some failed enterprise. The usual mantra is that you gotta be close to the customer and you do that by getting more research. You might be surprised to find out that these are quotes from Apple's Steve Jobs talking about the iPod and iTunes, probably the most successful electronic product launched in the last decade. Furthermore, Apple is an enterprise that radically and frequently updates its core products. With enormous success.

Research enables doing nothing at all. If you want to do nothing just call for evidenced based reforms. It also is great in absolving the decision maker of responsibility. It's always a fine excuse to be able to blame that "damn research" when it all goes pear shaped.

The core fallacy of research is that researchers talk only to those people who will be researched... and these people are not normal.

How many times have you been called asking to do a 5 minute survey and declined to participate? Probably every time. In fact, most people do decline. What kind of a person will take $50 to sit in a room with a 2-way mirror and talk about some product in a focus group for a few hours? Weird people. Yet these are the same people who are the source of the research that is meant to guide our lives.

The research excuse is used a lot to stop pokie reform. The pokie industry diminishes a lot of logic by saying that they will not implement this or that reform unless its based on research.

It's a topic for another post, but I've wondered how many people will admit to a problem with pokie gambling when some researcher calls at dinner time to ask.

I'm sure this 'no research = no action' argument will be used against this campaign to keep kids away from pokie pubs. I've already been warned.

A few weeks ago, a person employed by one of the councils and I did a PokieWatch at a Melbourne venue that was under construction. In the midst of having a look, we were asked to leave the venue because of some law that note taking was prohibited in the pokie room. Whatever! After walking out, I told my co-notetaker about my plans for PokieAct and its focus on keeping kids out of pokie pubs.

Her initial response? Do you have research that kids in pokie pubs leads to harm?

My response was that I need no research to know that what children are exposed to forms their behaviour. I need no research to know that how I behave as a parent influences my children.

In these tough times of high fuel and housing costs, offers of free food for kids will look attractive for many who live in the poorer areas where pokie pubs are typically located. Kids notice the sounds and lights of pokies. I need no research to know that.

There are a multitude of places to take kids to eat and play. Pokie pubs are not one of those places.

I don't need research to know that either.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Let's go straight to the top!

Read the letter below from the Chairman of the VCGR. Its about legal rules, signs, Gaming Machines, and where those signs should be placed. You can click on it to see an larger image.

I believe that Victorian law requires them to be on the Gaming Machine and not the Top Box. The VCGR does not agree. They say that when the law talks about the "Gaming Machine" it includes the Top Box too. I think putting signs on the Top Box does not meet the legal .

Have a look at these diagrams reproduced from the Victorian Gambling Regulations Regulations (no misprint - these are the Regulations of the Regulations!)

The first one shows a Gaming Machine with a Top Box attached.

The next one shows a Gaming Machine without a top box.

It seems to me, looking at these two diagrams, that the Gaming Machine and the Top Box are two different things. Therefore, putting a sign on the Top Box is not the same as putting a sign on the Gaming Machine.

So what's the point about these signs and what do they say?

It all relates to the legal requirement (Regulation 17) that every Gaming Machine has to have a sign on it. These signs warn gamblers about problem gambling issues. They are intended to minimize the harm caused by problem gambling. Common sense says put them where the gambler will see them the most.

Common sense says that placing these signs at the top of the Top Box so that the gambler sees them a lot less is simply wrong.

While Mr. Dunn is correct in pointing out that these diagrams do relate to another regulation about where the electronic clock should be, the regulation about the signs says nothing other than place them on the Gaming Machine. So these diagrams are the only and the best guide to placing them so that the send their message as best as they can.

I spent today trying to figure out how I can get an umpire to review Mr. Dunn's wrong decision. Don't have an answer yet but I'll post when I do.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Why do we need to know who's running the shop?

Last Monday, 22 September, in this blog, I posted the letter I received from the Minister for Gaming refusing my request to disclose information about who manages a number of pokie venues in Victoria. His reason? That these agreements were "commercial".

It is my intention to lodge a Freedom of Information action against the Minister. The only reason I have not done so yet, is that I am also asking the Gambling Commission for the same information. I'm hoping that the Commission acts sensibly.

As soon as the details are received, I will post the lot on this blog.

In the meantime, here's 6 reasons why its in the public interest to see who is actually managing Victoria's pokie venues;

1. Management agreements are now the subject of public inquiry pursuant to the Victorian Department of Justice’s Gambling Licenses Review. The issue is already of public concern.

2. The issue is the subject of public consideration. It was reported in 22 May issue of Melbourne's Herald Sun as follows:
"Gaming Minister Tony Robinson has revealed the government is investigating laws to prevent Mr. Mathieson from owning or managing more than 35% or 4813 of the state’s pub pokies beyond 2012.
The powerful hotel baron who now controls 6768 machines in partnership with supermarket giant Woolworths, will also be stopped from owning managing or associating himself with pokies in sporting and community clubs.
… [a spokeswoman for Mr. Robinson] said the Government was also exploring measures to prevent hoteliers from entering into management arrangements with club ventures."
The Minister’s spokeswoman has indicated that club venue entitlements for gaming machines will only be available to bona fide, not for profit clubs. An agreement whereby a 3rd party might directly or indirectly gain income from such an entitlement may be contrary to that intention.

3. The discussion paper for the Gambling Licenses Review stated that it adheres to the highest standards of probity. It also stated that the Government is “committed to further consultation with industry, community, and other stakeholders”. So that there can be effective consultation on this issue rather than speculative argument, the nature of all management relationships must be known.

4. Both the Footscray Football Club and the Hawthorn Football club have sought either the transfer or the grant of pokie venue licenses. In other pokie premises licensed to these clubs, they are both are associated with the Safeway/Woolworths group of associates. It is relevant for the Gambling Commission to consider the suitability of the applicant if that applicant intends to delegate its duty to implement and conduct responsible gambling practices to another company. This becomes crucial if that company seems unable to conduct responsible gambling practices at premises owned, managed or associated with it.

5. The goals of the Victorian Government as set out in the media release of the Premier Brumby. In that document, the Minister for Gaming stated that decisions had been made for a particular system
“to deliver a gaming industry which will:
  • Be more connected to local communities
  • Have more diversity of ownership; and
  • Deliver greater competition”
If the operations of clubs and hotels are being managed by one organization, this would have the effect of reducing competition. Woolies' associates, ALH, gave evidence on 26 July 2006:
  • Their view was “that the only restrictions on ownership should be those governed by the ability of the venue operator to meet compliance procedures” This view of effectively unrestricted ownership is contrary to Government policy.
  • ALH also stated that clubs would benefit “by having expert management and large group synergies”. “Large group synergies” erode rather than encourage competition.
6. On 7 September a young man tragicly died as a result of a bashing outside of a Woolworths associated pub. It was the second death in 15 months outside this pub:
  • The Assistant Commissioner of Police stated, “They (ALH) have got to look at this. It’s the second major offence that has occurred on their premises and they’ve got to clean up their act”
  • The boss of ALH, Bruce Mathieson's reaction? "We're not to blame".
If Woolworths is conducting business in Victoria in a manner that is contrary to the stated goals of the Government and therefore the public interest, it is in that interest to be aware of the particulars of that conduct.

A letters setting all of this out was sent to Michael Luscombe, CEO and Managing Director of Woolworths on 6 August and 10 September.

Reaction?

Silence.



Friday, 26 September 2008

What's with PokieWatch.org? PokieAct explained.

On Wednesday afternoon and evening I returned to the activity that has consumed my time since March of this year. That's looking and recording what I see at the Victorian pokie venues associated with Woolworths.

The point PokieWatch.org is trying to prove is; if people have a look at what happens inside these places, note down what they see, and record it publicly; then that process, of itself, will improve responsible pokie gambling practices. Since I started doing this back in March, things have gotten better; but slowly.

I started the PokieAct blog because PokieWatch.org is intended to be objective. PokieAct is not.

So here's some opinions about the 6 venues I visited on Wednesday.

2 of those venues are located in strip shopping centres; The Plough in Mill Park and the Bundoora Hotel in Bundoora. Placement of pokie rooms in strip malls is now prohibited under local town planning regulations. If someone wanted to establish these pokie rooms today; it would never happen.

Another venue involved the issue of who runs what.

The Diamond Creek Tavern was recently reported to have been sold by the Collingwood Football Club along with The Beach in Albert Park. No record of the sale appears on the VCGR web site. I had a look at the Diamond Creek because it seems from the VCGR records that Woolworths is an approved associate. I simply wanted to know if Woolies was, indeed, running the pokie room. This way, I could see if they were responsible for doing a good job or not. Yet when I looked at the specifics on the VCGR web pages, this did not seem to be the case.

This was one of the questions I put to the VCGR, that the Minister refused to answer. Seemed innocent to me. Have a look at my post (below) for 22 September. I have not given up yet on this one and will keep you posted.

Finally, I visited two stand alone venues; the Eltham Hotel and the Cherry Hill Tavern. They fit the criterion for what might be a good location for pokie parlours. Neither are in malls nor are they too far away from an established shopping or social centre. The term used to describe their location is "Destination" gambling.

The truly disturbing thing I saw is the way Woolies lures kids into the world of pokies and introduces them to the concept of an easy coin operated win.

At the Eltham, you can see some video I took looking at the machines Woolies puts into the play areas tied to this pokie pub and the absence of adults. At the Cherry Hill, they have a machine called "A Winner Every Time" placed and targeted at children in the play area. At the Cherry Hill, the noise and sights of the pokie room is continually present while you and the family eat. At the Eltham there's a big sign and an open doorway leads to the pokie area when the family enters the pub.

This is nasty.

Keeping kids out of pokie places is ultimately what the PokieAct blog is about.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

What got left out after 6 days of Romsey

Despite expensive consultants, a lot of statistics and learned arguments from Queens Counsel, who wins in Romsey will come down to factors that Justice Bell carried into the hearing before he heard a word of evidence.

Is he pro-development? A growth at any cost kinda guy?

Or a Let's-Keep-Things-As-They-Are reactionary?

If he's the former; Jim Hogan triumphs. The latter, the Macedon Ranges might just stay as they are for a few more years.

I still have two questions that remain unanswered;
  • Why didn't Jim's track record in honouring his promises in Wallan surface? He said he was going to build some motel units. He didn't. He indicated that there had been some sporting donations implying that they might continue. Further donations don't show up on the VCGR public records. He said that the gaming room would be discrete portion of the hotel which those attending the hotel for other social purposes will have no occasion to visit. It's not. Just have a look at this picture of the car park entrance to his Wallan Hotel where the entrance is shared by the bistro and the pokie room.
  • There was a fair bit of discussion today on whether His Honour could grant this application conditionally upon Jim Hogan completing the improvements. After all, the improvements to the Romsey pub, not the pokies, were what this application seemed to be about. The Shire' lawyers said he couldn't. Jim's lawyers said you could. The VCGR lawyers said nothing. No one mentioned that on 12 August, the VCGR released their Langwarrin decision where they did precisely that.
Finally and for me, most importantly, no one mentioned that Wallan and Romsey are not the same kind of towns. Wallan is just off the four lane Hume Highway. Romsey is a country town, up a two lane road. Maybe the people in Romsey moved and stayed there just for that reason.

Maybe they want to keep it that way. There's plenty of other places to live, like Wallan, where there is a shopping mall, alfresco dining and pokies nearby. Instead of transforming it into a Melbourne suburb, maybe His Honour should just keep Romsey as the country town that it is.

Someone has to draw a line somewhere.

Monday, 22 September 2008

"Commercial Matters" - Transparency? Anyone?


You would have thought that I was asking for a secret formula developed after years of costly research instead of something so small. Check out the garbage knock back I received from Minister for Gaming, Tony Robinson scanned just above. Click on the image if you want the big view.

Who is this all about?

Certain clubs (and some companies) in Victoria and their relationship to the supermarket giant Woolworths. The clubs are:
  • Aces Sporting Club (Melbourne Storm)
  • Collingwood Football Club
  • Footscray Football Club
  • Hawthorn Football Club
  • Manningham Club
  • Port Melbourne Giants Basketball Club
  • Richmond Football Club
What exactly did I ask for?

Here's my 3 questions:
  1. Is there a management agreement in place?
  2. What is the name of the management company?
  3. While I made no request to see the actual agreement, I wanted to know what the duties and responsibilities of the manager with respect to each venue.
I'm happy to email anyone the text of my letter to the Gambling Commission. Just email me at PokieWatch@yahoo.com and it's on its way.

Why do I think the public should know?

The venues associated with Woolworths amount to over 40% of all pokie hotels in Victoria. The public seems to be under the impression that these venues belong to Bruce Mathieson when, in most instances they belong to an entity 75% owned by Woolies. With it's enormous financial clout, Woolies could end up managing most every Victorian pokie club or pub.

The public should know who is really running the show.


Sunday, 21 September 2008

Consulting Missteps and Authentic Happiness

Back in the 1970's, when I was an articled clerk in Western Australia fresh out of law school, my principal instructed me to prepare cases so that all issues were out in the open and dealt with. Surprise was a junk strategy. Don't assume the opposition are dumb and won't get to all the points of argument.

Dr. Kerkin of Coomes Consulting would be wise to follow this advice. In these days where consultants have become advocates, decent cross examiners study what they say to reduce the impact of the consultant's conclusion. To assume that Mr. Tweedy, counsel for Jim Hogan, the applicant for the pokie licenses in Romsey, is not decent, is plain wrong and weakens the otherwise strong points made by her report and testimony.

Dr. Kerkin gave evidence of the balance of good and bad in granting the pokie licenses to the Romsey Hotel. Her conclusion seemed to be that the bad outweighed the good. Given her considerable qualifications, you would think she weighed all the 'good' against all the 'bad'. She might have... but she did not put it in her report.

What she forgot to mention is that some people like to gamble on the pokies and that having pokies in Romsey instead of having to drive to another pokie venue is a benefit to these people. Mr. Tweedy said that for them it was a "recreational activity like going to the movies or having a meal". Playing the pokies was an activity from which they gained pleasure. Why shouldn't it be conveniently placed?

She should have dealt with that point.

Here's one uncomplicated way Dr. Kerkin might have balanced the convenience factor. Playing the pokies is not a recreational activity like going to the movies or having a meal. It is an illegal and potentially harmful activity where it's conduct is regulated by the Government. It's not at all like going to the movies or having a meal. It's more like buying cigarettes, drinking alcohol, betting on the nags, or going to a brothel. All these recreational activities, just like pokies, are illegal unless licensed or restricted to adults.

Convenience must be balanced with the nature of the activity. If all that mattered were convenience than why not a brothel on every corner or a pokie in every fish and chip shop and newsagent? That sure would be convenience. Just think how the Victorian Community Support Fund would grow with the additional pokie taxes. It's also plainly wrong.

Dr. Kerkin also got a little lost by extending her expertise to trying to define the psychological concepts of 'happiness' and 'contentment'. She need not have gone further than the well-known grammar school located close to where she works. Geelong Grammar is conducting a pioneering and world recognised trial in teaching authentic happiness amongst its students. Click here to read about it. The study of what makes people happy was also a cover story in Time magazine. One of the points to emerge from these studies is how authentic happiness sources from doing good for a larger social cause.

Authentic happiness is a lot more than buying a new handbag. It is certainly not the lonesome activity of pressing a button every 2.4 seconds on a pokie.



Thursday, 18 September 2008

Justice Bell Delivers. Guess who went AWOL?

Day 4 of the Romsey hearing started poorly.

The court heard more from Mr. Whitehead of Tattersall's. But not too much on the grounds that it would be 'commercially sensitive' - the catch-all excuse not to publicly debate something that might be really embarrassing. The court also heard that one of his underlings put forward a revenue model to the Romsey hearing of 2005 despite the admission by Mr. Whitehouse that he had doubts about the model Tatt's were suggesting as good evidence.

Mr. Whitehouse should never play Texas Hold 'Em. That soft voice is a dead giveaway.

Then it got a lot better.

The morning shift ended with an insightful discussion between Justice Bell and counsel for the Gambling Commission after the commission presented its very scanty case.

His Honour again reminded the Commission about the guidance given to it in the Supreme Court decision and how the Commision's counsel should have been instructed to present a view. What followed was a terrific discussion between the Commission's counsel and His Honour on the points applicants and objectors should prepare and present in any pokie application.

All the applicable phrases in the gambling laws were dissected. The questions Justice Bell asked and the observations he made were most valuable given the weight of his judgement as a member of the Appeals Tribunal charged with reviewing the Commission's decisions.

And who came but left before the substance? If you've read any of the previous posts, you've guessed it by now.

The boss. Ian Dunn, Chairman, Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation.

What he missed was a discussion on how to properly weigh the net benefits and negative effects that the introduction of pokies might have on a community. The benefit of having a pokies parlour in Romsey, the extra employment, the donations to sporting clubs and the improved amenity were all noted. The negatives of the possibility of problem gambling and pokie expenditure above state averages were noted.

Most important was the lengthy discussion about the introduction of pokies into Romsey being "so disconcerting that it would have a negative effect on the community" And finally what I perceived to be an observation from Commission's counsel that consistent with the original findings of the Commission, the findings of the Supreme Court and the evidence before the Tribunal at this hearing, years later, Romsey still finds it so.

Too bad Mr. Dunn wasn't there to even listen.




Wednesday, 17 September 2008

You show me yours but I won't show you mine

Talk about the lack of a level playing field. Some players in the Romsey pokies case have all the information and others are just left to guess.

The afternoon of Day 3 was warmed up by two members of the Romsey community procured by the applicant Hogan. The first witness might have been a bit of a "whoops" when he conceded that he would prefer that the improvements would be made to the Romsey Hotel without the pokies. The second thought that pokies would be the best thing that ever happened to Romsey as it would bring the town up to par with everywhere else. Another die-hard observer sitting next to me whispered maybe that's why people chose to live in small town Romsey because its not like everywhere else.

Then the floodgates of statistical information were opened wide by the witness employed by Tattersall's, Mr. Whitehouse. I gathered that he ran a division that figured out whether Tatt's should invest in one area or another. To do this they hired a firm that put together a statistical model that showed what the likely income would be.

Romsey must have measured up. The problem with the evidence is that it measured up too well.

Counsel for the Shire opposing the application stated to the His Honour that this evidence was relevant to the finding of 'net economic benefit'. If the pokies drew more money out of the town than it was putting back, the pokie application must get a knock back.

So Mr. Whitehouse had to do a balanced show and tell. First he had to show that his model gave good information. His 'tell' was that the results would be OK enough so Hogan would be able to make good on his promises of employment, donations to local sporting groups, and improved facilities (even tho' he seems not to have made good on all his Wallan promises). Finally Mr. Whitehouse had to tell the Tribunal that the money sucked out of town would not be too great so as to screw the Romsey economy. A paper called "Gaming 101" was procured.

The core value of these projections are based upon actual pokie turnovers at Tatt's pokies. Is anyone else allowed to see these stats? Not the Shire. Not the public sitting in the gallery.

Who?

The Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation. And they aren't showing anything yet.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

All the old dudes & dudettes who carry the news

Once upon a time I thought that experts were meant to be professionals who provided pure evidence untainted by bias. Having listened to three of them today give evidence on behalf of the applicant for the pokie license in Romsey, I'm not so sure anymore. They all thought that 30 pokies in the Romsey Hotel was a grand idea... same as the guy paying their fees.

No doubt over the next few days, I'll listen to the experts from the Macedon Ranges who will likely find that 30 pokies in Romsey is a terrible idea. I'm also sure that the judicial process will benefit by the competing factual scenarios being presented. Then the nine lawyers sitting at the bar table will argue about the size of the holes each of them have blown in the other's 'facts' and the process will be assisted again.

But I'm not so sure about three of those lawyers; the three that represent the Gaming Commission. Remember that it is their decision that is being appealed against at this hearing.

While the question they asked about disadvantaged Romsey people was a great one, (it was answered by Hogan's expert by her attacking the Shire's expert) the public is not well served by how little stuff is presented by the Commission. Especially when you believe that they possess the info on how much is spent on pokies at each pub or club and could put together an index showing which communities are more likely to produce pokie addicts and which one's are not.

It's not such a crazy idea that they could do a PokieWatch themselves and post online what they see inside each venue.

Justice Bell is doing a PokieWatch tomorrow morning at Wallan (one of Hogan's other pokie pubs) and Romsey itself. It's great that he's going to have an official look. All the lawyers get to go too. Consistently, the Commission isn't going.

Click here to have a look what I saw when I went to Wallan. I wrote to Mr. Hogan just after I posted the web page of what I saw. I asked him to correct anything that he thought was inaccurate. This included some observations comparing what he promised the Gambling Commission he was gunna do and the news on what he actually did.

No surprise that this was an old dude that I did not hear from.

Romsey Resurrected and the PokieAct Blog Begins

The small Victorian country town of Romsey (Population about 4,500) is the home of the longest sustained effort to bring pokies to a community that doesn't want them.

Back in 2004, the Hogan hotel group applied for 30 pokie licenses. The Victorian Gambling Commission knocked them back. Hogan appealed to the Victorian Administrative Tribunal and won. The local Shire of Macedon Ranges appealed to the Supreme Court of Victoria who also knocked back the Hogan's pokies.

Fast forward to 2008 and Hogan is at it again. The Tribunal hearing started about a half hour late. There were 9 lawyers at the head table most of whom wanting to trash the past.

The Supreme Court made it clear that the community's feelings about pokies was important and the Gambling Commission needs to defend its findings when they are being appealed against. None of this seemed to matter.

In the first few minutes the Commission indicated that it was only going to help update evidence. Justice Bell politely asked them if they had read the Supreme Court decision.

Hogan's expert witness dissed all the surveyed views of Romsey community opposing pokies as something emotional that they might grow out of over time.

Justice Bell pondered a vision of how an estimated $13.5 million would be spent on 30 pokies in the Romsey pub in a year and what this might do to the well being of a town with two petrol stations, two banks, two supermarkets two cafes and a skate park.

Welcome to the pokie world.