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.