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.
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Date Posted: 09:06 18/12/08 Thu
Author: ramhead
Author Host/IP: NoHost /
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.

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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.


Stuart said...

I continue to be amazed by people like you who spend all of your time trying to eliminate pokies. I neither work for a gaming company nor do I ever play pokies. I find them absolutely boring. The fact is, however, that many people do enjoy playing them, the vast majority of them far from being 'problem' gamblers.

There are two types of country on this earth. Those where gambling is legal and those where it is illegal yet happens anyway.

Greece is a perfect example of what happens when poker machines are banned. They took that decision some years ago and, since then, the prevalence of these machines has multiplied to the extent that there are estimated to be in excess of 150,000 operating machines throughout the country.

The problem is that they are now operated in shady venues by the criminal underworld, there is no support for problem gamblers, return to player rates are far lower, no other benefits (cheap food and drinks etc) are provided, no tax is recouped by the government (for use on projects to benefit the entire community) and the Government is now in breach of its EU national debt levels as a result

The world's biggest gamblers? I think the common answer would be the Chinese. Well gambling of all types is illegal in China, save for a couple of lotteries run by the Federal Departments of Welfare and Sports. The fact that gambling is illegal has had no impact on its prevalence.

I get tremendously frustrated by people like you who see a problem (in this case problem gambling) and immediately assume that the answer is to eliminate the cause entirely. There is no consideration to the alternatives and the fact that they might be far worse than the current position.

Let’s first consider the problem. Over $4bn in taxation income to Australia’s governments annually, much of it spent on new roads, hospitals and schools etc.

Over 15,000 businesses for whom gambling is a major source of income and who employ in excess of 200,000 Australians.

The value-added from gambling estimated to be $3.5 billion, while value-added (at producers’ prices), which took into account taxation, is estimated to be $7.3 billion, or 1.5% of GDP.

Significantly reduced price meals, drinks and entertainment for customers, particularly the elderly.

And, finally, significant entertainment for the 82% of Australians who participate in gambling, including 37% who do so 1 -3 times every week.

So let’s ban it! Get rid of it! In other words, let’s put 200,000, mostly young, people out of work. Let’s send upwards of 5,000 businesses to the wall.

Let’s increase the tax impost on all Australians.(If my tax burden rises to replace that currently generated from gaming companies, I stand lose some $400 per annum, as will all average working Australians)

Let’s deprive elderly Australians of a place where they can go for low price food and entertainment and all those responsible gamblers of an avenue for enjoyment.

No-one is forced into gambling. I haven't seen too many mobs roaming the street to force people into gaming dens.

We all have a responsibility to ensure moderation in much the same way as we have an obligation not to drink too much or drive too fast. Whilst the vast majority comply with reasonable standards, there are a minority who exceed these and cause damage to themselves.

Based on your gaming machine logic, we should also ban cars and alcohol! Hardly!!!

Can I encourage you to look at creating ways to manage the expenditure on gaming activities of problem gamblers?

It seems that the respective State governments and all of the major gaming companies contribute considerable amounts to the encouragement of Responsible Gaming.

If I were you, I would be looking at why these substantial sums of money are not having the desired effect.

No being overly familiar with the workings of these gaming machine networks, I do understand that they are all linked to central management systems.

Given this, it surely can't be too hard to add an ID card reader to every machine, have every person wishing to play the machines register (and be issued with an ID card) with a central authority and then limit the amount they are permitted to play in any given period.

I have no doubt this would be possible albeit expensive. That said, I am sure that it would be markedly less costly than the amount currently expended on Responsible Gaming.

People can get around any 'system' but the vast majority wouldn't be able to.

Problem solved. Responsible Gaming significantly increased, jobs preserved, tax income retained etc etc etc.

Please stop and take some time to consider the rather short sighted approach you are taking. Eliminating a problem doesn't necessarily make things better!

Push for better management of individual player expenditure and the introduction of spend limits.

I have no affection for Collingwood or Woolworths but please stop pestering them and let them get on with the difficult job of running their respective businesses.

One last suggestion. Move your attention to the banks. They are, as people like to put it, 'ripping us off' in far more painful ways than the gambling companies.

PokieWatch said...

First off, I am sincerely grateful for the time spent in Stuart's post. The best thing that can happen about this issue is debate.

Secondly, you missed the point in the blog, and and it is an important point. The point is that I never call for a ban on pokies. What I do call for (in is a removal of children from pokie places. What I do call for (in is better self regulation.

Those are quite different things.

But despite the fact that you might have missed my two main points, you raise a great issue and that is smart cards. There are many that advocate the same thing.

Here's what I know about them.

In fact is that the technology to do what you suggest is just about in place everywhere you see a loyalty scheme where people insert a card into the pokie and then build points. Melbourne's Crown Casino has this. I've seen the same technology in many of the pokie pubs operated by Coles in S.A. and Queensland.

The recent senatorial inquiry heard evidence about this. Professor Linda Handcock of Deakin university and Dr. Charles Livingstone of Monash have written papers on this and I endeavour to get an electronic copy and post it as an attachment.

Without swamping you with detail, Senator Xenophon's submission covered the issues on Smart Cards: Here's the relevant paragraphs:

7. Smart Card Technology

7.1 The Committee received submissions and heard evidence on the issue of Smart Card technology and, in particular, player pre-commitment.

7.2 During evidence, Mr Phillip Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of Responsible Gambling Networks, talked in some length about the benefits of player pre-commitment, which he described as the “combined seatbelt and airbag to protect all player-machine players from a potential financial crash”.

He stated that:

Player pre-commitment, is the only rational means by which players can protect themselves from all the collective aggressive marketing of venues, the exploitative behaviours of operators, and the razzamatazz of new poker machines, once they enter a venue. The grate advantage of player pre-commitment as a public policy solution is that once it is implemented, it does not matter what the operators, the venues, the banks or the machine manufacturers subsequently attempt to do to entice more money from you, they cannot make you change your mind about purchasing behaviour once you enter their gambling venue.

7.3 While Mr Ryan supported the movement towards player pre-commitment, he also highlighted some of the concerns raised over smart card technology, such as, “problem gamblers are highly intelligent. They will find a way to get two or three smart cards. Problem gamblers learn how to fool people. They are highly intelligent in shuffling accounts.”

7.4 Player pre-commitment has the potential to form a useful part of a harm minimisation strategy, provided that the issues of privacy and security can be resolved. A biometric technology may provide a means of ensuring that problem gamblers cannot use multiple cards or devices to get around the system. We believe that the privacy safeguards and the relative efficacy of biometric smart cards, USB player protection keys and other similar technologies should be evaluated as a matter of urgency.

The reaction by the Federal government is to ask for more research. "An evidence based decision". That is really an excuse for inaction. There is tons of research already out there.

The arguments you put are similar to those put by the cigarette industry so few years ago "We need more research" "They're not harmful" "Only a few are affected". The same is put our about alcoholism and only gays get AIDS; even carbon emissions. Remember?

I agree with you that advocating a total ban gets nowhere and that's why I do not do that. I remember the days when the illegal casinos flourished. What I do advocate is beginning a generational change. While no one can solve a problem simply by making it illegal, smoking is down, people do less drinking and driving, there is less unprotected sex. Maybe not in gross terms but as a percentage. These long slow (and boring) campaigns do work but they need to start somewhere.

Without going into all the reasons why... my bit of advocacy is for better self regulation (just do what you say you are doing) and keeping kids away from the pokies (let them be kids - plenty of time to be grown-ups). If Woolies and the Pies can do these small things I would be delighted to stop pestering them.