Monday, 7 December 2009

Productivity Commission Public Hearings

Here is an outline of the submissions I intend to make at the Productivity Commission public hearings next week in Brisbane.

1. Focus on solutions that minimise harm to the problem gambler without affecting the recreational gambler.

I endorse the Productivity Commission’s approach without reservation. I have publicly urged adoption to the media, pokie operators and government. Submissions 2-6 hereof are put to support this focus.

2. Need for Prescriptive legislation

The overwhelming practice is to comply only with the letter of the regulation. Shareholders urged cost efficient measures to be adopted by Woolworths Limited without success.

  • Promotion of Self Exclusion
  • Effective placement of gambling warnings on pokie and in toilets and smoking areas
  • Erection of Car Parks signs warning about leaving children in cars
  • Simultaneous play prohibition

3. An example of lack of consumer information.

Victorian PID disclose RTP differential between 1¢, 2¢ and $1 pokies. Practice encourages far greater expenditure in exchange for longer gambling time.

I referred the Commission to the ALH undertaking on page 7.2 of their draft report about informed consumer choice. Easy to inform gamblers yet little is done.

4. Exposure of Children to gambling

Coles’ acceptance of National Principles vs Woolworths / Clubs NSW refusal. Implementation issues with Coles – e.g. where environments created to get gamblers back in the room and keep coming back. Updated explanation of ‘normalisation’. Kids Club ad and other pokie venue’s direct appeals to children. Emulation of gambling through coin operated games of chance programmed for repeat expenditure.

5. The immediate solution - $1 per button push

To achieve a $120 loss per hour as a result of $1 per button push requires a prescriptive solution. The reality of the spin cycle over which the RTP emerges must be taken more fully into account. The spin cycle also impacts upon “safe mode” alternative schemes of pokie gambling.

6. Consumer Sovereignty - an ideal pre-commitment model

When is it exercised? Given the harm of the product for problem gamblers, it should be exercised twice and no more; firstly, at the time the choice is made to gamble, secondly, at the time the decision to opt out of the default pre-commitment expenditure / time spent gambling levels and access higher expenditure / gambling time.

7. Transparency – Three realities

  • Pokie management agreements in Victoria. While not advocating against the practice, these arrangements exploit taxation concessions and confer effective control on non-licensees. They should be subject to public scrutiny, public approval and market control limitations rather than present secrecy.
  • Success in urging and achieving disclosure of Victoria per venue losses has allowed for better social planning.
  • PokieWatch.org model – open disclosure of environment leads to improved measures. Both regulator & venue operator should post all observations.

Public disclosure of information concerning the programming and operation of the pokies themselves is urged.

8. Pokie Clubs / Mutuals

Is the preferential taxation and regulatory treatment of clubs merited when weighing community benefit against pokie gambling losses? Pokie losses appear to outweigh public benefit. Reduction in pokie gambling harm and more effective taxation may achieve a better result. Analysis in Betty Con Walker’s book on NSW Casino Clubs should be considered. New Victorian legislation lifts need to be a sports club in Victoria to avoid income taxation.

I emailed these submissions to the Commission today.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Woolworths' Kids Meals / Kids Club Ad

I have lodged a complaint against Woolworths associate Australian Leisure and Hospitality group for breach of the AANA Code of Ethics and Code of Advertising to Children. Here's the ad that I believe offends that is an "Advertising or Marketing Communication directed primarily to Children that contravenes Prevailing Community Standards.


I reproduce below my submission to the Australian Associated of National Advertisers as it contains what I believe supports my complaint.

Formal Submission

Ad Details: Newspaper/Magazine - Sunday Herald Sun - 1 November 2009
Advertiser: Australian Leisure & Hospitality Group
Product/Service Advertised: Kids Meals and Kids Club
Description of Ad: Invites children to eat at certain venues and join a Kids Club at these venues
Reason for Concern: The venues listed are all pokie clubs or pubs associated with Woolworths Limited. Australian Leisure & Hospitality Group is 75% owned by Woolworths Limited. This advertisement does not disclose that children are to be accompanied by adults at these venues where alcohol is served. Furthermore, pokie gambling in these venues is an adults only form of entertainment and whilst children are not permitted within the pokie areas, they are exposed to the sights and sounds of pokie gambling in these venues. Children have been observed wandering freely in the gambling areas of these venues. Such marketing contravenes paragraphs 2.7 and 2.13 of the AANA Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children, paragraph 1.2 of the AANA Code of Ethics.

If permissible, I asked to amend reference to the AANA Code of Ethics to include a reference to paragraph 2.6. I would also like to amend reference to the AANA Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children to include a reference to paragraph 2.2

Objective of this complaint

Notwithstanding it is acknowledged that this promotion has concluded, the determination of the Bureau is sought. The objective, therefore, is that Woolworths and all its associated companies cease like marketing of their pokie gambling pubs to children in future.

Relevant materials

The following materials were attached:

Advertisement as it appeared in the Sunday Herald Sun - 1 November 2009. See above.

Screen capture of the top of the relevant web page of www.greatfoodgreatvalue.com.au


It is unlikely that this page will remain into December. I have also taken a capture that scrolls allowing viewing of the entire page. This is a large file that was difficult to provide by email to the Bureau by email. I created a YouTube video that you can view here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_5gOkvfZMc

Flyer distributed at Woolworths' associated pokie pubs and clubs replicating the advertisement
Flyer distributed at Woolworths' associated pokie pubs and clubs for Are You A Member - Tatt's Pokies.
Press advertisement Sunday Herald Sun - 4 October 2009
Kids Clubs promotion and benefits within advertised pokie pubs

An associate and I visited the Doncaster Hotel and Cherry Hill Tavern in the City of Manningham on 18 November 2009.

We observed large banners visible throughout the eating areas promoting the venue's Kids Club. They were placed in or near the child play area.

At the Doncaster Hotel (100 Pokies where gamblers average annual loss per pokie is $176,621) I recorded the promoted benefits of joining Kids Club. "Great Prizes, Competitions, Discount Birthday Parties, Special Events, Special Offers". At the same venue, there was a large display of toys in the shape of a Xmas stocking placed by the eating service area. The entry box nearby indicated entry for Kids Club members in a draw to win this prize. A full record of these visits can be seen at http://www.pokiewatch.org/page/Doncaster+Hotel - and - http://www.pokiewatch.org/page/Cherry+Hill+Tavern.

I visited a total of 23 Woolworths associated pubs or clubs in November 2009. I have visited over 80 of their Victorian pokie gambling venues on more than one occasion. I have observed a consistent pattern of aggressive on-site marketing of these pokie gambling venues to children over a two year period. I offered to provide further information.

The harmful nature of pokie gambling

In Advertising Standards Bureau case reports for the 2005 matters relating to Unitab (Complaints 249/05 and 341/05), the Bureau found as follows:
"The Board recognised gambling as capable of being addictive and accepted that a gambling addiction could be classified as an “illness”. As such, the Board was of the view that an advertisement that promoted gambling is potentially an issue that could affect health and safety."
Except for one venue, pokie gambling is conducted in every one of the advertised venues. I offered to provide particulars for each venue.

To further reduce doubt as to the harmful nature of pokie gambling for a significant proportion of pokie gamblers; please have regard to the factual findings as to the prevalence of problem gambling by pokie gamblers in the Productivity Commission's report. A copy of their draft report released 21 October 2009 can be downloaded here: http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/gambling-2009

Exposure of children to gambling inside advertised venues

Children are exposed to the sights and sounds of pokie gambling inside these venues. Particulars can be provided for each venue if required. In all but a few venues, children are exposed to either the sights or sounds of pokie gambling in the eating areas.

In this regard, the joint communication by the Hon Jenny Macklin and all State Ministers dated 10 July 2009 should be given weight. It states under the heading of "National Principles for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels" the following principle:
"Minors should not be allowed to gamble or be exposed to gambling areas within venues"
This is my emphasis..

Section 1.1(2)(ab) of the Victorian Gambling Regulation Act 2009 provides that an objective of the legislation is
"to ensure that minors are neither encouraged to gamble nor allowed to do so"
Woolworths have been urged but have specifically refused to restrict exposing children to pokie gambling within their associated Victorian venues.

Minors in Licensed Premises

Section 120 of the Victorian Liquor Control Reform Act provides:
"If a person under the age of 18 years-
(a) is on licensed premises or any authorised premises; and
(b) is not-
(i) in the company of a responsible adult; or
(ii) on the premises for the purpose of partaking of a meal; or
(iii) in the case of a licence under which accommodation is provided, a resident of those premises
the licensee or permittee is guilty of an offence."
It is therefore appears to be permissible for a venue to permit entry of a child into a licensed premises to have a meal unaccompanied by an adult.

Reference in the fine print of this advertisement is made to "this venue promotes the responsible service of gaming and alcohol." There is nothing in the Woolworths' associated Responsible Service of Alcohol policy that prohibits unaccompanied entry of children into their licensed premises. http://www.alhgroup.com.au/responsible_service.html. The only prohibition regarding minors is found in their Responsible Gambling Code of Conduct and that relates only to entry into the gambling room itself (paragraph 10).

The Complaint

This advertisement is directed primarily or, equally primarily to children for a "Kids Meal" and a "Kids Club". Both the "Kids Meal" and the "Kids Club" by their very characterisation have primary appeal to children. The typeface used for "Kids Club" reinforces this conclusion. In every configuration of this advertisement, press, online and in-venue the promotion directed towards children is given primary placement over the promotion to seniors. The advertisement directed primarily at seniors produced by the same company is provided so that the changed emphasis in the advertisement the subject of this complaint can be noted.

The pictures of the children are of minors under the age of 14 years.

There is no reference to adult supervision or prior adult permission in either the press advertisement, web site nor the flyer. These materials are attached to this email. As such, the advertisement undermines the authority, responsibility or judgement of parents.

The advertisement is placed in the Sunday Herald Sun. The newspaper has broad appeal to all ages. The advertisement was not placed in a section with primary adult appeal.

If a child responds positively to this advertisement, they will respectively:
  • purchase a Kids Meal at one of these pokie pubs or clubs, and
  • join the Kids Club at one of these pokie pubs or clubs
In both instances, children will be exposed to pokie gambling. In the event of the child joining the Kids Club, there is the likelihood of further promotions that intend to build the child's customer loyalty to the pokie venue. Amongst such promotions, as mentioned above, the child will be encouraged to participate in games of chance such as drawings for prizes.

As such, this advertisement to children contravenes community standards.

The advertisement is misleading as it is not clearly disclosed that these are venues where the business of pokie gambling is conducted. It is pure speculation that this omission is intentional so that the legal requirements relating to advertising of pokie gambling are avoided. Notwithstanding, such conclusion is arguable.

The marketing communication to children relates to a company that supplies alcoholic products via its licensed associated pokie hotels and clubs.

In Venue Gambling Reinforcement

In addition to the exposure to pokie gambling itself, children are being marketed gambling by other means inside these pokie gambling venues. This manifests itself in two objectively ascertainable

In such venues where the pokies are owned by Tattersall's; children will be exposed to parallel loyalty building schemes such as the "Are You A Member" scheme the subject of the promotion displayed on this blog. There are other loyalty schemes operated by Tabcorp and the venue. All have the objective of encouraging members to return to the pokie area and earn benefits by more frequent gambling. Both the Kids Meal / Kid Club and 'Are You A Member' promotions flyers have been observed being are prominently placed and re-designed as either 'table talkers', cashier handouts or posters in these Woolworths associated pokie pubs and clubs. It was not possible for me to provide a copy of the in-venue posters.
In several venues, a Kids Meal / Kids Club talker was observed on every table.

Children are encouraged to play coin operated games that emulate pokie gambling. Such games as branded "A Winner Every Time", "Win 'n' Grin", "Bonus Spin" and "Stacker". Concern about the free spin feature on pokies has been described as one of the addictive elements of pokie machines.

Manufacturer's descriptions of these coin operated games follow:
“Players play for large sized plush on one side and then watch the claw "automatically" move to the "winner" every time side if they fail to snag a good prize. Claw can be interchanged to accept candy or small beanie plush. Winner Every Time doesn't let anyone walk away empty handed! Repeat play is encouraged by the fantastic sounds and very attractive cabinet .... a guaranteed winner !”
Made by Innovative Concepts in Entertainment Inc. http://www.icegame.com/GameDetail.aspx?ProductID=40

“Stacker's concept is simple, players have to stack moving blocks 11 levels high to reach the minor Prize level. Players can then choose to collect a cheap Prize or risk it all and play on for something that's worth about 100 times the price per play - So guess what players will do? This is a brilliant game concept, LAI understands player's emotions and exploits their greed that makes them try and try again.” http://www.laigames.com/comic_panels_htm/page00.htm
These coin operated games emulate the emotions of gambling on pokies and are targeted to children. Some, unlike pokies, reward “A Winner Every Time” while another “understands player's emotions and exploits their greed that makes them try and try again”.

These machines are typically placed so that they are visible to children in the eating area. In some cases, they are placed inside the child play area. In one instance, such machines (Westside Hotel, Laverton, Victoria) were placed no farther than 8 paces from the pokie room itself.

Normalisation

The exposure of children to pokie gambling inside these venues as a result of this advertisement / campaign is the normalisation of gambling.

Professor Charles Livingstone PhD MEc GradDipEconHist BA Senior Lecturer Department of Health Social Science Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University described the health risk as follows:
"We know that exposure to excessive drinking increases the likelihood that you'll be an excessive drinker. We know that exposure to parental smoking increases the likelihood that you'll smoke. We know that exposure to parental abuse increases the likelihood that one will also inflict abuse on one's own family. This is in essence the normalisation hypothesis. As gambling becomes more normalised, we can expect it to be transmitted seamlessly, and the less normalised it is the more difficult it is to market - something that's seen as a normal part of life is a lot easier to sell than something seen as abnormal. So if the gambling businesses are able to induce families to include gambling as part of a family outing, and if the kids see that occurring - even though they're forbidden to participate until they're 18 - it is almost certainly going to make it a normal activity that kids will want to emulate. For this reason,the de-normalisation of tobacco consumption was an essential element to the disruption of tobacco promotion. The same goes for the pokies."
Please note that this statement concerns children being in these venues with adult family members and not the more extreme case where children enter on their own. I have observed unaccompanied children in an associated Woolworths pokie club.

I requested the ability to respond to any submission made on behalf of Woolworths or its associated company.

Friday, 27 November 2009

James Strong Misleads Shareholders

At yesterday's Woolworths Annual General Meeting, I put it to the shareholders that their Chairman has made misleading statements. As a consequence, I urged other shareholders to vote against his re-election. I summarised the mis-statements and referred to the fact that I had provided the Woolworths Company Secretary written details upon which I based my opinion. These written details are now disclosed in full. The quotes are Mr Strong's own written statements:
"Our participation in the hotel sector began in 2000 and originated from the different State and Territory liquor licensing laws which preclude us from opening retail liquor stores in Queensland without a hotel licence."
Firstly, it is incorrect to state that laws in other states or territories have an affect upon retail liquor licensing in Queensland. It would only be Queensland laws that regulate Queensland liquor licensing.

Secondly, there is nothing that precludes Woolworths from opening stores. Queensland laws do not prevent Woolworths from branding stores and earning a profit from the sale of liquor in Queensland. This practice is actively conducted by such groups marketing themselves as Thirsty Camel, Cellarbrations and Duncans by arrangement with individual proprietors. The applicability of this practice was confirmed by a report in the 20 November 2009 issue of the Australian Financial Review with respect to a proposed joint venture between Coles and Tabcorp.
"...we work hard to ensure that our venues operate to the highest standards, including the strict prohibition of minors from gambling areas. Compliance with these obligations is a matter of ongoing vigilance for our management team."
What I have seen, supports a contrary finding. There appears to be no "strict prohibition" nor an implemented policy of vigilance. On three occasions on two successive days (17 and 18 November 2009) I saw children in the gambling areas of Woolworths' associated venues. Not only were children present, but, in two instances, they were interacting with gambling products on offer.
  • Unaccompanied children in The Rex's TAB in Port Melbourne. The Rex is a pokie club associated with Woolworths. I questioned one of the boys outside. He said that the staff permits him to watch the races.
  • Child looking for 'father' thru the glass wall of the pokie room at the Highpoint Maribyrnong. She was standing in the area set up for Texas Hold'Em Poker.
  • Child collecting KENO gambling cards in front of the pokie area at the Pascoe Vale Taverner.

There was no venue staff interventions with any of these incidents. Pictures of all these incidents were attached. They the subject of this PokieAct.org blog and also this PokieAct.org blog.

It would be prudent to require, given Woolworths management's inability to implement the statements made in the 249P Response, that children be simply banned from Woolworths' pokie pubs and clubs. This lack of either careful management or constant monitoring not only contradicts statements made but also has implications for consumer trust in all Woolworths' operations including supermarkets.

I have urged Woolworths to adopt the National Principles yet the company has refused. This refusal diminishes the validity of the assertion of "highest standards". The Productivity Commission referred to the National Principles as "the lowest common denominator of measures" (8.12). In the light of this refusal, to properly inform Woolworths shareholders, it would be correct to state that "...we have refused to ensure that our venues operate even to the lowest common denominator of measures".
"I can assure shareholders that our gambling and liquor operations, as with all our operations, are carefully managed and constantly monitored."

At the last AGM I raised the matter of Woolworths associated venue, the QBH in Melbourne, in the context of the safety of their venues and the quality of Woolworths' pub management. This venue had been the scene of two unlawful killings within the space of 15 months. I quoted the Victorian Assistant Commissioner of Police stating "QBH clearly have to have a look at their own behaviour." Mr Luscombe assured shareholders that this and other matter were to be taken under advisement. Despite Mr Luscombe's words the reality is that little if anything was done. My warnings went unheeded.

The reported facts is that according to the Victorian Director of Liquor Licensing, patrons were able to buy the "equivalent of a bottle of Johnnie Walker, a bottle of spirits". "It hardly meets the responsible serving of alcohol principles to supply a bottle of spirits at the strength of volume of alcohol in an unregulated way".

See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/2am-lockout-for-troubled-nightspot-qbh-20090325-99tf.html

On the other hand, if we are to accept the Chairman's words at face value, these operations are "carefully managed and constantly monitored". If this practice is condoned by the Woolworths Board then it is a practice that is both imprudent and reckless. The existence of security cameras does not excuse irresponsible service of alcohol in this self described "beacon of violence" using Mr Mathieson's own words. Pursuit of sales should not take priority over patron safety. The result was a brawl in which 23 people, including 10 security staff, were injured. Undeterred, only a few weeks, Woolworths associated management promoted a kick boxing event at the same venue called "Mother's Day Mayhem". The reported implication was that management were marketing this event utilising the venue's reputation for violence to those who would be attracted to such reputation.

See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/mothers-day-mayhem-sends-wrong-message-20090414-a5eq.html

It should be noted that in failing to adopt the National Principles, in Victoria, Woolworths' has failed to adopt the Principle that "alcohol should not be served to patrons while they are at a gaming machine" even though this is the practice in other states. This failure is irresponsible, imprudent and reckless.
"We understand that for a small minority of people, liquor and gambling can have the potential to cause harm. However for the vast majority, these are enjoyed as recreational activities."

Such statements have been characterised by the Productivity Commission as "misleading". A similar statement made by the Australian Hotel Association was of specific concern to the Productivity Commission. The following are quoted factual findings from the Productivity Commission's 2009 report that urge consideration of the relevant population (their italics page 7.15):

“Two thirds of Australian adults do not play gaming machines at all in any given year, and most of those that do, do not play regularly. … the average estimated prevalence rate of problem gambling among regular gaming machine players is close to 20 per cent.”

“About 5 per cent of adults play weekly or more often on gaming machines:
  • Around 15 per cent of this group are ‘problem gamblers’ and their share of total spending is estimated to range around 40 per cent.
  • A further 15 per cent of pokie players face ‘moderate risks’.”
“adult population prevalence rates can be misleading about the extent of problem gambling — the key concern is the proportion of regular gamblers who have problems.”

The Productivity Commission's own manner of consideration of pokie gambling prevalence can be applied to Woolworths' own pokie gambling business. There is significant research in Victoria where over half of Woolworths' associated pokie operations are located. In September 2009 the Victorian government released an Epidemiological Study where 15,000 people were surveyed:

See: http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/DOJ+Internet/Home/Gambling+and+Racing/Research+and+Statistics/JUSTICE+-+A+Study+of+Gambling+in+Victoria+-+Problem+Gambling+from+a+Public+Health+Perspective+(PDF)

The finding was that 0.7% of Victorians are problem gamblers and 2.36% of Victorians are moderate risk gamblers. These numbers relate to the whole Victorian population.

The Productivity Commission made the following statement with respect to the whole Australian population:
"These current prevalence estimates translate to around 0.75 per cent and 1.7 per cent of the adult population for problem and moderate risk gambling respectively. That looks small. However, to put these figures in context, around 0.15 per cent of the population are admitted to hospital each year for traffic accidents. Small prevalence rates do not mean small problems. The evidence suggests continuing large costs to society associated with problem gambling"

Based upon statistics available for the Victorian Gambling Commission's web site, the Woolworths/Mathieson Victorian pokie operations accounted for about 25% of the total number of Victorian pokies but about 33% of money lost on Victorian pokies.

Based on money lost (arguably the only measure) somewhere around 30,000 Victorians are either problem or moderate risk gamblers as a result of pokie gambling in Woolworths/Mathieson associated pokie pubs or clubs.

I attached a pdf which is reproduced below. Click on the image to read. It sets out the Victorian government 2009 findings that 27.06% of problem gamblers have considered suicide in the last year. 91.04% of Victorian problem gamblers participate in pokies. 77.24 of the moderate risk gamblers participate in pokies.Chairman Strong used the words 'warped or not a fair presentation' to describe the effort to minimise the harm of Woolworths' pokie business. Click here to read about the Lateline Business Report and watch the video of Ali Moore interviewing Mr Strong.

What is truly warped is to engage in a business that sends people to crime or causes so many to contemplate suicide.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Why The Secrecy?

At the 2007 Woolworths' Annual General Meeting, CEO Michael Luscombe talked about the self barring ("self-exclusion") facilities that exist in all of their pokie venues. It seems that although Mr Luscombe wanted to tell shareholders about this facility, he doesn't want problem gamblers to know about it. Here's what Mr Luscombe said:
"We do have facilities for self barring in all of our hotels. (Is that right, Bruce? Right?)"
In the year between the 2007 and 2008 AGMs, I visited all of Woolworths Victorian associated pokie pubs and clubs. I do not recall one instance where the opportunity of self-exclusion was promoted. Not sure why they keep it a secret.

In South Australia self exclusion is not a secret. Woolies place A4 sized signs up in their S.A. venues warning already self excluded gamblers to report to the duty manager. This seems to be a cost effective measure targeted at problem gamblers. It takes no more than a word processor, a home printer and a bit of sticky tape to effect this measure. It would not affect recreational gamblers.

Because Woolworths, for some reason, seemed incapable of solving this problem in Victoria, at the last AGM, I printed off 100 A4 sized notices and promised to deliver them to Woolworths' Chief Counsel Peter Horton. Here's what they looked like:Even though my expectation of a response was low, I was disappointed that I got no response at all to a measure that would cost so little but perhaps make a difference to a problem gambler.

The lack of action on the part of Woolworths left me with the impression that despite their statements of highest standards and community service that Woolworths would do nothing to reduce the harm caused to problem gamblers unless they were legislatively required to do so. Not only was this hypocritical, but irresponsible.

It gets worse.

Subsequent Victorian laws required that a self-exclusion programme must be brought into effect by 1 June 2009. Such a program would become a license condition and the gambling commission will be able to take disciplinary action if there are repeated breaches of such program.

Part of Section 3 of the Self Exclusion Program in place at Woolworths associated venues states:
The provision of information to customers
A self-exclusion program must detail:
a. how the venue operator will ensure that customers are made aware of the availability of a self-exclusion program
b. how information about a self-exclusion program will be made available to customers
(a & b) Information on Self-exclusion
Persons (customers) will be able to access information which allows them to be aware of the availability of Self-exclusion. This can be done via relevant brochures on Self-exclusion provided by gaming venues. An updated information brochure is currently under construction.
No brochure focused upon self-exclusion has been produced. However, to satisfy this requirement, Victorian pokie venues display business cards typically by the cashier that are produced by the Australian Hotels Association. Here's what that card looks like:

From 8 November until 19 November 2009, I visited 26 Woolworths/Mathieson associated pubs and clubs. 11 venues failed to display these cards. This is not a measure that requires sophisticated staff training. Here's a list of the hotels visited and the dates and times of the inspection:
8 November 2009
12:27 Sandown Park Hotel

10 November 2009
12:50 Ashley Hotel
1:45 Westend Tavern
2:25 Glengala Hotel
6:11 Sylvania Hotel

18 November 2009
4:45 Courthouse Hotel (Footscray)
5:14 Powell Hotel
5:35 Highpoint Taverner
6:16 Royal Hotel (Essendon)
7:30 First & Last Hotel

19 November 2009
4:12 Shoppingtown Hotel
At the associated Deer Park Hotel, the cards were placed in a holder with other brochures atop the ATM. Here's a picture.At the Pascoe Vale Taverner, cards were placed in the same holder as brochures promoting the venue's membership scheme.

I submited to the VCGR that these practices do not comply with the requirements of their approved self-exclusion program.

It gets worse.

At the associated Westmeadow Tavern management had placed the self-exclusion notices in a card holder promoting the 05.com.au service where patrons could get their drivers license back despite having lost their license for drunk driving. There was also a cardholder with cards for 05.com.au. While not commenting upon the substance of the 05.com.au practice, this is not a good promotional pitch to send to people whose pokie gambling problems are so severe that they feel the solution is to exclude themselves.

Such continued failures contradict statements of concerned management given by Messrs. Strong & Luscombe. If the organisation can not even place cards in a card holder by a cashier, then one can only speculate upon what other practices may be lacking in their other business.

For example, is the Fresh Food really fresh?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Children at Woolworths Pokie Pubs

Two days ago I witnessed unaccompanied children in a Woolworths associated pokie club. Yesterday, I visited 10 Woolworths associated venues and observed 2 instances of children interacting with the gambling Woolworths offers in a clearly unacceptable way. Have a look at this heartbreaking picture from the Highpoint Hotel in the Highpoint shopping centre in Maribyrnong.This picture is of a little girl waiting for a man that I observed to be likely her father, to stop pokie gambling, come back out of the pokie room to re-join her and her mother. This room was set up for the Wednesday night Texas Hold 'Em tournament.

The next picture was taken at the Pascoe Vale Hotel.This young girl was walking around tables collecting KENO cards. The open passageway to the pokie room and the vision of the pokies is only a few steps behind her.

This is 3 venues out of 11 visited in a period of two days where there have been incidents of unacceptable interaction between children and gambling at Woolworths' pokie venues.

Based upon these events it seems clear despite statements of responsibility made by both CEO Michael Luscombe and Chairman James Strong, that Woolworths do not responsibly manage these facilities. As a result of these observations, my view is that Messrs. Luscombe and Strong are either misinforming shareholders deliberately or have been ill advised by lower management of their own practices.

In the Chairman's formal response to the 249P statement he stated:
"...we work hard to ensure that our venues operate to the highest standards, including the strict prohibition of minors from gambling areas"
Surely, this statement can not be maintained. In less than two days minors have been observed unaccompanied in a TAB, a poker room watching pokie gambling through glass wall and picking up KENO cards - all in Woolworths' associated venues.

Chairman Strong should not only withdraw this statement but also apologise to shareholders.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Unaccompanied Children in Woolies' Pokie Club

Today, 17 November, 2009, I watched two young boys enter The Rex pokie club in Port Melbourne unaccompanied by any adult. This pokie club is associated with Woolworths.
Here's a photograph of the two boys walking on their own through the TAB section.The boys walked to the back of the TAB and sat down in front of the race monitors in full view of venue staff. After a few minutes, without any intervention from venue staff they walked out. No one spoke to them.
Once outside, I told the boys that they should not be inside. Their response was that they had permission from the venue to walk inside and watch the races.

Is this right?

There is nothing in the Tabcorp Responsible Gaming Code prohibiting unaccompanied children from being inside a TAB outlet. Maybe Woolworths consider it OK for children to be watching horse racing on their own inside their TABs.

I don't. Neither should Woolworths.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Romsey Hotel Decision

On 16 September 2008, this blog began with the first day of the VCAT hearings characterising the matter as "the longest sustained effort to bring pokies to a community that doesn't want them." That effort most likely ended yesterday as Justice Kevin Bell agreed with the community.

Click here to read a copy of the decision.

The decision is an inspiration for those who believe that taking social action will conclude with a positive result. The determination of former Macedon Ranges Mayor John Connor to see the matter through is to be admired. John acted on his genuine belief about pokies. It was more than just talk.
Beyond its inspirational effect, what is the real impact of the Romsey decision? Unfortunately, it has failed to make impact on either the VCGR or the Victorian government.

Since Romsey, the VCGR has made poor decisions in Ballarat RSL and Matthews Flinders cases. In failing in both instances to have due regard to the impact on local communities, the VCGR have acted contrary to Justice Bell's judgement that
"In the early cases, the commission said that meant the focus must be on district-wide community impacts. It is clear now that is not correct. Macedon Ranges Shire Council v Romsey Hotel Pty Ltd held the test applies to the district community ‘or any part or parts of it’. A social impact, therefore, is an ‘impact on the society or community (or some part or parts of it) in which the gaming machines are proposed to be located.’ "
In the Ballarat RSL matter, the VCGR failed to have literal regard to the sub-districts of Sebastopol and Buninyong. As a result, it made bad findings on the likely increase of pokie losses in the Ballarat community.

I failed in my endeavour to have the Ballarat RSL decision reviewed.

Worse was the Matthew Flinders decision where despite community opposition summarised in paragraph 109 of that decision that no regard whatsoever was given to the decision of Warren CJ, Maxwell P and Osborn AJA in Macedon Ranges Shire Council v Romsey Hotel Pty Ltd. In that matter, the City of Monash's view of the community of that venue was disregarded and and information survey submitted by Woolworths' was accepted despite being qualified by Woolworths' own consultant. See paragraphs 76-78 on pages 30-33, paragraphs 93-94 on page 38, par 100 on page 41 and paragraph 105 on page 42.

I submitted 8 grounds to the Council upon which the City of Monash could have appealed the bad Matthew Flinders decision. I failed in my efforts to get the City to take action. I was informed that because of legal costs, the City was not interested in an appeal. Monash's lack of resolve compares poorly to the determination of the Shire of Macedon Ranges against far larger odds.

The prospect of enormous legal bills is the Victorian pokie industry's most effective weapon.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign

Does anyone remember the Five Man Electrical Band and their early 1971 hit Signs? Here's the lyrics from the chorus:
Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
With the goal of minimising the harm of pokie gambling, the Victorian government has researched, designed and published a sign to be placed on every pokie. But from what I saw last week, Woolworths resists even this effort to slow down their revenue stream from the addicted.

Have a look at this picture from the Braybrook Hotel, a Woolworths associated pokie pub in Maribyrnong, Victoria.The sign with impeded vision, affixed to the top box of the pokie is the sign prescribed by Regulation 17 of the Victorian gambling regulations. It's the sign Woolworths does not want the gambler to see.

The sign right next to the animated reels of the pokies, where gamblers will see it while gambling, spruicks food available for purchase.

Remember that in 2007, Michael Luscombe boasted that:
"On all of our gaming machines there are signs talking about the fact that you cannot win on those machines, right in front of the face of that area. We don’t allow people to eat in those areas."
Clearly this no longer applies in November 2009. Maybe it never did.

By putting other signs on the pokie and placing the Regulation 17 sign to a less visible place, the Woolworths associated pokie pub demonstrates Woolworths' intent to obscure the message targeted to the problem gambler.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Truth Time for Pokie Clubs

Anthony Ball is the Executive Manager, Policy and Government for ClubsNSW. According to the ClubsNSW web site, Mr Ball is "responsible for ensuring Governments (State, Commonwealth and Local) are sensitive to the needs and circumstances of clubs and their stakeholders." I'm not sure that Mr Ball is doing his job. What he said on the 7:30 Report this week was either inaccurate or the Sydney Juniors Pokie Club is breaking the law.Here's what Mr Ball said:
"Well, legislation already says that kids can't be in gambling areas or in bar areas for that matter. They are quite distinct areas of the club"
Here's a picture I took at Sydney Juniors on 12 October.If this sign is correct and children attend events at the Sydney Juniors' auditorium then children are required to pass through the gaming lounge. So let's have a look at the Sydney Juniors web site and see if there are any events children might attend at this Pokie Club's auditorium.

Sure enough. There are.

There's "Eurofest" on 15 November:There's "A Jolly Christmas" on 20 December:There's more. Click here to check out the other shows at Sydney Junior's Auditorium.

That entrance arrangement at the Sydney Juniors pokie club could have changed and I would be wrong. But if it did not then either Mr Ball was giving the 7:30 Report the wrong advice or Sydney Juniors is breaking the law.... as Mr Ball sees the law.

My opinion is that Mr Ball was carelessly providing the wrong advice to the 7:30 Report. What he says applies to NSW pokie hotels but not pokie clubs. If I'm right, then can we believe anything he says about ClubsNSW? In particular, we should no longer accept that these pokie clubs will responsibly care for the thousands of problem gamblers that their pokie gambling business likely create.

The solution is that the key point of the Productivity Commission $1 per button push, no more than $120 loss per hour and $20 limit on cash acceptors should be implemented straight away... before these pokie clubs create even more problem gamblers.

And despite what Mr Ball may tell you, there's hard government research that recreational gamblers will be just fine with this vital reform.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pokie Club's Garbage Infofest

Last night's 7:30 Report lead story was on how pokie venues breed new gamblers. During the segment, representatives of the pokie club industry made some questionable statements.

Click here to read a transcript of the 7:30 Report and watch the video.


1. Anthony Ball "Well, legislation already says that kids can't be in gambling areas or in bar areas for that matter. They are quite distinct areas of the club."

UNTRUE
Legislation restricting exposure to pokies applies to NSW hotels but not clubs.
At the Burwood RSL pokies were located in the queue area for where they presented the ABC Play School event. Children filed right past the pokies on the way to the show.
I had a look at Sydney Juniors and found pokies located all over the venue including in the entranceway to the auditorium where they present family entertainment.


2. Question: "Do you think there is any harm in kids seeing or hearing poker machines?

Answer: Anthony Ball "No I don't think there is. Its akin to a kid, perhaps, seeing someone eat a Big Mac and jumping to the conclusion that they're going to be obese as an adult. It's nonsense."
UNINFORMED
The views of Professor Livingstone should not be discounted. Nor should the logic of what was presented during the 7:30 Report segment. Research is beginning to emerge. Here's an extract from a 2008 study by the Nova Scotia government:
"Even more important is the growing trend towards adolescents having increased exposure to high-risk gambling at a household level either online, on television or through adult’s gambling behaviour. Such exposure normalizes the behaviours and appears to be associated with increased harm and risk for youth."
This is not 'nonsense'.


3. Keith McCraw, South Juniors "The shareholders in the club industry are members in the community. And all proceeds go back into our membership and the community"


CONFUSES THE TRUTH
Have a look at the case of the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club Limited v Commissioner of Taxation. Click here to read the case. This case was brought by the club seeking tax exemption. The club's own argument was that it was "A club established for the encouragement of a game or sport". The Queensland University notes on this case state:
"the Club's lawyers pointed out that approximately seventy to eighty percent of the Club's profit in the relevant years was returned to the South Sydney District Junior Rugby Football League Limited and "the Rabbitohs", South Sydney District's senior rugby league team"
So the proceeds seem to go to the Rabbitohs if we are to believe South Juniors own lawyers. But the Tribunal found that the focus was on the benefits of club membership.
"... the members were primarily or solely interested in the numerous and various benefits obtainable from membership of the Club"
Other than a 1.5% donation requirement, there was little to be found about the community. The question would be better answered by having a look at the Juniors' financial statements. Unlike other clubs, I could not find them posted on their web site.


4. Do the pokie losses raked in by Pokie Clubs outweigh what the Pokie Clubs put back?

NOT SURE
The Productivity Commission report on not-for-profits stated:
"The other competitive neutrality issue raised is in regard to registered clubs and the considerable benefit they derive from concessional treatment of gaming revenue by their state or territory, benefits not available to hotels and other operators. Clubs do provide valuable community benefits through their support of community activities, but it is unclear that the benefit delivered is sufficient to warrant the concessional gaming tax treatment, given their impact on competitive neutrality.
The Commission has not made draft recommendations in these areas which will be subject to more detailed examination as part of the Australian Future Tax System Review."
That's the Productivity Commission's emphasis not mine. Click here to have a read. Go to page xxxi.

It would be a significant blow to public perception of Australia's Pokie Clubs if it were found that what they give back is not worth what they take out.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Woolworths' Care Less Response

Woolworths' Board of Directors responded to their own shareholders call for reform to their pokie practices. It is a truly frightening show of these people's lack of human care for the harm their business causes. Rather than even attempting to embrace reform, Chairman Strong's words seek to demean the concern and trivialize the damage of Woolworths' enormous pokie gambling empire.
Click on the image below to read Woolworths' response:Chairman Strong's spruick that they work hard to ensure that their venues "operate to the highest standards" is no more than a statement of unfulfilled intention. They don't even meet their own standards on such trivial matters as complying with CEO Luscombe's claim that:
"On all of our gaming machines there are signs talking about the fact that you cannot win on those machines, right in front of the face of that area"
There are no such signs in South Australia, New South Wales nor in the Queensland pokie pubs I've been to operated by Woolworths. On some occasions signs are "right in front of the face.." On many other occasions, they are not.

Chairman Strong's characterisation of pokie gambling having only a potential to cause harm to a small minority of people misrepresents the enormous number of people who are actually affected. Here's the facts coming from Victoria's Department of Justice September 2009 Epidemiological Study where 15,000 Victorians were surveyed. Applying their findings to the Victorian adult population you get the result of
  • 29,212 problem gamblers
  • 98,486 moderate risk gamblers
  • 91.04% of problem gamblers participate in pokies
  • 77.24 of the moderate risk gamblers participate in pokies.
This is a lot of people.

At $902,318,920, Woolworths/Mathieson associated venues are responsible for 33% of Victoria's total pokie losses (even tho' they operate less than 25% of the pokies). This is an enormous amount of losses.

How can Chairman Strong claim anything about "highest standards" when they refuse to comply with the "lowest common denominator of measures". Incredibly, Woolworths' refuse to even commit to an intention to comply with the statement of National Principles for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels. These principles were agreed to by the Federal Minister and all State Ministers. The Principles are so undemanding that they were recently characterised by the hard nosed economists of the Productivity Commission as being evident of "the lowest common denominator of measures".

Intentions are disclosed by action. Here's a half page colour advertisement that appeared in yesterday's Sunday Herald Sun.Woolworths doing nothing to reduce let alone eliminate child exposure to pokie gambling. Quite the opposite. They continue to actively market to lure children into their associated pokie pubs and clubs.

It would seem that Chairman Strong and Woolworths board of directors care less (in more than one sense) about their conduct of Australia's largest pokie gambling business.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

You're Wrong Mr Brumby (Part 2)

In January 2009, Victorian Premier John Brumby made an extraordinarily wrong statement about how government should be concerned about the harm of pokie gambling. One of the key points of the Productivity Commission recommends radical change to the Brumby policy.

Click here to have a read of my earlier blog on Brumby's wrong headed policy. I've reproduced his statement below:
"At the end of the day that's what a government's obligation is to do in these areas - it's not to make moral judgments about what's right and what's wrong and how people spend their time - that's a matter for mature adults to determine - not for government,"

"What is the responsibility of government though is to properly inform the community, give the information they require and if people do have a problem with gambling to help them get through it and that's exactly what we do."
Compare the following three key points from the Productivity Commission:
The significant social costs associated with problem gambling mean that even policy measures with modest efficacy will often be worthwhile. Rough, but conservative, calculations suggest that even a 10 per cent sustained reduction in harm could provide a gain to society of nearly half a billion dollars annually.

Over the last decade, state and territory governments have put in place an array of regulations and other measures intended to reduce harms to consumers. Some have been helpful, but some would have had little effect, and some have imposed unnecessary burdens on the industry.

A more coherent and effective policy approach is called for. There is a particular need for targeted harm minimisation policies that can effectively address the high rate of problem gambling among regular gaming machine players. Most gamblers would not be affected by this approach.
The significant difference is that Premier Brumby's focus is on treating the problem gamblers once they succumb to pokie gambling. In this way, the revenue from pokie losses is secured irrespective of the human consequences. His government is resistant to any change from "Business as Usual"

The Productivity Commission's focus is on minimising the harm not picking up the pieces of broken pokie gamblers.

You're wrong Mr Brumby. Please show leadership and bring in the $1 button push (equating to losses of around $120 per hour) with a $20 limit on the cash acceptor.

Do it now.

Monday, 26 October 2009

E - E - Easy

The great thing about the Productivity Commission's draft report is how easy it will be for industry to implement its suggestions.

In 2009, Aristocrat Gaming, Australia's leading manufacturer announced that it had received an order for new games and an additional 1,000 interactive video terminals from Norsk Tipping, In Norway, there is a system whereby gamblers must use a card as a part of a system of compulsory pre-commitment with strict limits. Click on the image below to have a read.

What this means, is that Australia's leading manufacturer is not only experienced with adapting games to pre-commitment systems but is able to see a profitable business in providing such games and hardware terminals.

So don't be taken in by any argument the implementation of pre-commitment systems will be the end of an industry.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The $1 Solution

The Productivity Commission has issued its draft report with a clear intention. In the very first sentence, its clear that this report is about solving the problems of pokie gambling. Straight away, the Commission proposes "harm minimisation measures, mainly aimed at pokies". So what is the Commissions 'Act Now' proposal to "reduce the social costs of gambling without unduly impacting on its recreational value?"

The Commission's Key Point solution that can be immediately implemented is:
Most recreational gamblers play at low intensity, but the machines allow losses of up to $1200 an hour. The bet limit should be lowered to one dollar per button push (equating to losses of around $120 an hour), with much lower limits on how much cash can be fed into machines at any one time. Recreational players would be minimally affected.
There it is. Simple. $1 per button push so that losses are limited to $120 per hour.

Any venue that implements the $1 per button push is responsible and concerned about pokie harm.

Any venue that does not implement the $1 per button push is irresponsible.

Let's see what Woolworths, Coles and Australia's pokie clubs do now.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Action! Not Words

Action! Not Words is the title of a Def Leppard power pop song from their 1983 album Pyromania. It is also what is needed as a result of what is likely to be another lengthy report from the Productivity Commission to be issued tomorrow. Will there be indications of how to reduce the harm of pokie gambling? Will the PC call for implementation or the same old same old call for 'more research'.

Coles have asked for my input to assist their implementation of the National Principles. This input is provided free-of-charge. Coles can not be over-praised in their commitment to take action. And action is being taken.

It is shameful that neither Woolworths nor Australia's pokie clubs have not even gone so far as 'words'. Woolworths own position is even worse in the light of my November 2008 meeting with them where they complained about lack of national standards. Now that there are the National Principles, Woolworths won't even give lip service to them. Clubs NSW have sought to discredit the National Principles.

Maybe that's because they don't like what the National Principles set out. Or maybe because implementation of the National Principles is no easy task. This blog is about what has happened so far with Coles implementation. It is intended to provide readers with a real world insight.

Last Thursday I travelled to Logan City, Queensland to tape a segment for Today Tonight at Coles' Beenleigh Tavern and to have a look at the changes that had been made with respect to the presence of children at this pokie pub.

Coles have erected 7 signs warning about leaving children in parked vehicles. They have built a new entrance between the eating area and pokie room that blocks pokie sights and sounds. The large sign about pokie trading hours outside the playground has been removed. The Win 'n' Grin coin operated game was being stored in the public bar. A system of monitoring the car parks was in place with a signed diary/register.
This is great stuff. Real Action. Not just Words. An example for Woolworths and the pokie clubs to follow. But...

Coles work is a work in progress. As Coles representatives stated, what I saw was just a beginning. There's work left to do. I have emailed the following observations to Coles:
  • Car park warning sign artwork - In glancing through the log, I noted an instance where a child has already been left in a car at the Beenleigh. I do not know whether the signs had been erected or not. If they had, then this points to the aesthetics of the sign. It remains a concern that the artwork blends in rather than conveys a message of warning. The artwork I submitted and Coles first agreed upon conveys such a message of warning. My hope is that Wesfarmers / Coles will not wait for another incident before taking remedial action
  • Placement of car park warning signs - I accept that there were 7 signs at the Beenleigh. I have been informed that at other venues, there are far less signs; 3 at the Kenmore, 4 at the Jindalee and 2 at the Oxley.
  • Windows to the pokie room - pokie lights remain visible by means of the windows placed high on the wall that divides the pokie room from the eating area.
  • Posters in eating area - posters remain that promote pokie gambling i.e. trading hours and membership. These should be removed.
  • KENO gambling in the eating area - on every table in the open lounge area was a freestanding KENO kit. There was a KENO monitor on the wall. While clearly these practices do not relate to pokie gambling, they encourage normalisation of another form of gambling.
  • Monitoring of child play area - there was no video camera that was either dedicated nor covered the child play area. While there was a sign on the gate, care of children in the venue was reliant upon scheduled visits by venue staff. There was no reporting structure for such visits as for the car park.
  • Use of public address system - The representative of the group that is implementing these practices at Coles' Queensland pokie pubs indicated that there was no place in operating procedures for use of the venue's public address system in the event that a child was found locked in a car. While I agree that, as stated, the welfare of the child remains the 1st priority and that the police should be notified, such an incident is an emergency and all means should be simultaneously used. This is not an event where discrete one-on-one communication is warranted. I urged that use of the public address system be given priority in the event that a child is found abandoned in a vehicle. I did not receive a positive response.
There are other unresolved practices beyond the issue of the presence of children in Coles' pokie pubs but for brevity's sake, I will not set them out here. Despite what is left to do, Coles is making progress. But its slow progress. Below is a picture from the Jindalee Tavern. Despite the walls erected, everytime the automated doors open, children in the eating area will get both an full eyeful and an full earful of the the pokies behind the glazed glass. I hope this isn't finished but I fear that it might be. It certainly does not fulfill the goal of the the 1st National Principle.For me to provide useful guidance with progress in reducing harm from pokie gambling, I felt it important that I seek advice from people expert in public health issues. It was equally important that I forward this advice to Coles and do my best to disseminate that advice. I consulted with Dr Charles Livingstone of the Department of Health Social Science, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University. I reproduce all relevant passages of his emailed response:
From what I can glean of the correspondence and photos you attached to your email on this topic, it appears to me that there is a long way to go on this front. Like you, I am minded to wonder whether or not banning children from gaming venues may not be a more productive approach, although there is as far as I can ascertain no research on this issue. We do know that exposure to certain behaviours normalises those behaviours and that gambling occurring in the family (as with drinking and d.v., for that matter) are risk factors for those behaviours in later life.

My view would be that, as a minimum, rooms where gambling occurs need to be inaccessible, including aurally and visually, to children in those parts of a gaming venue where they are lawfully permitted to be - for the most part, I would assume this is limited to a dining room or similar area of the venue. Thus it should not be possible for children to see, hear or gain access to gaming rooms if they are in any part of the venue where they are entitled to be.

However, the issue arises as to the various accoutrements of the venue which enable children to be diverted while their parents or guardians go and use EGMs or other gambling opportunities such as the TAB. As you have clearly demonstrated, there are many venues where active incentives are provided to encourage parents or guardians to bring their kids with them. I do not believe such incentives (including 'play' areas or discounted meals) can be justified and I would prohibit them, just as in some jurisdictions discounting meals or drinks in connection with gaming is now prohibited. My own students, when presented with some of your images, have made the obvious connection between McDonald's playgrounds and gambling venues playgrounds - in their minds the two were very similar and the not very subtle message is that the places are essentially comparable in their purpose. I suspect this is an excellent and accurate observation! Best practice would be to advise any venue wanting to conform to the best possible standard of ethical conduct (short of disposing of the venue or its EGMs) would be to completely separate the gambling and 'family' areas of the venue and offer no incentives to bring children along, although of course people wishing to eat at the venue with their children could do so. In the longer term I do think a prohibition on children in gambling venues is warranted.

Regular patrols of car parks are sadly necessary and by regular I mean considerably more often than once every four hours. In warm weather, this should be even more regular.

....

Public health approaches to this need to draw on the experience with tobacco. Anything that makes it a 'normal' activity is likely to make it seem perfectly safe and acceptable. Of course, there is also the need to render products as safe as possible and card based play would be of huge benefit here.
The reference to 'card based play' is a reference to a smart cards system enabling compulsory non-transferable pre-commitment that focuses on problem gamblers.

In discussions, Professor Livingstone stated that the public health treatment of cigarettes provided guidance on what is involved in "de-normalisation". In other words, the de-normalisation of cigarettes provides guidance to how pokie gambling should be likewise de-normalised. There is the QUIT campaign. Smoking is not allowed in restaurants or public places. Even people at home will go outside to smoke. While harmful, smoking remains a legal form of adult entertainment but is not regarded as normal or, alternatively, acceptable behaviour. I have reproduced the relevant paragraph from an earlier email:
We know that exposure to excessive drinking increases the likelihood that you'll be an excessive drinker. We know that exposure to parental smoking increases the likelihood that you'll smoke. We know that exposure to parental abuse increases the likelihood that one will also inflict abuse on one's own family. This is in essence the normalisation hypothesis. As gambling becomes more normalised, we can expect it to be transmitted seamlessly, and the less normalised it is the more difficult it is to market - something that's seen as a normal part of life is a lot easier to sell than something seen as abnormal. SO if the gambling businesses are able to induce families to include gambling as part of a family outing, and if the kids see that occurring - even though they're forbidden to participate until they're 18 - it is almost certainly going to make it a normal activity that kids will want to emulate. For this reason, the de-normalisation of tobacco consumption was an essential element to the disruption of tobacco promotion. The same goes for the pokies!
It would seem from the very few NSW hotels I've been to, that hotel practice in NSW provides a working model. The pokie room is removed from the eating area and children are banned from both the pokie area and the adjacent public bar. Ironically, Woolworths' own Castle Hill and New Brighton pokie pubs provide good examples. The Castle Hill Tavern is only 4 kms from the Woolworths headquarters! Why can't Woolworths' replicate the New Brighton / Castle Hill configuration?

It has been nearly 10 years since the Productivity Commission's first report of over 1,000 pages indicated (Volume 1 Page 46) a "strong case for mandatory regulation". Instead what we have are a series of codes, vaguely prescribed and inconsistently actioned. The above provides a reality check about action.

We had Words 10 years ago. Action is overdue.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Ballarat Pokie Clubs

There are 7 pokie clubs in the City of Ballarat. In the 2008/2009 fiscal year, Ballarat gamblers lost $26.7 million at these 7 clubs. I don't believe that the Ballarat community got back $26.7 million worth of benefit as a result of these pokie clubs.

Here's a list of those Ballarat pokie clubs with the amount lost on its pokies. Each mention is a link to the PokieWatch.org page where you can read details of each club. As always, these web pages allows the reader to anonymously post whatever they like - or - correct or add any information. I've included only those venues that continue to operate as pokie clubs.
Having figured out how much gamblers poured into these pokie clubs, the next step was to figure out how much these clubs returned to the community. To do this I had a look at the Community Benefit Statements each of these pokie clubs lodged with the gambling commission. The findings are summarised in a short spreadsheet. Click on the image below to have a look:It's important to remember that each club is allowed to claim, as a community benefit, the costs of running its own operation. So when you look at the detail, for example, of the Sebastopol Bowling Club, you find claims for the green upkeep or the near $55 thousand spent upon new furniture in their member's lounge.

In fact, the real cash contribution to the Ballarat community beyond operating each club's related sporting clubs or its own facilities is quite small in comparison to the pokie club losses. My estimate is that it could be less than $3,000.

That's not good value for $26.7 million gambled and lost.

What's worse? There seems to be money left over. Have a look at the table and the column titled balence for a very rough estimate of the difference between what is claimed for community benefit (remember that includes the cost of running the club itself) and the clubs share of the pokie losses. While the golf clubs and the RSL appear to run at a loss, others have a lot left over to plough back into the Ballarat community.

What's even worse? None of these pokie clubs have publicly stated that they will implement the National Principles for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels.

I spoke to Cr Hudson and City of Ballarat staff on 13 October and will report upon what I suggested in the next blog.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Brendan Fevola's "Pokie" Problem

There is no report that Brendan Fevola has any gambling problem let alone a problem with pokie gambling. Yet Fev's problem with alcohol has much in common with the way people with pokie addictions are regarded.

There is no question that Fev's behaviour on Brownlow night was more than disgraceful. He should be fully responsible for his actions both in drinking too much and the consequences of his inebriated state. There is no excuse for diminishing that responsibility.

Similiarly an addicted pokie gambler should be fully responsible not only for the waste of time and money involved in the act of such gambling but also the consequences of such action. The fact that losses were sustained gambling on the pokies does not excuse those who embezzle or steal to maintain their pokie addiction.But others also deserve blame and they should, like Fevola, admit their wrongdoing and shoulder their responsibility for the resulting harm. Such admission and assumption of responsibility applies whether it is service of alcohol or service of pokie gambling. It is wrong that those who profit as a result of their association with Brendan Fevola seem to remove themselves from any responsibility. Likewise, it is wrong for those who profit from pokie gambling to do anything less than admit their own culpability and responsibility.

Let's start with the media. Who handed a clearly drunk Fevola a microphone? Who directed the Channel 9 Footy Show camera people to follow him around? Who edited the segment for laughs (and laughs it got) for the grand final Footy Show? What about the ambush by the Super Footy camera people? These appalling Fevola segments will likely be the most remembered and talked about segments that aired for these outlets paving the way for ratings and consequent advertising support.

The media makes money from Fev.

Who continued to serve Fev alcohol after anyone with half a clue could see he was drunk. That would be the Crown Casino. Was there some intent by Crown to bring on the likely disaster of another Brendan Fevola performance and the resultant media coverage so as to bizarrely enhance the casino's reputation?

The casino makes money from Fev.

Who ensured that throughout the Brownlow ceremony all tables had beer and wine prominently placed on the tables? The shapes and labels of Carlton Premium were unmistakeable. Nearly every footballer was seen with a beer during the ceremony including Fev. Most of their partners with a glass of wine. Even Fev was holding a "Crownie" when drunkenly lurching before the television cameras. How much did Fosters pay to have their products on camera? This is in a program intended to be seen by families and is the worst kind of product placement. This depiction leads to the normalisation of alcohol consumption as a part of the Australian way of life. While directly contrary to the intent of the Drinkwise campaign partially funded by Fosters (the makers of Carlton Premium lager); this placement is intended to sell more Crownies.

The alcohol industry makes money from Fev.

Who was Fev's footy club for the last 11 years? The Carlton Football club picked Brendan Fevola at the age of 17 and kicked 575 goals for that team. Fev is an undisputable attraction. He draws parents and children to matches and fans to join as members of the club. He is a two time Coleman medallist. While Fev was reported to have been stood down from Carlton's leadership group after the March 2008 incident, he was neither suspended nor delisted by Carlton who argued that such action would not assist Fevola in addressing his issues. Greg Swann stated "We have also agreed with Brendan that if there are any more alcohol-related incidents then that will result in him being terminated by the Carlton football club." There was no such termination after the 2008 Carlton end of season celebrations.

The Carlton Football Club makes money from Fev.

There has been no reported statements I am aware of from the media, the alcohol industry, the AFL or the Carlton FC accepting any responsibility for the consequent harm of Fevola's behaviour. It's just like the pokies. Neither the government, the pokie manufacturers nor the pokie pubs or clubs publicly assume responsibility for the consequent harm of gambling addition. Indeed they promote Gamble For The Fun Of It and publicly urge individuals to "Gamble Responsibly"

The last word on Fev's addiction and the shouldering of blame belongs to Bruce Mathieson;
"Carlton powerbroker Bruce Mathieson last night launched a stinging attack on bad boy Brendan Fevola, describing him as a cancer on the club.
Fevola again apologised for his drunken rampage on Brownlow Medal night as he was off-loaded to the Brisbane Lions yesterday.
But it was not enough for Mr Mathieson, who was delighted Fevola was finally gone.
"Really we should have done it a long time ago." he said.
"A bloke like that has no respect for anyone, for his mates or for his club.
"I don't think blokes like that ever wake up. He's got so much talent but after he finishes football he's unemployable. Who would want to do business with him?"

Mr Mathieson is the boss of ALH (75% owned by Woolworths) and runs their 11,000 pokies. Studies show that pokie gambling addicts provide a disproportionate amount of pokie revenue. Woolworths have refused to publicly adopt and implement the National Principles for responsible gaming.

There is a nasty consistency in Mathieson's view of Fev's alcohol problems, the addictive harm his own pokie business feeds on and an absence of shouldering responsibility.

Who would want to do business with him?