Thursday, 26 February 2009

Relevance or Residence?

The VCGR decided to not let me have my say. Here's what they emailed me:
The Commission is in receipt of your email and the concerns raised therein.

I advise that the matters raised by you, together with many other matters, are matters which the Commission carefully considers in all applications of this nature and will certainly do so in the current application.

I advise that as you are not a resident of, or a member of, the local community which is affected by this application you lack standing and as a consequence have no right to appear before the Commission. You are more than welcome to attend and observe the hearing, as is any interested member of the public.
Here's my response:
With respect, the Commission's decision is incorrect. It is the duty of the Commission to either grant or refuse an application with regard to the tests set out in the enabling legislation. The admission of best evidence should be its relevance to those tests. The residence of the person putting forward relevant evidence is immaterial.

There can be no question that the matters I raised are relevant. They follow closely the factors considered by the Commission in past decisions. They also conform with the evidence adduced at the recent VCAT appeal hearing regarding the Romsey Hotel and the Court of Appeal decision in the same matter.

For your information, I have considerable interest in the City of Ballarat pokies. In addition to spending significant time in the area assisting others with pokie related issues, I have purchased a radio schedule with the view of improving the area's responsible gaming practices. I undertake these tasks for no compensation. A person's fiscal interest should not be a qualification.

Again, with respect, I am not sure what qualifies a person to be a 'member' of the community. While I am not a resident of South Australia, the Independent Gambling Authority raised no issue with my submissions before it yesterday based upon observations gathered in South Australia.

Finally, it is the duty of the Commission to inquire rather than limit the basis of its findings to what the parties before it choose to adduce.

I seek your re-consideration of this matter.
I was told that the RSL's response, to the issues I raised, is that they are fiscally strapped.

This leads me to wonder whether financial mismanagement has become the rationale for more pokies.

The Ballarat Courier covered the story today. Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Getting Self-Barred in Adelaide

My first pokie enquiry. I learnt a lot today about a procedure that supposed to be the answer to end a gambler's pokie problem. Just sign up to be self-barred and your favourite pokie place won't let you in the door. End of problem. It couldn't be simpler.

But like everything involved with pokies - nothing is simple.

There was about 5 hours of submissions made to the 7 members of the South Australian Independent Gambling Authority. Two audio visual guys wrestled with the powerpoint technology. Two staff from the Authority were on hand to make sure the right legal points were made.

Gambling industry companies and lobby groups made submissions. They talked about how they help people to control their gambling.

Two smart technology companies made submissions. They both spruicked electronic devices that would allow gamblers and the pokie operators to control gambling.

A submission was made on behalf of the mentally handicapped who, by definition have no control over their gambling.

A nervous but eminently qualified gambling therapist made a submission after some prodding from the Authority's staff about how he tries to help people to control their gambling.

The authority did a terrific job of letting everyone have their say.

My own submission presented the evidence I gathered about the posting of self-barring signs at Woolies and Coles venues. My conclusion was that they did nothing to inform gamblers about self-barring itself. Even their performance in posting warning notices to those already self-barred was uneven.

I read from the Anglicare submission where it pointed to gambler's not being aware of the availability of self- barring.

And at the end I was asked by the Authority if I thought that self-barring was important enough to get its own mention in what was posted at a pokie room. Wasn't the promotion of a helpline enough?

I really did not know how to answer that and hesitated before responding.

After all, this was an inquiry into self-barring. Thousands of dollars of state and private money were being spent. Someone must think it important. How could one make recommendations about its effectiveness if problem gamblers themselves were not aware of it unless they called a helpline and the counselor at the other end of the phone told them about it?

My response was both correct and quite wrong. I said that because I have no experience as a gambling counselor I could not prioritise what messages should be pushed within a pokie area. While that's true, I should have just said promotion of as helpline isn't enough. If gamblers are going to have any chance of self-help through self-barring they need to know about it themselves.

The absence of promotion about self-barring shuts out any message from within the pokie area about ceasing to gamble. The message of "Gamble Responsibly" sets the context for the helpline and avoids recognition that pokie gambling is harmful. Telling gamblers about self-barring recognises that pokie gambling is harmful for some. The solution is that they should just stop.

No one promotes "Responsible Smoking". It is a "Quitline" not a "Helpline". It is time for the same strategy to apply to problem gambling.

Nothing is simple.

Monday, 23 February 2009

How hard is it to post a sign?

Tomorrow I front my first government pokie inquiry. It's the South Australian inquiry into barring arrangements. In Victoria it is called "self exclusion". What happens is that a gambler who thinks they have a problem voluntarily signs a deed with a pokie venue saying that if he or she turns up there; please kick me out. What I'm going to say, is based upon what I've seen in South Australia of Woolworths and Coles pokie pubs... and I've been to all of them.

Given my problems with getting the Victorian Department of Justice not to black out portions of what the relevant things I have to say, South Australia's attitude is refreshing. They allow you to say whatever you want about pokies. Even it its off topic. Click here to read the Independent Gambling Authority's terms of reference.

As a result, my submission is in two parts; relevant and not so relevant

Part 1 - Relevant
In South Australia there is a provision in their non-compulsory code of practice that venue operators
"will ensure, to the extent reasonably possible, that self excluded customers are not allowed to enter, or remain in, gambling areas from which they have been excluded"
One of the ways this is done is to post signs that tell people who are self-barred to report to management and if they don't they might get fined. Posting signs is a simple thing. Far less sophisticated than trying to spot all the people who might have self-barred themselves who are so compelled to pokie gamble; they will try to sneak back in.

You can have a look at summary of the first PokieWatch.org round of visits conducted by myself and Sue Pinkerton, a local S.A. campaigner. Click here to read my uncensored submission direct from the South Australian web site.

Like Victoria and Queensland, it was rare to see any promotion of the existence of a self exclusion programme at any S.A. venue. So it should be no surprise that few people are participating.

Given the irregularity of performance Sue and I observed, my core submission to this inquiry is:
"Given the evidence that a significant number of the pokie pubs visited appeared unable to perform the simple act of placing these notices at the entrances to their pokie areas, it is submitted that these venue operators demonstrate an incapacity to provide or enforce a self exclusion facility"

It might be that the way to run effective self-barring is by the use of an electronic admission card with a photographic image. My suggestion is that having a dedicated staff member to visually admit patrons might fix the problem. I also submitted that:
"Consideration should be given to Internet distributed information whereby the venues, the regulatory body and the public can each view and report upon the gaming area environment. While the identities of self-barred individuals should be only selectively available, the promotion and operational details of each venue’s self-barring facility should be freely available."
Part 2 - Less Relevant
Given any opportunity, I will submit for the exclusion of children from pokie places.
This submission will begin by showing a re-edited version of the PokieWatch slide show. You can have a look now:

video

I have a bit of time between my flight out of Adelaide and the end of the inquiry. I will try to blog on how it all went.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Ballarat RSL pokie application should fail.

What if the whole basis of this application for 23 more pokies did not calculate? Should the application fail?. Yes.

The basis was by there being 6 less pokies in the City of Ballarat; the pokie losses in Ballarat would not increase. That's why the Ballarat RSL did not take on a transfer of all 29 of the Buninyong GC's pokies. My calculation is that moving these pokies to the Ballarat RSL will increase the pokie losses in the Ballarat with a potential to increase pokie losses a lot.

First, click on this scan of a schedule of actual pokie losses in Victorian Tattersall's clubs that was leaked to the Melbourne Herald Sun in early 2007. You'll need to click on the image to read it.

What it seems to prove is that the deletion of 6 pokies from the City of Ballarat does not fix the problem of moving 23 pokies from well off Buninyong to less well off central Ballarat. That's the core justification of this move and I think its unsustainable on the facts that are out in the public.

Bear with me for this calculation:

Bunninyong gamblers lost $169,000 on the club's 29 pokies over this 10 week period for a loss per machine of $5,828.

For the same period, Ballarat RSL gamblers lost $71,000 on the clubs 10 pokies for a loss per machine of $7,100.

Using this loss per pokie number of $7,100 per pokie, Ballarat RSL gamblers will lose $163,300. That's only a $5,700 difference.

What this does not account for is that where there are more pokies in a venue the losses go up. Have a look at the losses from the 50 pokies at the Ballarat Leagues Club which was $661,000 or $13,220 a pokie! The Ballarat Leagues Club take per pokie will be higher than the RSL (given the present state of the RSL building) but the RSL losses per pokie is going to go much higher than $7,100.00.

The outcome is that the City of Ballarat pokie problem is going to get worse if this move goes ahead. I have emailed the VCGR to take my calculation into account next Thursday when the Ballarat RSL's application is before them. They have up to date accurate numbers on the losses.

The application should fail.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

A Hot Day in Ballarat

Today in Ballarat was over 30. Saturday is expected to be over 42. Here's my diary on what happened today.

1. Pokie venue photos; Arrived too early for my appointment so I took some photos of the two venues I have not recorded at all for PokieWatch.org so I thought I would use the time to take some photos. At the Red Lion Hotel (part of a pokie/motel venue near the Sovereign Hill tourist site) someone came out and asked me what I was doing after I had taken some photos. I told him I was taking photos.

2. Meeting with City of Ballarat; Local government with all its pluses and minuses is the closest layer of our three layers (local, state, federal) to reflecting the electorate. On the drive up I heard ABC 774's Jon Faine devastating a Geelong Councillor about his fellow councillors' records. In Ballarat I heard firsthand about the sophisticated compromises the council made in approving the Ballarat RSL's application for more pokies. Tough decisions were made in the best interests of the community.

3. Cold calling 3BA; The PokieAct.org 30 second spot was designed to be broadcast both as a TV ad and a radio ad. Given the relatively self contained nature of the Ballarat community and the effectiveness of the radio medium in reaching people, I dropped off a CD of the ad at 3BA and met with a sales person to discuss purchasing a schedule.

4. Meeting with the co-ordinator of a terrific research project being conducted by the University of Ballarat. One of the things missing in the research about pokies is real data (rather than speculative guesses) about its impact upon the community. The University of Ballarat has received a grant for a three year study to look at a community that has no pokies and then gets a pokie venue. I met with Associate Professor John MacDonald. Click here to read more about the project. They are still looking to hire a researcher. I suggested they look at the emerging Melbourne suburb of Point Cooke which will soon have a Geelong Cats pokie club.

5. Having a look at the Ballarat Leagues Club. The pokie room has a separate entrance and I was sincerely hoping that they took full advantage by excluding children from pokie sights, sounds and promotion. I was disappointed to find that their Kid's Corner is a glass enclosed area where children playing can look directly into the pokies area, see the promotions at its entrance and hear the pokie sounds in the bistro.

6. An excellent adventure with the The Courier of Ballarat. The reporter and I turned up at the Red Lion Inn, clipboard in hand, ready to have a look. We were met at the door by Dave Canny, the nominee of the venue operator and manager of the premises. We were told that we were not allowed to enter. Dave gave me his card and invited me to make an appointment to have a look. He indicated that he would make his staff available to talk with me. While I have been asked to leave two other venues (they had policies against people taking notes), this is the first time that I was not even allowed in the door.
The reporter and I then drove to the Ballarat RSL. I had a look inside on my own. What a lovely old building. I'm not sure where those extra 23 pokies area going to be located. It's so sad that their mission of caring for returned servive men and women has to depend upon the pokies for sustenance.

7. Coming full circle with the Red Lion Hotel. Back in Melbourne, I ended the day as I started it with concern about the Red Lion. Rather than disrupt their staff, I invited Dave to fill out his own response to the usual PokieWatch.org concerns. I promised to reporduce everything he gave me without alteration. My agenda? This would be a very welcome first for PokieWatch.org. That is, the first time a report was generated by the venue itself.

Postscript
Dave responded with his own report on the Red Lion. You can read my questions and see his responses by clicking here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Ballarat RSL Responds

To their credit, the Ballarat RSL wrote back to me. Most pokie venues I encounter feel that if they don't respond, the problem will go away. Well done RSL for responding and responding promptly. Here's what they sent me.You might need to click on the image to read it. As always, you are welcome to post your views on this blog. It would be great to discuss what others make of the Ballarat RSL's response.

First off, they did not answer any of my questions. It's their right to ignore me and I respect that even though the issues I raised are relevant to whether this application truly conforms with the community interest.

The real critical passage is the invitation to be interested after the hearing is all over and decisions have been made. Rather than accept their invitation to do nothing until that time, it is my intention to write to the VCGR and suggest that they might allow me to raise these issues at the public hearing on the 26th.

Of course, its the right of the VCGR to ignore me as well.

Monday, 2 February 2009

My email to the Ballarat RSL

It has been my practice to try and write to every venue I post on PokieWatch.org. While I have not yet been to the Ballarat RSL. Here's the email I sent them:
Dear Mr. Keating,

I write to inform you that I have created a website, PokieWatch.org, with the goal of assisting poker machine venue operators and the public to work together to ensure best possible responsible gaming practices. The web site uses Wikipedia like software to promote the collaborative assembly of information on how self-regulatory practices are being implemented.

My objective is that you will be assisted by this endeavour. I invite you and your venue staff to make their own contributions. As noted in the recent decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Macedon Ranges Shire Council v. Romsey Hotel P/L, gambling is a valid activity for many Victorians. Yet this must be tempered by the need to ensure, by the best means possible, that responsible gambling practices are being implemented.

The web page for your venue can be found at http://www.pokiewatch.org/page/Ballarat+RSL. Owing to the fact that I visited your premises on Saturday, I was unable to have a look inside. It is my intention to do so in the next few weeks.

Please note that PokieWatch.org is a not for profit endeavour. Participation is open to all and is free. My observations are largely intended to be factual rather than suggesting standards not presently in place in Victoria. If you are of the view that the observations on the web site contain any inaccuracies, you can either email me at PokieWatch@yahoo.com and I will add your comments, join the wiki and add or modify what is set out on the web page, or begin a thread on the web page. You can also add you own description of your responsible gambling practices to the web page.

If you are of the view that it would be of assistance to you, I am happy to visit with you in Ballarat to discuss responsible pokie gambling practices and, in particular the possibility of excluding children from the venue.

I am informed that an application has been made by the Ballarat RSL for an additional 23 pokies which will be housed at your Lyons Street premises and, if approved, that the Buninyong Golf Club will cease to operate any pokies. The hearing is set for the end of February. While you are obviously under no obligation to respond I would be grateful to know:

1. Would you be prepared to enter into an agreement with the City of Ballarat as a condition of approval to:
  • Ensure that responsible gaming practices are put into place and maintained at the Ballarat RSL upon terms mutually acceptable terms
  • Establish a community benefit fund jointly administered between the City and your club to ensure that net proceeds from pokie losses are expended to the benefit of the people of the City of Ballarat? There is good precedent for this structure already working within the Shire of Macedon Ranges. I would be happy to provide you with contact information.
2. Notwithstanding #1, would you agree to the exclusion of children from the entirety of the building where pokie gambling is conducted? This step would show leadership by drawing the line with our children in an effort to begin to curtail Australia's addiction to this harmful form of gambling. In this regard, please note the views of Professor Charles Livingstone of Monash University "One of the ways in which pokie gambling is 'normalised' - made to seem like an everyday, average sort of activity - is by exposing young children to poker machine venues in the company of family and friends. Just as smoking, drinking and poor eating habits are passed on by example, allowing children to accompany adults to gaming venues, and indeed encouraging this by providing play rooms, free meals and so on, is likely to result in the development of problems later in life. Pokie gambling is a potentially dangerous activity and children should not be encouraged to think it's just another harmless pastime."

3. The pokies appear to be being moved from a relatively wealthy part of the City of Ballarat to a relatively poor part of the region. What measures are you independently putting in place to assist the people within your catchment area to ensure that harm from the inevitable local gambling losses is minimised?

I would be grateful if you could pass on my thoughts to Mr Wilkins who is noted as the approved nominee of the license.
I copied this email to the City of Ballarat and the local newspaper. My view is that the more discussion and the more the public knows; the better the public will be served. The email of the Ballarat RSL is rslbalrt@ncable.net.au

Any response I get will be posted.