Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Salvos, Gambling and Woolworths

The Salvation Army performs important work around Australia in treating problem gamblers. They publish an easy to read positional statement on gambling.
"Gambling is seeking gain at the expense of others, solely on the basis of chance. The Salvation Army is acutely aware of the suffering and deprivation experienced by many people as the result of this practice. Our social welfare experience, indicates that many of those who gamble tend to disregard their primary responsibilities, and not infrequently bring embarrassment and hurt to those dependent on them. The inherent evil in gambling tends to make the financial arrangements of a person or a community dependent on chance rather than upon a reward for labour.

Since gambling is motivated by selfishness, it runs counter to the Christian expression of love, respect and concern for others. Often it begins in an apparently harmless way, but its continued practice may lead to dependency that undermines the personality and character of the gambler.

Official sanction and public acceptance of this practice is, in the opinion of The Salvation Army, contrary to the Christian principles to which we subscribe.

The Salvation Army requires its soldiers to abstain from gambling. It follows therefore that The Salvation Army does not find it acceptable for a soldier to have a proprietary interest in the gambling industry. "
Click here to read all of their positional statements.

It is with great disappointment that I have been alerted to breachs of their own position statement about gambling.

The web site of the Governor General of Australia details the accomplishments of distinguished Australians who have been admitted as an Officer of the Order of Australia. Amongst those people are Roger Corbett. Click here to read that document and scroll down to page 13. On that page you will read that Mr Corbett was "Chief Executive Officer, Woolworths Ltd, 1999-2006; remains as a consultant to the Board." and "Chairman, Salvation Army Advisory Board, since 2007".

Mr Corbett was Woolworths' CEO when they entered the pokie business. According to the Just Food web site Mr Corbett will remain a consultant to the pokie giant until 2011. Does Mr Corbett's consultancy amount to a "proprietary interest".

I think so. The Salvos need him to resign.

But it gets worse. An anonymous post on drew attention to a Sydney based event called Carols in the Domain. This is a Woolworths event where $100,000 was donated to the Salvation Army's OASIS Youth Support Network. This web page discloses another Woolworths donation to the Salvos.

No question is being raised here about how the Salvos spend the money. The question is whether the Salvos should be taking money from the Pokies People - Woolworths.

The whole matter is brought into focus by considering the forthcoming Gambling Awareness Week. One of the key participants in this campaign is the Salvation Army. One of the slogans they endorse begins with the words "Gamble for the fun of it..."

Time for the Salvation Army to read their own positional statement again.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Beat Up by The Australian

Monday's The Australian published an article about me that contained inaccuracies. Click here to read the story.

While they did publish a mini-retraction the next day, here's the correspondence between the reporter and I edited only as to private phone numbers and email addresses.

First here's my email:
I refer to today's article which bears your by line. It contains untrue implications and incorrect facts.

The headline refers to 'partner's casino fortune'. If I am the partner, then this statement is false. No part of my assets relates in any way to shares in the Burswood Casino.

As I said to you, I was unaware of my father's acquisition of these interests. I played no part in his disposal of this shareholding. I have received no benefit from this transaction. I remain unaware of what the actual profit is.

I continue to play no part whatsoever in my father's business decision making.

The last line of the first paragraph states "... owes much of his family's wealth to casinos". You stated that you did not write this paragraph. You stated also that the article you wrote had published the BRW wealth figure for my father so that readers could see for themselves. The article as published did not. The truth is, at best, the profit gained was a very small part of my father's wealth.

The third paragraph of the article states "a sizeable portion of his family's wealth came from the asset class he loathes - poker machines". As you know, this is untrue.

The 5th paragraph refers to my "casino ties". The fact is that I have no ties nor ever have had any ties with any casino.

I am informed that my father has an investment in Wesfarmers Limited. I am uncomfortable with this investment. I have personally expressed the opinion that Colonial First Estate's investment in Wesfarmers is unethical. I feel the same about my father's investment.

In the circumstances, you should publish an article correcting the record with the same prominence given to the distribution of the incorrect information.
Now here's the response:
Leave it with me, I’ll run some pars in tomorrow’s CityBeat as discussed on the phone before.

As I said, I don’t back away from the facts of the story, that your father’s company was a major shareholder in Burswood and that you were a director on the board of the company, and that Nick and Tim were unaware of such.

And I’m sure you’ll agree that the story also clearly pointed out that you were not party to the investment decision by your father, was in fact overseas at the time and derived no financial benefit from it.

I agree with your point that the BRW figure should have remained in the story to put the Burswood share sale into perspective. So I will make a point of this.
As the article states, all of this happened in 2003, some 4 and 1/2 years before began. As always, all are welcome to post on this blog with your own view of the matter.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Woolworths - The Pokies People

Lead by Rev Tim Costello and Sen Nick Xenophon, 17 April 2009 will mark the date when the public began to get a glimpse of Woolworths' true face and their push to get children inside their pokie pubs.The occasion was the launch of a book of pictures of pokie pubs and clubs that shows how pokie operators lure kids inside. Click here to read the press coverage in Adelaide. Click here to read the news article as it appeared on page 3 of Brisbane's Courier Mail. Readers are encouraged to post a comment against either story.

The launch also gathered national radio and television coverage. Nick Xenophon graphicaly altered the Woolworths brand from "The Fresh Food People" to the "Pokies People" in front of Woolworths on the Rundle Street Mall. Rev Tim called for people to boycott Woolworths
I participated in 3 Queensland radio interviews that focused on Coles' marketing to children in their pokie pubs. Sen Nick participated in a lot more.

The next step will be to despatch the books to the Prime Minister and other federal leaders, State Premiers, Michael Luscombe, Woolworths CEO and Richard Goyder, Wesfarmers CEO (Wesfarmers control Coles and Bunnings).

All three of us are hoping to meet these people to constructively address how pokie places can be made kid free.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Rev Tim Costello

Rev Tim Costello of World Vision Australia has been a PokieAct supporter from the beginning. Here's what he has to say:
“Childhood years are precious. There is no need for premature introduction to adult entertainment. I am deeply concerned about those pokie operators who aggressively market free food and movies to families who live in our disadvantaged areas with the intent of luring them into their pokie venues. This must stop. I urge you to sign the petition on and tell your families and friends to do likewise.”
As adults, Australians will have most of their lives to indulge themselves in adult entertainment. Adults can freely choose from entertainment permitted by the Government; children are incapable of making such choices. These adult activities include: drinking alcohol, prostitution, betting, and smoking.

It is wrong for the relationship between and parent and child to be exploited. In relatively disadvantaged areas like Elizabeth in South Australia, Logan City in Queensland and Chadstone in Victoria; families have limited choices themselves. Offers of offers of free food, playrooms and movies for kids are attractive. These are areas with high pokie losses.

The decision by any venue operator to enter the adult orientated business of pokie gambling is voluntary.

Along with the benefits of profiting from the pokie gambling business is a corresponding duty to be responsible to impede children’s exposure to that adult entertainment rather than marketing in a way that attracts them to it.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Win 'n' Grin

Another machine seen in pokie pub child play areas is Win 'n' Grin. Here's a picture:Win 'n' Grin is an Australian made product based in Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Here's the description of Win 'n' Grin Plush from the manufacturer's web site:
"Win n Grin Plush toy crane has taken cranes to a new level. The team has designed the game with the operator in mind. Electronic adjustments means that you no longer have to do contortions to access and change dip switch settings, and with the ‘intelligent monitoring system’ that keeps a close check on toys paid out, you can rest at ease that the WGA crane self adjusts, if you require, to maximize your returns and keep your percentages on an even keel.
With graphic display and Australian designed sound effects, with no distortion, you can easily place this crane game on site alone, or with a WGA chocolate machine, and be sure of good returns with very few service calls. This game comes standard with two electronic coin mechanisms, a facility for a note acceptor and secure cashbox."
The name of the machine promotes that winning on the device will make the player happy. This sends a message to children not only about this machine but the pokies they can see and hear the adults playing in the same pub or club. For hundreds of thousands of Australians who have pokie gambling problems; this could not be further from the truth.

The manufacturer warrants that if players get too happy (i.e. if they win too often), the crane will self adjust to maximize returns and keep percentages on an even keel. In other words, venue operators can rig the machine.

I wonder how the Win 'n' Grin machine at the pokie venues recorded on have been rigged.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Ballarat RSL review

Made the decision to commit and lodged the papers with the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) requesting that body to review the Ballarat RSL decision.

VCAT now has the substance of the previous blog with copies of earlier emails seeking status at the hearing.

The big issue is whether the good work of the RSL should be dependent upon pokie losses in a community that is already overburdened; Cr Des Hudson's views notwithstanding. It should not.

In other cases, construction of dining rooms and motel units have been cited by the VCGR as justification for further pokie losses in the community. This is truly screwed up logic.

As a side issue have a read of this outrageous paragraph from the Commission's decision:
"22. The Sub-Branch is also Trustee for the Australian Ex-Prisoner of War National Memorial which is located in the Botanical Gardens in Ballarat. This is a significant national War Memorial (it is the only one in Australia located outside of Canberra) and the services associated with it attract numbers of visitors. The club is anticipating being able to have many of these visitors include a stopover at the venue once the facilities have been restored to an appropriate standard. Currently it is not possible to build on the goodwill engendered."

It is extraordinary that the War Memorial should be somehow utilised as an advertisement for people to visit the club where they can play the pokies.

The children who visit the War Memorial should not be lead to pokie gambling. They should not be exposed to marketing that creates an association between the people who chose to devote their lives in service of Australia and this harmful form of adult entertainment.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Ballarat RSL Decision Arrives

The VCGR has made its decision approving the extra pokies for the Ballarat RSL. My view is that the decision was made on bad facts. Have a look at this mapThe Commission made a finding that there was no economic difference between where the Ballarat RSL is located and where the pokies are coming from in Bunninyong. That just does not seem to be correct.

You can click here to read the decision
. Here's the relevant paragraphs:
43. In his report Mr Quick had included the latest SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage which indicates that the City of Ballarat with a SEIFA score of 983 is ranked 32 out of 80 local government municipalities in Victoria, with a higher score meaning that a municipality is relatively less disadvantaged. At the Statistical Local Area level Ballarat Central, the SLA where the RSL is located is ranked at 61 out of 204, while Ballarat South where the Buninyong Golf Club is located is ranked at 56 of 204. Mr Quick concluded that this would indicate the area to which the egms are to be transferred was a slightly better off socio-economic area than Ballarat South from which the machines are to be transferred.

44. In this context the subsequent inspection of the Club premises and the surrounding environs suggests that the area is not one which demonstrates obvious disadvantage. It is close to but not within the main business and commercial district of Ballarat.

It seems that the Commission accepted evidence from this consultant, engaged by the Ballarat RSL that lumping all the communities in the South Ballarat statistical area was sound. This is not correct. Sebastopol and Bunninyong are two different communities. The Commission knows this from their 2005 decision refusing additional pokies in Sebastopol. In that case, they refused to grant even 5 more pokies and considered the Sebastopol area as its own distinct community.

Lumping Sebastopol and Bunninyong together will increase the 'disadvantage' score and gives a false sense of the Bunninyong community being more disadvantaged than the area surrounding the Ballarat RSL.

To underline my point, have a look at this recent article in the Ballarat Courier which reports that Bunninyong has the highest income of any community in Ballarat.

The Commission also passed over my submission as to the increased density of pokies, well beyong state government guidelines, that will result in the area in which the Ballarat RSL is located. Here's what they said:
"the Commission is mindful that there are already a number of venues located in the Ballarat Central SLA and the relocation of the egms to this SLA will lead to an increase in density in that SLA. However the Commission is of the view that the net reduction in the total number of egms in the City of Ballarat together with the removal of one gaming venue from the City militates
against this issue being of concern."
The Commission mis-interpreted their own rules. Section 3.4.20(1)(c), provides:
"(c) if the proposed amendment will result in an increase in the number of gaming machines permitted in an approved venue, the Commission is satisfied that the net economic and social impact of the amendment will not be detrimental to the well-being of the community of the municipal district in which the approved venue is located;"
I added the blue colour and the italics. What this says is that the are required to consider "the community of the municipal district". This is by any understanding a smaller area than the whole of the local government area. Usually the Commission does this. They did not here. They seemed to have made a finding about the local government area as a whole rather than their proper focus on the community of the venue itself.

Scroll back up to the map and have another look at the density that will result by the VCGR adding even more pokies to Ballarat City.

The Commission is wrong. They should admit their mistake and re-issue a new decision refusing the grant of further pokies.

Once these pokies are installed and the improvements made, pokie losses will increase in Ballarat. And so will the hardship that accompanies those losses.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

A Winner Every Time

One of the games seen often in the play areas targeted to children is A Winner Every Time. Set out below is the description page from the manufacturers catalogue:Reproduced below is the manufacturer's description of this machine and it finishes with a statement of what behaviour it hopes to create. The words in upper case is the manufacturer's own emphasis:
" The premise behind this crane is that the player “plays” as he normally would any plush crane however if they fail to win a piece of merchandise a SECOND claw AUTOMATICALLY activates giving the player the opportunity to WIN a piece of candy.
We have seen operators get very creative with this product. Operators will typically give away CANDY however many give away “left” over BULK vending items and in that case, their earnings skyrocket.
You can’t miss this crane in any location. Its bright, attractive & colorful look will attract many players. Its fantastic sound encourages REPEAT play."
The similarity in intent to pokies is brutal. Remind your self that pokie venue operators place these machines in child play areas.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Are We All April Fools?

Woolworths install the coin operated Stacker game in their pokie pub child play areas. Here's a short video of Stacker at the Eltham hotel that concludes with two small children playing, unsupervised in this pokie pub's child area.


For the submission to the Productivity Commission, I wanted to find out more about the player experience with these machines; given that they were installed so that children play them. Here's what I found:Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Here's what the text says:
“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.”
The Stacker people provide a series of comic book panels to explain how Stacker works. Click here to have a look.

If the reader has any doubt about Woolworths and other pokie operators intentions when they install these machines in the areas of their pokie pubs and clubs where children are enticed to eat and play....

just read the quote above one more time.