Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Courier in Ballarat

The editorial of the 27 July issue of the Ballarat Courier provides a proper perspective on the pokies issue that should be followed elsewhere. I have reproduced it below.

It also sends a clear message to Ballarat Responsible Gambling Committee chairman Councillor Des Hudson. I blogged about his misinformation and his need to apologise to the Ballarat community on 26 March. I wish he was right and I was wrong but, unfortunately the reverse is the situation.
How much is too much spent on pokie machines?

THE amount of money spent on the pokies in Ballarat is considerable and, it would appear, not on a par with other regional centres.
Early figures from the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation show $57.5 million went through this municipality's gaming machines.

Based on the commission's population projections for 2007, this was an expenditure of $843 for every adult.

This compares poorly to Bendigo's per adult spend of $621, Geelong's $737 and Shepparton's $666.

Of the big regional municipalities the City of Latrobe fares worse than Ballarat, with pokie spending of $1082 per adult.

This is not to say people don't derive pleasure from gambling on pokie machines. Undoubtedly there are many people who would approach a gaming machine with a set sum of money to spend. When they reach that limit they can walk away from the

machine happy to have enjoyed a "flutter". They may even, although the odds are against it, walk away with more money in their pocket.

But clearly there are some who spend more than they ought on gaming. And the amount spent in Ballarat through gaming machines continues to grow.

In 2006-2007 $52.3 million was put through Ballarat pokies, in 2007-2008 it was $54.9 million.

There is an argument to be made that as the population grows, so will many other things, such as the amount spent on gambling.

But the Ballarat Responsible Gambling Committee could consider whether the increased spending on gaming machines is reasonable and why it is that other comparable centres such as Bendigo spend less per adult on gaming than people in Ballarat.

The roughly $200 difference between the per adult spend in Bendigo and Ballarat equates to about $13 million.

It is an amount that, arguably, could be better invested elsewhere in the Ballarat economy.

According to the commission, Ballarat has more electronic gaming machines per capita than the state average, and more than the regional Victoria average.

When an application to transfer gaming machine licences is made within Ballarat, the City of Ballarat has argued for a net reduction in the number of machines.

Given the number of machines per capita, this has been a reasonable measure.

But the tough question that remains is: how much is too much when it comes to spending on gaming machines?

Cr Hudson, it is not only time for an apology for misleading the public, but its also time for you to get Ballarat on the right track to minimise the harm pokie gambling is doing to your community.

Start with getting all the pubs and clubs together and ask for details of their plans to implement compulsory pre-commitment and the removal of children from exposure to pokie sights and sounds within their venues. If they can't enforceably promise to have this in place by 2012, then immediately quadruple their rates to begin to compensate for the burden they are placing on Ballarat.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Coles' Pokies Part 10

Here's today's email sent to Coles/Wesfarmers:
"Thanks for your email of 22 July.

I refer to the second paragraph of your email where you state:
"As part of this review we have considered the National Gaming Principles released by Federal and State Gaming Ministers on 10 July. I discussed these principles with our hotels management only last Friday. The hotels group supports the National Gaming Principles and have confirmed that our business is compliant with its gaming obligations at its hotel venues."

These principles can be found here:

I draw your attention to the first principle:

"Minors should not be allowed to gamble or be exposed to gambling areas within venues."

My underlining. The language is clear. It's not just about admission to the pokie area. It's about exposure. This goes beyond semantics. It requires operators to cease exposure to the lights and sounds of the pokies and visible promotion of gambling areas within venues.

When I last inspected your venues, many were non-compliant. I would be pleased to do my best to promote Wesfarmers/Coles' plans to be compliant with this principle.

Your continued refusal to substantively respond to either my letter of Mr Goyder nor my email to Mark and Alison remains disappointing. I sincerely look forward to your response to this new change in the obligations of pokie venue operators."
Mr Hadler's prompt response was that he was travelling inter-state and would respond when he was able to view on his laptop.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Coles' Pokies Part 9

"The devil is in the details" is defined by as "Even the grandest project depends on the success of the smallest components".

So "the devil is in the details" is in trying to extract real meaning and real action from the email received from Coles' corporate relations manager and his statement to the West Australian concerning what they are doing with their pokie operations. It would have been so much simpler to discern if they are going to act responsibly if they had made an effort to engage and then respond to the issues that I raised.

Click here to read the report in The West or have a look at the image below. You can expand the image by clicking on it.

This endeavour is about getting a substantive response so its worth examining what Coles are reported to Coles to have stated:
"The company abided by the Queensland Responsible Gambling Code of Practice and supported the National Gaming Principles."
This is inline with what Coles emailed me which I reproduced on an earlier blog. It's worth setting out again:
"As part of this review we have considered the National Gaming Principles released by Federal and State Gaming Ministers on 10 July. I discussed these principles with our hotels management only last Friday. The hotels group supports the National Gaming Principles and have confirmed that our business is compliant with its gaming obligations at its hotel venues."
So what are these National Gaming Principles? To find out you need to have a look at The Hon. Jenny Macklin's web site. It is a joint communique of the Ministerial Council on Gaming. If you scroll to the bottom it sets out principles that "should underpin the regulatory and policy frameworks for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels across Australia" and the first principle is:
"Minors should not be allowed to gamble or be exposed to gambling areas within venues"
This is straightforward language and, under any semantic interpretation, means that children should not either see or hear pokie gambling within a venue.

Jon Faine on Radio ABC 774 Melbourne picked up on the point immeadiately and lead his Friday broadcast with the news. It quickly became a national story. Click here to read how the ABC presented the news where minors are no longer to be exposed to gambling areas within venues. The ABC web page has not only a lively discussion but also the audio of Sen Xenophon's interview with Jon.

The devil is in the details....

The person who made the statements on behalf of Wesfarmers/Coles either deliberately mis-told the truth, was mis-informed or made a statement of future intent. The fact is that after being enticed by their aggressive advertising, minors are exposed to pokie gambling areas within their venues. I detail this exposure relating to the eating areas. when reporting my observations of South Australian and Queensland Coles venues.

In many instances, children are legally allowed in the drinking areas where there is also exposure. In venues such as Cole's Kenmore Tavern, there are KENO terminals and even a KENO cashier area in the eating area itself.

The quickest and least expensive way for Wesfarmers/Coles to honour what they wrote and said is to ban children from their pokie venues. My fourth question to Mr Goyder in the newspaper advertisement calls on him to do just that. I will email Wesfarmers/Coles and report on their response.

The devil is in the details....

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Coles' Pokies Part 8

Yesterday, I had to make a decision about whether or not to proceed with my message to Mr Goyder. Earlier in the week, I got a knockback from a Perth based direct marketing company who refused to distribute my flyer. Even a Perth based printer did not return calls. So I submitted, the text of the flyer to the Post Newspapers group who circulate their publications in the western suburbs of Perth.

With one modification they accepted my message and it will be published this weekend; 25 July 2009. Here's what the final copy looks like:Of course, I sent a copy to Wesfarmers/Coles corporate affairs people. Here's the text of what I sent:
"As I undertook to you when first corresponding, I want you to be aware of my actions in trying to elicit substantive response from Wesfarmers/Coles.

Despite your email of 7 July I have received nothing.

A full page advertisement will appear in the Post newspapers this weekend. Confirmation is reproduced below. These papers cover the Perth's western suburbs. A pdf of the ad is attached. I will be attempting to place the same advertisement in the South West and Great Southern regions of Western Australia."
I got back a quick response from Coles. Here it is:
"Thank you for your e mail. Since our last contact I have been in discussions with our hotels group about best practice approaches to managing the issues you have raised.

As part of this review we have considered the National Gaming Principles released by Federal and State Gaming Ministers on 10 July. I discussed these principles with our hotels management only last Friday. The hotels group supports the National Gaming Principles and have confirmed that our business is compliant with its gaming obligations at its hotel venues.

It is unfortunate that you are persisting with an inappropriate personal campaign against the Managing Director of Wesfarmers on this issue while Coles is still considering what additional actions we may take to respond to the issues that you and others have raised.

This suggests a lack of good faith on your part in engaging with Coles and Wesfarmers on this issue and it will influence our response to your approaches on this issue."
The National Gaming Principles bear no reference to marketing to children and exposing them to the sights and sounds of pokie gambling. There's nothing concerning warning signs in car parks about leaving children in cars. You can read about the National Principles by clicking here. This is not a substantive response unless I am to infer from its omission from the National Gaming Principles that Wesfarmers/Coles intend to do nothing but stay the course.

Finally, despite being approved by the Post Newspapers my ad got knocked back by The West.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Lessons from China

China has traded progress for the sun. At the risk of being accurately accused of sharing family holiday photos, check out this photo was taken in Xian, the home of the Terracotta Warriors and about 1100 kilometres inland from Beijing.
That's not fog. Its largely the pollution caused by coal burning power plants. And, of course, a large portion of Australia's coal is exported to China. It is another example of profit without caring about the burden it imposes on people. In addition to their legal system, treatment of Tibet and censorship, there is a lot one can criticise about China.

China has no legalised gambling other than Macau. People seem too busy trying to make a living.

So what happens to those who retire. How do they 'fill their time' when pokies are not an option? They gather in parks in the morning to exercise, dance, sing, or just talk. They act as surrogate parents for their pre-school grandchildren.

Rather than interacting with machines, these people interact with each other.

There's also a lot one can praise about China.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Moreland's Wildly Irresponsible Pokie Pubs

Moreland's Cr Alice Pryor is right in her objection to pokie gambling in her city. Cr John Kavanagh was correct in losing his cool at the recent Council meeting. What I saw in my few pokie pub visits on 8 July venues could make anyone concerned about how pokie gambling is conducted in MorelandZagames Brunswick - 4:25 PM - Over $18 Million in pokie losses in 3 years
This is picture of Zagame's taken from Sydney Road footpath shows how passers-by can look through the "Family Bistro" all the way to the pokies. This family area is surrounded by a bar on one side, a TAB on another and the pokies on the other side; a carnival of adult only activities.
The Zagame's group of pokie pubs aggressively markets itself to children. Next to Coles' Steak house Gang, their practices are probably the worst in their attempt to normalise pokie gambling by offering child orientated computer games on a web site whose purpose is to promote their pokie pubs. Check out the video of Zagames Kids World web sub site I've posted below:

The simple fact is that a pokie pub is not and should never be a Kid's World. It's dead wrong and Zagames should stop this sickening market campaign.

Moreland Hotel - 5:30 PM - Over $27 Million in pokies losses in 3 years.
This garishly designed venue displays a large child play area on its Sydney Road exterior. It promotes a Kid's Entertainment Friday Night where "Kids Eat Free with every meal purchased - conditions apply". Inside the pokie room lights are visible in the eating area, race calls are audible on the street because of speakers in the "Friendly" smokers area, and a lighted sign restrict complimentary coffee to "customers playing at machines".
In Woolworths South Australian pubs and even at their own Blackburn Hotel, there are rules prohibiting simultaneous play of two pokies. This is a strong indicator of problem gambling. Yet, I observed a gambler playing pokies #53 and #54. The gambler placed a Reserve sign on one machine. He walked out to the smoker area where he interacted with one of the venue staff and then returned to gamble on pokies #53 and #54 betting a combined $10 a spin.
Woolworths through their ALH joint venture say they are committed to responsible gaming practices. The behaviour I saw was irresponsible and demonstates that they are incapable of regulating themselves.

First & Last Hotel - 6:30 PM - Over $33 Million in pokies losses in 3 years.
A large Kids Eat Free Banner was hung from the building to attract the attention of Sydney Road motorists.
While the child play and eating area in this pokie pub is situated well away from the pokies; the coin operated games designed to appeal to children are not.
In fact, the Chocoholic and Stacker machines are located right next to the cigarette machine and with a clear view of the venue's pokies.
I posted about Stacker back in April but the intent of the game makes it unsuitable, particularly in a pokie pub. Here's the manufacturer's own description:
“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.”
Its no wonder why the Councillors of Moreland are angry.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Moreland's Pokie Sin Tax

Local government action to do something, anything to mitigate the harm of pokie gambling is a manifestation of the poor performance of state governments. This was on show last night at the Moreland City Council.

Two representatives were present from ALH, the Woolworths/Mathieson joint venture. In the last three years, gamblers lost $98,687,959 at their venues. This does not include the Summerworld Hotel where Mr Mathieson has an associated interest.

The Council, in adopting the budget, voted to levy additional rates on pokie venues.

It all got quite heated with representatives of Woolworths/Mathieson's ALH and Councillor Kavanagh arguing with some emotion. The essence is of the argument is that ALH asked how much of what their pokie pubs contribute to efforts in Moreland to help problem gamblers. Council did not know. Councillor Kavanagh took exception and asked how much their pokies took out of Moreland. The ALH people would not answer. ALH's Ross Blair-Holt asked why no one from Moreland turned up for the Derryn Hinch segment. An explanation was provided with an offer by the Mayor to participate in any further radio broadcasts.

I was allowed to put my point that the City in creating such a levy themselves become dependent upon pokie revenue so that the whole matter resembles NSW where pokie clubs are seen to provide community services. I made this point in my earlier blog "Local Government's Pokie Addiction"

You can listen to the relevant part of the Council's question time by clicking on the file below. Clicking will take you to the web page where the MP3 is stored and then click download. It's about 10 minutes long and you'll need to turn up the volume. It is a worthwhile listen nonetheless.

As a result of the City's resolution, Sen Nick Xenophon has issued this media release;
All this is merely the latest in a series of actions intended to motivate government and industry to bring forward measures that will minimise the harm caused by pokie gambling.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Coles' Pokies Part 7

Still no substantive response from either Wesfarmers or Coles. I did think that my emails and blog posts might have resulted in some positive action. This is disappointing.

Decency would have demanded that Coles take immediate remedial action to prevent the re-occurrence of a pokie gambler leaving their infant child in a locked car. All Coles would have had to do was to relate what they had done.

Despite a meeting in December, follow-up emails, a letter from Sen Xenophon, and my agitation since 22 June, nothing has been forthcoming other than Mr Hadler's promise to listen. Coles/Wesfarmers are not engaged. Hoping that I would not have to take the next step, I will now implement a plan to personally engage Mr Goyder in the matter.

Mr Goyder's merits praise for his apparent past activism. I admire people who act on what they feel is right. His efforts to influence other's decisions seem to have related to street views of a heritage property in Perth's Peppermint Grove area where Wikipedia mentions Mr Goyder as a resident. This is one of Perth's most exclusive suburbs. The minutes of the Peppermint Grove Council's meeting of 21 April 2008 record a Mr R Goyder as a part of a group asking questions. The minutes refer to a petition where others were no doubt encouraged to express their views with respect to a proposed subdivision. Some of the questions raised were quite serious as they called for the resignation of a local councillor. Click here to read those minutes.

I feel strongly about the Pokie issue and want to influence other's decisions. I believe that pokies cause more serious harm than a blocked view. Direct public action should be motivated to elicit substantive response from the CEO of Wesfarmers and believe it reasonable that Mr Goyder respond to four short questions about Coles' pokies:
  • What is he doing to prevent pokie gamblers leaving their infant children in locked cars like the June 2009 incident in Ipswich?
  • Will he stop Coles’ advertising to lure families inside their 70+ pokie pubs with offers of free food and free playgrounds?
  • Will he acknowledge the harm of pokie gambling and introduce effective measures like compulsory pre-commitment?
  • Is Coles going to act responsibly and ban children from their pokie pubs reducing the likelihood that a new generation will get hooked?
It is my intention to distribute a flyer in the western suburbs of Perth. Here's what the draft looks like:Click on the image to see a full sized copy.

If readers of this blog believe that I should modify or add anything to the flyer, please post your thoughts. All concerned will be directed to this blog thereby bringing your suggestions notice. I will not be despatching the flyer straight away.

A copy will be emailed to all the people who have corresponded with me from Coles / Wesfarmers. A paper copy will be express mailed to Mr Goyder. I want all concerned to be aware for two reasons; Firstly, in the hope that Mr Goyder will respond. Secondly, in the event that there is no response, all will be fully aware of my actions, i.e. there will be no surprise.

The new Coles slogan proclaims; 'It All Counts'.

Coles/Wesfarmers pokie operations should count too.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Have Woolies & Coles gone Chinese?

On Thursday night I attended the launch of a photography book by a former work mate about Tibet. Here's one of the book's wonderful photographsClick here to read more about Shane Marden's book child of Tibet - a lost innocence.

After talking about his experience in meeting with the Dalai Lama (who provides a moving forward for the book), Sen Bob Brown's official launch speech, Shane made an emotional speech about the genocide that occurred in Tibet and how China is systematically destroying the Tibetian culture. Yet, China is Australia's major trading partner. They buy our resources.

In essence, China is doing bad things yet we like the money we make from them.

Sounds like how Woolies and Coles/Wesfarmers and many state governments relationship to their pokie revenue. The parallel goes further when you consider that the pokie revenue earned by these institutions is but a small almost insignificant part of their total enterprise like Tibet is to the Chinese nation. They deflect criticism of the harm they are causing and relentlessly move forward to enhance their pokie profits.

By the end of next week I am visiting my daughter in Beijing. I encouraged her to take a 6 month job there. Did I do the wrong thing? I don't think so. Engagement and continued dialogue is always the best way to go. The knowledge gained by her engagement with the Chinese culture can only be of value as her own life unfolds. Ultimately engagement and, by virtue of that engagement, knowledge of Tibet will provide the solution.

Late on Thursday I received a call from Alecia Batten, Team Coordinator - Coles Corporate Affairs. She was seeking confirmation of a meeting time. I asked if she was aware that I have insisted that Coles/Wesfarmers respond to my earlier correspondence most of which resulted from earlier meetings. I asked if she was aware that Mr Hadler had responded. I asked if she had read this blog where I had posted the course of events.

She had not.

Alecia pointed out that there would be benefit in a face to face dialogue. My response was that it is possible that an infant could have died as a result of their failure to respond to my request to place signs in their pokie pub car parks warning about leaving children in cars.

I confirmed my that I would not meet with Mr Hadler until I received a meaningful response. While this stance may run contrary to what I have written above, it seems the only way I can motivate Coles / Wesfarmers to engagement. Failing any substantive response, I am working on a plan to engage Mr Goyder and will post my future steps on Tuesday. I will continue to blog about my progress or lack thereof.

Shane closed his speech about Tibet by talking about the saying that is written on the wall where he met the Dalai Lama:
"Never give up. No matter what is going on."

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Coles' Pokies Part 6

Mr Hadler promptly responded to the last post.

He wrote that my approach raised concerns that I was not acting in good faith and was more interested in generating coverage for my cause and forcing a public position rather than genuine dialogue. He also thought it sensible to meet and form a constructive relationship.

He also stated that there was genuine concern that might not fully be conveyed through written correspondence.

I disagree. Genuine concern is expressed through action and there has been none.

It may well be that inaction is a policy of Coles and its holding company, Wesfarmers; going all the way to its CEO Richard Goyder.
Sen Nick Xenophon wrote to Richard Goyder on 28 May. I got a copy of the letter late last week. Here it is:
"Dear Mr Goyder

RE: Poker machine venues attracting families and children

I am sure that you will by now be aware of a coffee table book published by founder Paul Bendat and launched by Paul, myself and Reverend Tim Costello a few weeks ago. A copy of the book is enclosed.

The book was prompted by concerns that exposure to gambling practices would ‘normalise’ gambling for children, making them at higher risk of becoming problem gamblers as they got older.

In a foreword to the book, leading gambling researcher Dr Charles Livingstone of Monash University wrote:
“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. … allowing children to accompany adults to gaming venues, and indeed encouraging this by providing free 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.”

I am writing to you to encourage you to look at how Coles, a nationally respected and trusted brand, can change its practices to protect our children from harm. I will also be looking at possible legislative changes on this issue.

Copies of the book are also being forwarded to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, State Premiers and the CEO of Woolworths. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this important issue."
There has been no response from Mr Goyder.