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?