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.


David said...

I like the idea of reduced price meals at gambling venues. I benefit at the expense of gambling suckers.

Why not support an increase in gambling venues and an increase in the tax take. This would have the following benefits for me and many thousands of others:

- A reduced personal tax burdern.

- Subsidised meals and facilities.

- The pleasure of reading about other peoples misery over gambling losses. These stories of personal tragedy can provide real entertainment value.

- The smug feeling of moral superiority that comes from refusing to participate in the mind-numbingly boring activity of gambling

PokieWatch said...

Actually, it increases your personal tax burden.
Look up the Principle of Mutuality and how clubs avoid paying income tax on what their members lose on their pokies.