Sunday, 29 November 2009

Woolworths' Kids Meals / Kids Club Ad

I have lodged a complaint against Woolworths associate Australian Leisure and Hospitality group for breach of the AANA Code of Ethics and Code of Advertising to Children. Here's the ad that I believe offends that is an "Advertising or Marketing Communication directed primarily to Children that contravenes Prevailing Community Standards.


I reproduce below my submission to the Australian Associated of National Advertisers as it contains what I believe supports my complaint.

Formal Submission

Ad Details: Newspaper/Magazine - Sunday Herald Sun - 1 November 2009
Advertiser: Australian Leisure & Hospitality Group
Product/Service Advertised: Kids Meals and Kids Club
Description of Ad: Invites children to eat at certain venues and join a Kids Club at these venues
Reason for Concern: The venues listed are all pokie clubs or pubs associated with Woolworths Limited. Australian Leisure & Hospitality Group is 75% owned by Woolworths Limited. This advertisement does not disclose that children are to be accompanied by adults at these venues where alcohol is served. Furthermore, pokie gambling in these venues is an adults only form of entertainment and whilst children are not permitted within the pokie areas, they are exposed to the sights and sounds of pokie gambling in these venues. Children have been observed wandering freely in the gambling areas of these venues. Such marketing contravenes paragraphs 2.7 and 2.13 of the AANA Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children, paragraph 1.2 of the AANA Code of Ethics.

If permissible, I asked to amend reference to the AANA Code of Ethics to include a reference to paragraph 2.6. I would also like to amend reference to the AANA Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children to include a reference to paragraph 2.2

Objective of this complaint

Notwithstanding it is acknowledged that this promotion has concluded, the determination of the Bureau is sought. The objective, therefore, is that Woolworths and all its associated companies cease like marketing of their pokie gambling pubs to children in future.

Relevant materials

The following materials were attached:

Advertisement as it appeared in the Sunday Herald Sun - 1 November 2009. See above.

Screen capture of the top of the relevant web page of www.greatfoodgreatvalue.com.au


It is unlikely that this page will remain into December. I have also taken a capture that scrolls allowing viewing of the entire page. This is a large file that was difficult to provide by email to the Bureau by email. I created a YouTube video that you can view here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_5gOkvfZMc

Flyer distributed at Woolworths' associated pokie pubs and clubs replicating the advertisement
Flyer distributed at Woolworths' associated pokie pubs and clubs for Are You A Member - Tatt's Pokies.
Press advertisement Sunday Herald Sun - 4 October 2009
Kids Clubs promotion and benefits within advertised pokie pubs

An associate and I visited the Doncaster Hotel and Cherry Hill Tavern in the City of Manningham on 18 November 2009.

We observed large banners visible throughout the eating areas promoting the venue's Kids Club. They were placed in or near the child play area.

At the Doncaster Hotel (100 Pokies where gamblers average annual loss per pokie is $176,621) I recorded the promoted benefits of joining Kids Club. "Great Prizes, Competitions, Discount Birthday Parties, Special Events, Special Offers". At the same venue, there was a large display of toys in the shape of a Xmas stocking placed by the eating service area. The entry box nearby indicated entry for Kids Club members in a draw to win this prize. A full record of these visits can be seen at http://www.pokiewatch.org/page/Doncaster+Hotel - and - http://www.pokiewatch.org/page/Cherry+Hill+Tavern.

I visited a total of 23 Woolworths associated pubs or clubs in November 2009. I have visited over 80 of their Victorian pokie gambling venues on more than one occasion. I have observed a consistent pattern of aggressive on-site marketing of these pokie gambling venues to children over a two year period. I offered to provide further information.

The harmful nature of pokie gambling

In Advertising Standards Bureau case reports for the 2005 matters relating to Unitab (Complaints 249/05 and 341/05), the Bureau found as follows:
"The Board recognised gambling as capable of being addictive and accepted that a gambling addiction could be classified as an “illness”. As such, the Board was of the view that an advertisement that promoted gambling is potentially an issue that could affect health and safety."
Except for one venue, pokie gambling is conducted in every one of the advertised venues. I offered to provide particulars for each venue.

To further reduce doubt as to the harmful nature of pokie gambling for a significant proportion of pokie gamblers; please have regard to the factual findings as to the prevalence of problem gambling by pokie gamblers in the Productivity Commission's report. A copy of their draft report released 21 October 2009 can be downloaded here: http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/gambling-2009

Exposure of children to gambling inside advertised venues

Children are exposed to the sights and sounds of pokie gambling inside these venues. Particulars can be provided for each venue if required. In all but a few venues, children are exposed to either the sights or sounds of pokie gambling in the eating areas.

In this regard, the joint communication by the Hon Jenny Macklin and all State Ministers dated 10 July 2009 should be given weight. It states under the heading of "National Principles for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels" the following principle:
"Minors should not be allowed to gamble or be exposed to gambling areas within venues"
This is my emphasis..

Section 1.1(2)(ab) of the Victorian Gambling Regulation Act 2009 provides that an objective of the legislation is
"to ensure that minors are neither encouraged to gamble nor allowed to do so"
Woolworths have been urged but have specifically refused to restrict exposing children to pokie gambling within their associated Victorian venues.

Minors in Licensed Premises

Section 120 of the Victorian Liquor Control Reform Act provides:
"If a person under the age of 18 years-
(a) is on licensed premises or any authorised premises; and
(b) is not-
(i) in the company of a responsible adult; or
(ii) on the premises for the purpose of partaking of a meal; or
(iii) in the case of a licence under which accommodation is provided, a resident of those premises
the licensee or permittee is guilty of an offence."
It is therefore appears to be permissible for a venue to permit entry of a child into a licensed premises to have a meal unaccompanied by an adult.

Reference in the fine print of this advertisement is made to "this venue promotes the responsible service of gaming and alcohol." There is nothing in the Woolworths' associated Responsible Service of Alcohol policy that prohibits unaccompanied entry of children into their licensed premises. http://www.alhgroup.com.au/responsible_service.html. The only prohibition regarding minors is found in their Responsible Gambling Code of Conduct and that relates only to entry into the gambling room itself (paragraph 10).

The Complaint

This advertisement is directed primarily or, equally primarily to children for a "Kids Meal" and a "Kids Club". Both the "Kids Meal" and the "Kids Club" by their very characterisation have primary appeal to children. The typeface used for "Kids Club" reinforces this conclusion. In every configuration of this advertisement, press, online and in-venue the promotion directed towards children is given primary placement over the promotion to seniors. The advertisement directed primarily at seniors produced by the same company is provided so that the changed emphasis in the advertisement the subject of this complaint can be noted.

The pictures of the children are of minors under the age of 14 years.

There is no reference to adult supervision or prior adult permission in either the press advertisement, web site nor the flyer. These materials are attached to this email. As such, the advertisement undermines the authority, responsibility or judgement of parents.

The advertisement is placed in the Sunday Herald Sun. The newspaper has broad appeal to all ages. The advertisement was not placed in a section with primary adult appeal.

If a child responds positively to this advertisement, they will respectively:
  • purchase a Kids Meal at one of these pokie pubs or clubs, and
  • join the Kids Club at one of these pokie pubs or clubs
In both instances, children will be exposed to pokie gambling. In the event of the child joining the Kids Club, there is the likelihood of further promotions that intend to build the child's customer loyalty to the pokie venue. Amongst such promotions, as mentioned above, the child will be encouraged to participate in games of chance such as drawings for prizes.

As such, this advertisement to children contravenes community standards.

The advertisement is misleading as it is not clearly disclosed that these are venues where the business of pokie gambling is conducted. It is pure speculation that this omission is intentional so that the legal requirements relating to advertising of pokie gambling are avoided. Notwithstanding, such conclusion is arguable.

The marketing communication to children relates to a company that supplies alcoholic products via its licensed associated pokie hotels and clubs.

In Venue Gambling Reinforcement

In addition to the exposure to pokie gambling itself, children are being marketed gambling by other means inside these pokie gambling venues. This manifests itself in two objectively ascertainable

In such venues where the pokies are owned by Tattersall's; children will be exposed to parallel loyalty building schemes such as the "Are You A Member" scheme the subject of the promotion displayed on this blog. There are other loyalty schemes operated by Tabcorp and the venue. All have the objective of encouraging members to return to the pokie area and earn benefits by more frequent gambling. Both the Kids Meal / Kid Club and 'Are You A Member' promotions flyers have been observed being are prominently placed and re-designed as either 'table talkers', cashier handouts or posters in these Woolworths associated pokie pubs and clubs. It was not possible for me to provide a copy of the in-venue posters.
In several venues, a Kids Meal / Kids Club talker was observed on every table.

Children are encouraged to play coin operated games that emulate pokie gambling. Such games as branded "A Winner Every Time", "Win 'n' Grin", "Bonus Spin" and "Stacker". Concern about the free spin feature on pokies has been described as one of the addictive elements of pokie machines.

Manufacturer's descriptions of these coin operated games follow:
“Players play for large sized plush on one side and then watch the claw "automatically" move to the "winner" every time side if they fail to snag a good prize. Claw can be interchanged to accept candy or small beanie plush. Winner Every Time doesn't let anyone walk away empty handed! Repeat play is encouraged by the fantastic sounds and very attractive cabinet .... a guaranteed winner !”
Made by Innovative Concepts in Entertainment Inc. http://www.icegame.com/GameDetail.aspx?ProductID=40

“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.” http://www.laigames.com/comic_panels_htm/page00.htm
These coin operated games emulate the emotions of gambling on pokies and are targeted to children. Some, unlike pokies, reward “A Winner Every Time” while another “understands player's emotions and exploits their greed that makes them try and try again”.

These machines are typically placed so that they are visible to children in the eating area. In some cases, they are placed inside the child play area. In one instance, such machines (Westside Hotel, Laverton, Victoria) were placed no farther than 8 paces from the pokie room itself.

Normalisation

The exposure of children to pokie gambling inside these venues as a result of this advertisement / campaign is the normalisation of gambling.

Professor Charles Livingstone PhD MEc GradDipEconHist BA Senior Lecturer Department of Health Social Science Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University described the health risk as follows:
"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."
Please note that this statement concerns children being in these venues with adult family members and not the more extreme case where children enter on their own. I have observed unaccompanied children in an associated Woolworths pokie club.

I requested the ability to respond to any submission made on behalf of Woolworths or its associated company.

Friday, 27 November 2009

James Strong Misleads Shareholders

At yesterday's Woolworths Annual General Meeting, I put it to the shareholders that their Chairman has made misleading statements. As a consequence, I urged other shareholders to vote against his re-election. I summarised the mis-statements and referred to the fact that I had provided the Woolworths Company Secretary written details upon which I based my opinion. These written details are now disclosed in full. The quotes are Mr Strong's own written statements:
"Our participation in the hotel sector began in 2000 and originated from the different State and Territory liquor licensing laws which preclude us from opening retail liquor stores in Queensland without a hotel licence."
Firstly, it is incorrect to state that laws in other states or territories have an affect upon retail liquor licensing in Queensland. It would only be Queensland laws that regulate Queensland liquor licensing.

Secondly, there is nothing that precludes Woolworths from opening stores. Queensland laws do not prevent Woolworths from branding stores and earning a profit from the sale of liquor in Queensland. This practice is actively conducted by such groups marketing themselves as Thirsty Camel, Cellarbrations and Duncans by arrangement with individual proprietors. The applicability of this practice was confirmed by a report in the 20 November 2009 issue of the Australian Financial Review with respect to a proposed joint venture between Coles and Tabcorp.
"...we work hard to ensure that our venues operate to the highest standards, including the strict prohibition of minors from gambling areas. Compliance with these obligations is a matter of ongoing vigilance for our management team."
What I have seen, supports a contrary finding. There appears to be no "strict prohibition" nor an implemented policy of vigilance. On three occasions on two successive days (17 and 18 November 2009) I saw children in the gambling areas of Woolworths' associated venues. Not only were children present, but, in two instances, they were interacting with gambling products on offer.
  • Unaccompanied children in The Rex's TAB in Port Melbourne. The Rex is a pokie club associated with Woolworths. I questioned one of the boys outside. He said that the staff permits him to watch the races.
  • Child looking for 'father' thru the glass wall of the pokie room at the Highpoint Maribyrnong. She was standing in the area set up for Texas Hold'Em Poker.
  • Child collecting KENO gambling cards in front of the pokie area at the Pascoe Vale Taverner.

There was no venue staff interventions with any of these incidents. Pictures of all these incidents were attached. They the subject of this PokieAct.org blog and also this PokieAct.org blog.

It would be prudent to require, given Woolworths management's inability to implement the statements made in the 249P Response, that children be simply banned from Woolworths' pokie pubs and clubs. This lack of either careful management or constant monitoring not only contradicts statements made but also has implications for consumer trust in all Woolworths' operations including supermarkets.

I have urged Woolworths to adopt the National Principles yet the company has refused. This refusal diminishes the validity of the assertion of "highest standards". The Productivity Commission referred to the National Principles as "the lowest common denominator of measures" (8.12). In the light of this refusal, to properly inform Woolworths shareholders, it would be correct to state that "...we have refused to ensure that our venues operate even to the lowest common denominator of measures".
"I can assure shareholders that our gambling and liquor operations, as with all our operations, are carefully managed and constantly monitored."

At the last AGM I raised the matter of Woolworths associated venue, the QBH in Melbourne, in the context of the safety of their venues and the quality of Woolworths' pub management. This venue had been the scene of two unlawful killings within the space of 15 months. I quoted the Victorian Assistant Commissioner of Police stating "QBH clearly have to have a look at their own behaviour." Mr Luscombe assured shareholders that this and other matter were to be taken under advisement. Despite Mr Luscombe's words the reality is that little if anything was done. My warnings went unheeded.

The reported facts is that according to the Victorian Director of Liquor Licensing, patrons were able to buy the "equivalent of a bottle of Johnnie Walker, a bottle of spirits". "It hardly meets the responsible serving of alcohol principles to supply a bottle of spirits at the strength of volume of alcohol in an unregulated way".

See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/2am-lockout-for-troubled-nightspot-qbh-20090325-99tf.html

On the other hand, if we are to accept the Chairman's words at face value, these operations are "carefully managed and constantly monitored". If this practice is condoned by the Woolworths Board then it is a practice that is both imprudent and reckless. The existence of security cameras does not excuse irresponsible service of alcohol in this self described "beacon of violence" using Mr Mathieson's own words. Pursuit of sales should not take priority over patron safety. The result was a brawl in which 23 people, including 10 security staff, were injured. Undeterred, only a few weeks, Woolworths associated management promoted a kick boxing event at the same venue called "Mother's Day Mayhem". The reported implication was that management were marketing this event utilising the venue's reputation for violence to those who would be attracted to such reputation.

See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/mothers-day-mayhem-sends-wrong-message-20090414-a5eq.html

It should be noted that in failing to adopt the National Principles, in Victoria, Woolworths' has failed to adopt the Principle that "alcohol should not be served to patrons while they are at a gaming machine" even though this is the practice in other states. This failure is irresponsible, imprudent and reckless.
"We understand that for a small minority of people, liquor and gambling can have the potential to cause harm. However for the vast majority, these are enjoyed as recreational activities."

Such statements have been characterised by the Productivity Commission as "misleading". A similar statement made by the Australian Hotel Association was of specific concern to the Productivity Commission. The following are quoted factual findings from the Productivity Commission's 2009 report that urge consideration of the relevant population (their italics page 7.15):

“Two thirds of Australian adults do not play gaming machines at all in any given year, and most of those that do, do not play regularly. … the average estimated prevalence rate of problem gambling among regular gaming machine players is close to 20 per cent.”

“About 5 per cent of adults play weekly or more often on gaming machines:
  • Around 15 per cent of this group are ‘problem gamblers’ and their share of total spending is estimated to range around 40 per cent.
  • A further 15 per cent of pokie players face ‘moderate risks’.”
“adult population prevalence rates can be misleading about the extent of problem gambling — the key concern is the proportion of regular gamblers who have problems.”

The Productivity Commission's own manner of consideration of pokie gambling prevalence can be applied to Woolworths' own pokie gambling business. There is significant research in Victoria where over half of Woolworths' associated pokie operations are located. In September 2009 the Victorian government released an Epidemiological Study where 15,000 people were surveyed:

See: http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/DOJ+Internet/Home/Gambling+and+Racing/Research+and+Statistics/JUSTICE+-+A+Study+of+Gambling+in+Victoria+-+Problem+Gambling+from+a+Public+Health+Perspective+(PDF)

The finding was that 0.7% of Victorians are problem gamblers and 2.36% of Victorians are moderate risk gamblers. These numbers relate to the whole Victorian population.

The Productivity Commission made the following statement with respect to the whole Australian population:
"These current prevalence estimates translate to around 0.75 per cent and 1.7 per cent of the adult population for problem and moderate risk gambling respectively. That looks small. However, to put these figures in context, around 0.15 per cent of the population are admitted to hospital each year for traffic accidents. Small prevalence rates do not mean small problems. The evidence suggests continuing large costs to society associated with problem gambling"

Based upon statistics available for the Victorian Gambling Commission's web site, the Woolworths/Mathieson Victorian pokie operations accounted for about 25% of the total number of Victorian pokies but about 33% of money lost on Victorian pokies.

Based on money lost (arguably the only measure) somewhere around 30,000 Victorians are either problem or moderate risk gamblers as a result of pokie gambling in Woolworths/Mathieson associated pokie pubs or clubs.

I attached a pdf which is reproduced below. Click on the image to read. It sets out the Victorian government 2009 findings that 27.06% of problem gamblers have considered suicide in the last year. 91.04% of Victorian problem gamblers participate in pokies. 77.24 of the moderate risk gamblers participate in pokies.Chairman Strong used the words 'warped or not a fair presentation' to describe the effort to minimise the harm of Woolworths' pokie business. Click here to read about the Lateline Business Report and watch the video of Ali Moore interviewing Mr Strong.

What is truly warped is to engage in a business that sends people to crime or causes so many to contemplate suicide.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Why The Secrecy?

At the 2007 Woolworths' Annual General Meeting, CEO Michael Luscombe talked about the self barring ("self-exclusion") facilities that exist in all of their pokie venues. It seems that although Mr Luscombe wanted to tell shareholders about this facility, he doesn't want problem gamblers to know about it. Here's what Mr Luscombe said:
"We do have facilities for self barring in all of our hotels. (Is that right, Bruce? Right?)"
In the year between the 2007 and 2008 AGMs, I visited all of Woolworths Victorian associated pokie pubs and clubs. I do not recall one instance where the opportunity of self-exclusion was promoted. Not sure why they keep it a secret.

In South Australia self exclusion is not a secret. Woolies place A4 sized signs up in their S.A. venues warning already self excluded gamblers to report to the duty manager. This seems to be a cost effective measure targeted at problem gamblers. It takes no more than a word processor, a home printer and a bit of sticky tape to effect this measure. It would not affect recreational gamblers.

Because Woolworths, for some reason, seemed incapable of solving this problem in Victoria, at the last AGM, I printed off 100 A4 sized notices and promised to deliver them to Woolworths' Chief Counsel Peter Horton. Here's what they looked like:Even though my expectation of a response was low, I was disappointed that I got no response at all to a measure that would cost so little but perhaps make a difference to a problem gambler.

The lack of action on the part of Woolworths left me with the impression that despite their statements of highest standards and community service that Woolworths would do nothing to reduce the harm caused to problem gamblers unless they were legislatively required to do so. Not only was this hypocritical, but irresponsible.

It gets worse.

Subsequent Victorian laws required that a self-exclusion programme must be brought into effect by 1 June 2009. Such a program would become a license condition and the gambling commission will be able to take disciplinary action if there are repeated breaches of such program.

Part of Section 3 of the Self Exclusion Program in place at Woolworths associated venues states:
The provision of information to customers
A self-exclusion program must detail:
a. how the venue operator will ensure that customers are made aware of the availability of a self-exclusion program
b. how information about a self-exclusion program will be made available to customers
(a & b) Information on Self-exclusion
Persons (customers) will be able to access information which allows them to be aware of the availability of Self-exclusion. This can be done via relevant brochures on Self-exclusion provided by gaming venues. An updated information brochure is currently under construction.
No brochure focused upon self-exclusion has been produced. However, to satisfy this requirement, Victorian pokie venues display business cards typically by the cashier that are produced by the Australian Hotels Association. Here's what that card looks like:

From 8 November until 19 November 2009, I visited 26 Woolworths/Mathieson associated pubs and clubs. 11 venues failed to display these cards. This is not a measure that requires sophisticated staff training. Here's a list of the hotels visited and the dates and times of the inspection:
8 November 2009
12:27 Sandown Park Hotel

10 November 2009
12:50 Ashley Hotel
1:45 Westend Tavern
2:25 Glengala Hotel
6:11 Sylvania Hotel

18 November 2009
4:45 Courthouse Hotel (Footscray)
5:14 Powell Hotel
5:35 Highpoint Taverner
6:16 Royal Hotel (Essendon)
7:30 First & Last Hotel

19 November 2009
4:12 Shoppingtown Hotel
At the associated Deer Park Hotel, the cards were placed in a holder with other brochures atop the ATM. Here's a picture.At the Pascoe Vale Taverner, cards were placed in the same holder as brochures promoting the venue's membership scheme.

I submited to the VCGR that these practices do not comply with the requirements of their approved self-exclusion program.

It gets worse.

At the associated Westmeadow Tavern management had placed the self-exclusion notices in a card holder promoting the 05.com.au service where patrons could get their drivers license back despite having lost their license for drunk driving. There was also a cardholder with cards for 05.com.au. While not commenting upon the substance of the 05.com.au practice, this is not a good promotional pitch to send to people whose pokie gambling problems are so severe that they feel the solution is to exclude themselves.

Such continued failures contradict statements of concerned management given by Messrs. Strong & Luscombe. If the organisation can not even place cards in a card holder by a cashier, then one can only speculate upon what other practices may be lacking in their other business.

For example, is the Fresh Food really fresh?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Children at Woolworths Pokie Pubs

Two days ago I witnessed unaccompanied children in a Woolworths associated pokie club. Yesterday, I visited 10 Woolworths associated venues and observed 2 instances of children interacting with the gambling Woolworths offers in a clearly unacceptable way. Have a look at this heartbreaking picture from the Highpoint Hotel in the Highpoint shopping centre in Maribyrnong.This picture is of a little girl waiting for a man that I observed to be likely her father, to stop pokie gambling, come back out of the pokie room to re-join her and her mother. This room was set up for the Wednesday night Texas Hold 'Em tournament.

The next picture was taken at the Pascoe Vale Hotel.This young girl was walking around tables collecting KENO cards. The open passageway to the pokie room and the vision of the pokies is only a few steps behind her.

This is 3 venues out of 11 visited in a period of two days where there have been incidents of unacceptable interaction between children and gambling at Woolworths' pokie venues.

Based upon these events it seems clear despite statements of responsibility made by both CEO Michael Luscombe and Chairman James Strong, that Woolworths do not responsibly manage these facilities. As a result of these observations, my view is that Messrs. Luscombe and Strong are either misinforming shareholders deliberately or have been ill advised by lower management of their own practices.

In the Chairman's formal response to the 249P statement he stated:
"...we work hard to ensure that our venues operate to the highest standards, including the strict prohibition of minors from gambling areas"
Surely, this statement can not be maintained. In less than two days minors have been observed unaccompanied in a TAB, a poker room watching pokie gambling through glass wall and picking up KENO cards - all in Woolworths' associated venues.

Chairman Strong should not only withdraw this statement but also apologise to shareholders.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Unaccompanied Children in Woolies' Pokie Club

Today, 17 November, 2009, I watched two young boys enter The Rex pokie club in Port Melbourne unaccompanied by any adult. This pokie club is associated with Woolworths.
Here's a photograph of the two boys walking on their own through the TAB section.The boys walked to the back of the TAB and sat down in front of the race monitors in full view of venue staff. After a few minutes, without any intervention from venue staff they walked out. No one spoke to them.
Once outside, I told the boys that they should not be inside. Their response was that they had permission from the venue to walk inside and watch the races.

Is this right?

There is nothing in the Tabcorp Responsible Gaming Code prohibiting unaccompanied children from being inside a TAB outlet. Maybe Woolworths consider it OK for children to be watching horse racing on their own inside their TABs.

I don't. Neither should Woolworths.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Romsey Hotel Decision

On 16 September 2008, this blog began with the first day of the VCAT hearings characterising the matter as "the longest sustained effort to bring pokies to a community that doesn't want them." That effort most likely ended yesterday as Justice Kevin Bell agreed with the community.

Click here to read a copy of the decision.

The decision is an inspiration for those who believe that taking social action will conclude with a positive result. The determination of former Macedon Ranges Mayor John Connor to see the matter through is to be admired. John acted on his genuine belief about pokies. It was more than just talk.
Beyond its inspirational effect, what is the real impact of the Romsey decision? Unfortunately, it has failed to make impact on either the VCGR or the Victorian government.

Since Romsey, the VCGR has made poor decisions in Ballarat RSL and Matthews Flinders cases. In failing in both instances to have due regard to the impact on local communities, the VCGR have acted contrary to Justice Bell's judgement that
"In the early cases, the commission said that meant the focus must be on district-wide community impacts. It is clear now that is not correct. Macedon Ranges Shire Council v Romsey Hotel Pty Ltd held the test applies to the district community ‘or any part or parts of it’. A social impact, therefore, is an ‘impact on the society or community (or some part or parts of it) in which the gaming machines are proposed to be located.’ "
In the Ballarat RSL matter, the VCGR failed to have literal regard to the sub-districts of Sebastopol and Buninyong. As a result, it made bad findings on the likely increase of pokie losses in the Ballarat community.

I failed in my endeavour to have the Ballarat RSL decision reviewed.

Worse was the Matthew Flinders decision where despite community opposition summarised in paragraph 109 of that decision that no regard whatsoever was given to the decision of Warren CJ, Maxwell P and Osborn AJA in Macedon Ranges Shire Council v Romsey Hotel Pty Ltd. In that matter, the City of Monash's view of the community of that venue was disregarded and and information survey submitted by Woolworths' was accepted despite being qualified by Woolworths' own consultant. See paragraphs 76-78 on pages 30-33, paragraphs 93-94 on page 38, par 100 on page 41 and paragraph 105 on page 42.

I submitted 8 grounds to the Council upon which the City of Monash could have appealed the bad Matthew Flinders decision. I failed in my efforts to get the City to take action. I was informed that because of legal costs, the City was not interested in an appeal. Monash's lack of resolve compares poorly to the determination of the Shire of Macedon Ranges against far larger odds.

The prospect of enormous legal bills is the Victorian pokie industry's most effective weapon.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign

Does anyone remember the Five Man Electrical Band and their early 1971 hit Signs? Here's the lyrics from the chorus:
Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
With the goal of minimising the harm of pokie gambling, the Victorian government has researched, designed and published a sign to be placed on every pokie. But from what I saw last week, Woolworths resists even this effort to slow down their revenue stream from the addicted.

Have a look at this picture from the Braybrook Hotel, a Woolworths associated pokie pub in Maribyrnong, Victoria.The sign with impeded vision, affixed to the top box of the pokie is the sign prescribed by Regulation 17 of the Victorian gambling regulations. It's the sign Woolworths does not want the gambler to see.

The sign right next to the animated reels of the pokies, where gamblers will see it while gambling, spruicks food available for purchase.

Remember that in 2007, Michael Luscombe boasted that:
"On all of our gaming machines there are signs talking about the fact that you cannot win on those machines, right in front of the face of that area. We don’t allow people to eat in those areas."
Clearly this no longer applies in November 2009. Maybe it never did.

By putting other signs on the pokie and placing the Regulation 17 sign to a less visible place, the Woolworths associated pokie pub demonstrates Woolworths' intent to obscure the message targeted to the problem gambler.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Truth Time for Pokie Clubs

Anthony Ball is the Executive Manager, Policy and Government for ClubsNSW. According to the ClubsNSW web site, Mr Ball is "responsible for ensuring Governments (State, Commonwealth and Local) are sensitive to the needs and circumstances of clubs and their stakeholders." I'm not sure that Mr Ball is doing his job. What he said on the 7:30 Report this week was either inaccurate or the Sydney Juniors Pokie Club is breaking the law.Here's what Mr Ball said:
"Well, legislation already says that kids can't be in gambling areas or in bar areas for that matter. They are quite distinct areas of the club"
Here's a picture I took at Sydney Juniors on 12 October.If this sign is correct and children attend events at the Sydney Juniors' auditorium then children are required to pass through the gaming lounge. So let's have a look at the Sydney Juniors web site and see if there are any events children might attend at this Pokie Club's auditorium.

Sure enough. There are.

There's "Eurofest" on 15 November:There's "A Jolly Christmas" on 20 December:There's more. Click here to check out the other shows at Sydney Junior's Auditorium.

That entrance arrangement at the Sydney Juniors pokie club could have changed and I would be wrong. But if it did not then either Mr Ball was giving the 7:30 Report the wrong advice or Sydney Juniors is breaking the law.... as Mr Ball sees the law.

My opinion is that Mr Ball was carelessly providing the wrong advice to the 7:30 Report. What he says applies to NSW pokie hotels but not pokie clubs. If I'm right, then can we believe anything he says about ClubsNSW? In particular, we should no longer accept that these pokie clubs will responsibly care for the thousands of problem gamblers that their pokie gambling business likely create.

The solution is that the key point of the Productivity Commission $1 per button push, no more than $120 loss per hour and $20 limit on cash acceptors should be implemented straight away... before these pokie clubs create even more problem gamblers.

And despite what Mr Ball may tell you, there's hard government research that recreational gamblers will be just fine with this vital reform.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pokie Club's Garbage Infofest

Last night's 7:30 Report lead story was on how pokie venues breed new gamblers. During the segment, representatives of the pokie club industry made some questionable statements.

Click here to read a transcript of the 7:30 Report and watch the video.


1. Anthony Ball "Well, legislation already says that kids can't be in gambling areas or in bar areas for that matter. They are quite distinct areas of the club."

UNTRUE
Legislation restricting exposure to pokies applies to NSW hotels but not clubs.
At the Burwood RSL pokies were located in the queue area for where they presented the ABC Play School event. Children filed right past the pokies on the way to the show.
I had a look at Sydney Juniors and found pokies located all over the venue including in the entranceway to the auditorium where they present family entertainment.


2. Question: "Do you think there is any harm in kids seeing or hearing poker machines?

Answer: Anthony Ball "No I don't think there is. Its akin to a kid, perhaps, seeing someone eat a Big Mac and jumping to the conclusion that they're going to be obese as an adult. It's nonsense."
UNINFORMED
The views of Professor Livingstone should not be discounted. Nor should the logic of what was presented during the 7:30 Report segment. Research is beginning to emerge. Here's an extract from a 2008 study by the Nova Scotia government:
"Even more important is the growing trend towards adolescents having increased exposure to high-risk gambling at a household level either online, on television or through adult’s gambling behaviour. Such exposure normalizes the behaviours and appears to be associated with increased harm and risk for youth."
This is not 'nonsense'.


3. Keith McCraw, South Juniors "The shareholders in the club industry are members in the community. And all proceeds go back into our membership and the community"


CONFUSES THE TRUTH
Have a look at the case of the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club Limited v Commissioner of Taxation. Click here to read the case. This case was brought by the club seeking tax exemption. The club's own argument was that it was "A club established for the encouragement of a game or sport". The Queensland University notes on this case state:
"the Club's lawyers pointed out that approximately seventy to eighty percent of the Club's profit in the relevant years was returned to the South Sydney District Junior Rugby Football League Limited and "the Rabbitohs", South Sydney District's senior rugby league team"
So the proceeds seem to go to the Rabbitohs if we are to believe South Juniors own lawyers. But the Tribunal found that the focus was on the benefits of club membership.
"... the members were primarily or solely interested in the numerous and various benefits obtainable from membership of the Club"
Other than a 1.5% donation requirement, there was little to be found about the community. The question would be better answered by having a look at the Juniors' financial statements. Unlike other clubs, I could not find them posted on their web site.


4. Do the pokie losses raked in by Pokie Clubs outweigh what the Pokie Clubs put back?

NOT SURE
The Productivity Commission report on not-for-profits stated:
"The other competitive neutrality issue raised is in regard to registered clubs and the considerable benefit they derive from concessional treatment of gaming revenue by their state or territory, benefits not available to hotels and other operators. Clubs do provide valuable community benefits through their support of community activities, but it is unclear that the benefit delivered is sufficient to warrant the concessional gaming tax treatment, given their impact on competitive neutrality.
The Commission has not made draft recommendations in these areas which will be subject to more detailed examination as part of the Australian Future Tax System Review."
That's the Productivity Commission's emphasis not mine. Click here to have a read. Go to page xxxi.

It would be a significant blow to public perception of Australia's Pokie Clubs if it were found that what they give back is not worth what they take out.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Woolworths' Care Less Response

Woolworths' Board of Directors responded to their own shareholders call for reform to their pokie practices. It is a truly frightening show of these people's lack of human care for the harm their business causes. Rather than even attempting to embrace reform, Chairman Strong's words seek to demean the concern and trivialize the damage of Woolworths' enormous pokie gambling empire.
Click on the image below to read Woolworths' response:Chairman Strong's spruick that they work hard to ensure that their venues "operate to the highest standards" is no more than a statement of unfulfilled intention. They don't even meet their own standards on such trivial matters as complying with CEO Luscombe's claim that:
"On all of our gaming machines there are signs talking about the fact that you cannot win on those machines, right in front of the face of that area"
There are no such signs in South Australia, New South Wales nor in the Queensland pokie pubs I've been to operated by Woolworths. On some occasions signs are "right in front of the face.." On many other occasions, they are not.

Chairman Strong's characterisation of pokie gambling having only a potential to cause harm to a small minority of people misrepresents the enormous number of people who are actually affected. Here's the facts coming from Victoria's Department of Justice September 2009 Epidemiological Study where 15,000 Victorians were surveyed. Applying their findings to the Victorian adult population you get the result of
  • 29,212 problem gamblers
  • 98,486 moderate risk gamblers
  • 91.04% of problem gamblers participate in pokies
  • 77.24 of the moderate risk gamblers participate in pokies.
This is a lot of people.

At $902,318,920, Woolworths/Mathieson associated venues are responsible for 33% of Victoria's total pokie losses (even tho' they operate less than 25% of the pokies). This is an enormous amount of losses.

How can Chairman Strong claim anything about "highest standards" when they refuse to comply with the "lowest common denominator of measures". Incredibly, Woolworths' refuse to even commit to an intention to comply with the statement of National Principles for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels. These principles were agreed to by the Federal Minister and all State Ministers. The Principles are so undemanding that they were recently characterised by the hard nosed economists of the Productivity Commission as being evident of "the lowest common denominator of measures".

Intentions are disclosed by action. Here's a half page colour advertisement that appeared in yesterday's Sunday Herald Sun.Woolworths doing nothing to reduce let alone eliminate child exposure to pokie gambling. Quite the opposite. They continue to actively market to lure children into their associated pokie pubs and clubs.

It would seem that Chairman Strong and Woolworths board of directors care less (in more than one sense) about their conduct of Australia's largest pokie gambling business.