Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Truth About Pre-Commitment Reform Advertisement

Here is a copy of the advertisement the subject of newspaper articles in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.So that readers can experience the advocacy underway by the NSW pokie clubs, click on the image and have a read of what the Mt Pritchard pokies club (Mounties) is sending to their members.Please bear with me and wade through some more "Truths" that balance the discourse.

Full Pre-commitment is is not an Andrew Wilkie creation nor an "outrageous policy" of Nick Xenophon. It is the key solution recommended after 11 years of study by the Productivity Commission as the best means to target problem pokie gamblers. All interested in the pokie gambling were welcome to put submissions. Representatives of ClubsNSW were fully consulted and heard both publicly and privately.

Adult prevalence rates be misleading according to the Productivity Commission. My view is that the statement made by the CEO of Sydney Juniors "It's a shame that the 99.6% of the community that gamble responsibly have to be over regulated for the .4% that don't" is misleading. I've reproduced their finding on this point below:
"Adult prevalence rates can be misleading
It is commonplace to represent prevalence estimates as shares of the adult population, but these figures can be highly misleading.
Currently adult prevalence rates are 0.7 percent and 1.7 percent of the adult population for problem and moderate risk gambling respectively. That looks small — and indeed some segments of the industry have suggested that consequently the social policy significance of such problems is also small. However, to put these figures in context, only around 0.15 per cent of the population are admitted to hospital each year for traffic accidents and around 0.2 per cent of the population are estimated to have used heroin in the preceding year. Small population prevalence rates do not mean small problems for society."
The better measure is people gambling regularly on pokies. Again, I'll reproduce the self-explanatory findings of the Productivity Commission:
"While the results vary by surveys, it is estimated that around:
– 600 000 Australian adults (just under 4 per cent) play the pokies weekly or more.
– 15 per cent (95 000) of this group are ‘problem gamblers’. A further 15 per cent of pokie players face ‘moderate risks’."
I have been to many NSW pokie clubs and many more pokie clubs and pubs. I understand what the IPART report said (based upon ClubsNSW own figures) about the value of clubs and the bulk of their "value" comprises of discounts on goods or services e.g. a cheap beer, a cheap parma or a cheap game of snooker for members. For this, Clubs benefit from a lower rate of state pokie taxes, full tax deductions for community donations (and even these may comprise only of services - not cash), land leased for peppercorn rents from local councils, as mutuals no Federal income tax on member derived income (this includes pokie gambling losses) and as sporting bodies, no income tax at all.
They enjoy an advantage on small businesses.
And they are whining for more subsidies. And, as we know, the Coalition has caved to this whining.
All the while, by their own admission, problem gamblers lose $800 million per annum gambling on ClubsNSW pokies.

A pre-commitment device is not mandatory for casual gamblers. Everyone does not have to set a limit. To say that this is the case misrepresents not only the Productivity Commission report but also Federal government policy. Here's what Jenny Macklin actually said:
"We also want to minimise the impact on occasional players and overseas visitors. The Productivity Commission’s model would allow occasional gamblers to play outside the pre-commitment system, by purchasing a pre-paid card for example."
Club NSW members should know about the points in my ad and I was prepared to put my money where my mouth is.

It seems that The Australian agrees that pokie reform is due. Click here to read today's editorial under the title of "Fostering responsible gambling". Or simply keep reading as I have reproduced the editorial in its entirety below:
JULIA Gillard has good reason to hold her ground as licensed clubs step up their campaign against the government's proposal.

That is, the government's proposal to mandate "pre-commitment" technology on poker machines in 2012 if the states fail to do so. The proliferation of poker machines in pubs in some states suggests that the gambling industry is rather good at getting its own way, especially when governments are too weak or too cash-strapped to resist. We trust the federal government is made of stronger stuff, but it should guard against rushing into half-baked measures that create problems and later have to be reversed.

Ultimately, individuals are responsible for their own spending, but pre-commitment technology fosters individual responsibility. Poker machines would be electronically linked across Australia, and players would be obliged to place a binding limit on how much they are prepared to lose. Such decisions are far better made in a rational manner before the first push of the button.

Offending the clubs and hotel lobbies will be deeply unpopular in sections of the Labor Party, which has long benefited from generous political donations from the industry. The states, which are more addicted to poker machines than the most hardened gambler, would also oppose any move that forced them to cut spending to offset the revenue losses that would flow from a reduction in gaming revenue, which provides virtual rivers of gold. In NSW, for example, gambling accounted for $1.6 billion last year, providing 8.6 per cent of revenue.

Pre-commitment technology would hardly be draconian in light of the Productivity Commission's finding that of the 600,000 Australians who play poker machines weekly, almost one in six players -- about 95,000 people -- are problem gamblers. The commission found that playing a single machine at high intensity, it was easy to lose $1500 in an hour -- a level of loss that hurts many families and individuals, especially in poorer outer-metropolitan suburbs and regional centres with heavy concentrations of pokies. The opposition wants pre-commitment to be voluntary. Unfortunately, it is the very people who most need help who would be likely to resist. Problem gambling and sensible poker machine regulation warrant a mature community debate, which is under way.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Dazed and Confused Victorian Liberals

It's as if they stumbled into the light after years in a cave, the Victorian Liberals have a confused sense what to do about John Brumby's failed pokie policies that have left Victoria with the worst problem gambling prevalence of any Australian state. Despite a misleading headline, one hopes that the editorial correctly describes the dissension between Premier Ted Balleiu and Gaming Minister Michael O'Brien when it revealed:
"Mr O'Brien's comments opposing the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment appear to place him at odds with Mr Baillieu, who suggested in the state election campaign that mandatory pre-commitment should be introduced ''as soon as practicable''."
The Premier is right and Mr O'Brien wrong. Click here to read the full article.

The first misconception promoted by Mr O'Brien about the Federal Government's policy is that it is something made up between Andrew Wilkie and Julia Gillard. This is wrong. The Federal Government's policy is no more than an adoption of the key full pre-commitment recommendation of the Productivity Commission.

The second misconception is that all pokie gamblers will be required to participate in the pre-commitment system to gamble. Wrong, again. Mr O'Brien clearly did not read the Commission's final report or Jenny Macklin's speech where she said:
"We also want to minimise the impact on occasional players and overseas visitors. The Productivity Commission’s model would allow occasional gamblers to play outside the pre-commitment system, by purchasing a pre-paid card for example."
Put another way, the Commission has carefully designated the moment when dangerous gambling might begin. It is at that point when the gambler must make a pre-commitment decision.

Remember this is the very same Commission, Mr O'Brien's party wants to review the $34 billion NBN plan. How can they be so right for NBN, but, apparently so wrong on pokie gambling?

The answer is that they are right for both.

Mr O'Brien must do the right thing and applaud the Commission's recommendation about recreational gamblers and undertake effective Victorian implementation.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Jenny Macklin's Jupiter Casino Speech

As much has been written about the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs speech, everyone should read the issued text and make up their own minds as to its meaning and impact reconfirming the government's resolve to implement mandatory full pre-committment. It was delivered on 1 December 2010 at the 20th Annual Conference of the National Association for Gambling Studies. There is a terrific shift in language. See if you spot the omitted expression.
"I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Kombumerri people, and pay my respects to their Elders both past and present. In particular, I pay my respects to Mr Graham Dillon, an Elder from the Kombumerri people who I understand is here today.

It’s great to be here today.

I’m told the NAGS conference really is the who’s who of gambling. Including industry, government officials, regulators and of course, academics and researchers in this field.

As I’m sure everyone in this room is aware, the Australian Government has embarked on some major reforms to tackle problem gambling. Our reforms are primarily targeted at improving the safety of poker machines for players.

Some of you may think this is a new area for the Australian Government to be moving in. And it’s absolutely correct that the regulation of gambling and poker machines has predominately been a state responsibility. But we have been working on this issue for some time.

In 2008, in our first term, the Australian Government, together with the states and territories, asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an independent inquiry into gambling, with a specific focus on problem gambling and harm-reduction measures. This inquiry was a follow-up to the Productivity Commission’s comprehensive investigation into gambling in Australia in 1999. This was a major piece of work.

The report - released in June this year - found that gambling is an important industry that is valued by many Australians. The gambling industry plays a significant role in our economy, including by supporting the hospitality and tourism industries. More than 145,000 people are employed in the industry, many in our regional cities and towns. Most Australians like to gamble, whether it’s the occasional flutter at the races, buying a lottery ticket, playing the pokies or a night out at the casino. Clubs and pubs are popular, friendly venues where Australians like to get together. For many people, gambling is an enjoyable thing to do while socialising with friends and family. And when they gamble Australians spend a lot of money – between 2008 and 2009 Australians spent $19 billion on gambling, almost $12 billion of it playing poker machines.

For most, gambling is an enjoyable form of recreation. Yet for a significant minority it is a highly destructive problem. There are between 80,000 and 160,000 Australians with a serious gambling problem.

Many of these people are gambling away their entire income – destroying their own lives and their family’s lives. They suffer mental and physical health problems, find it difficult to hold down jobs, are often in debt to support their gambling and can barely maintain relationships. And what is more distressing is that problem gambling disproportionately affects people who are already financially vulnerable. Australian studies have found that the highest rates of problem gambling are among 18-24 year olds.

And a high proportion of adult problem gamblers report they developed gambling problems during their teenage years.

We also know that gambling is becoming more attractive to women. Before the introduction of poker machines, women accounted for one in ten problem gamblers. Now it’s one in three.

At its worst problem gambling destroys lives.

In a horrific case, a young Northern Territory teenager died from an abscess on her leg because her foster carer – her great-aunt who had a severe gambling problem - neglected her. In the month of her niece’s death, the carer withdrew more than $13,000 from the ATM at the Darwin Casino, and was a frequent visitor. On the night before her niece died she stayed at the casino until 12.30 am. Her lack of care for her niece on that day and before her death was inexcusable but was in some part due to her gambling problem. It wasn’t until after the girl’s death that police found that the woman had lost $1.6 million over four and half years playing the pokies.

Problem gambling can be life absorbing. It takes up people’s time, uses their money and distracts them from responsibilities such as caring for their children or work.

There is persuasive evidence that poker machines need to be made safer.

Forty per cent of all money spent on Australian poker machines is spent by problem gamblers, even though they only make up 15 per cent of players. Problem gamblers spend an average of $21,000 a year on gambling. That’s a lot of money by anyone’s standards – money that isn’t being spent on food, the mortgage or paying off bills. This is not acceptable. We want gambling to be safe and enjoyable for everyone who wants to play.

The Productivity Commission’s advice is that the best way to make gambling safer is to focus on people playing regularly on riskier forms of gambling. That means focusing on people who regularly bet on poker machines, because it is people in this group who are at the highest risk of developing a gambling problem. Three-quarters of people classified as severe problem gamblers play poker machines. And other regular poker machine players, not necessarily categorised as problem gamblers, may be at risk.

A New South Wales study found that people who play the pokies regularly – at least once a week - are estimated to lose on average between $7000 and $8000 a year on poker machines. These people face the highest risk of developing a gambling problem. Effective measures to reduce the harm for problem gamblers can also make poker machines a safer product for all players.

The accessibility of poker machines in Australia rapidly increased in the 1990s. But, the Productivity Commission found that our protections for players remain inadequate. Poker machines are easy to use and even easier to find – we have nearly 200,000 poker machines in pubs, clubs and casinos across the country. We know that people often start playing poker machines because they are located in safe, friendly places like clubs and pubs where people like to get together to socialise. These also happen to be places that are open for long hours.

The machines are also a lot more sophisticated than they used to be. It is now possible to play them with extraordinary intensity, so people can bet faster and more frequently. At high intensity it’s easy to lose $1500 or more in an hour.

In June when the Government released our initial response to the Productivity Commission report, I indicated that our first priority would be to progress a nationally consistent pre-commitment model for poker machines. This is based on the Productivity Commission’s recommendations that pre-commitment is a strong, feasible and effective approach to reduce the harm from problem gambling. I also announced then that we would approach the states and territories to establish a new high-level Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Select Council of Ministers on Gambling Reform.

Our support for poker machine reform including pre-commitment has not changed. Neither has our determination to work with industry, the states and territories, researchers and the community, to get it right.

Central to our reforms is our support for a full pre-commitment scheme on all machines that is uniform across all states and territories. As agreed between the Prime Minister and the Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, we will be working with the states and territories to begin bringing in pre-commitment arrangements in 2012, with the full scheme commencing in 2014.

We also support the Productivity Commission recommendations on dynamic warning and cost of play displays on poker machines. And we have committed to implementing a $250 daily withdrawal limit for ATMs in venues with poker machines, except casinos.

Each of these three commitments is evidence based, and recommended by the Productivity Commission.

The Government is well aware that a full pre-commitment scheme across all states and territories is a challenging reform, and I want to focus on this reform today. The Government supports pre-commitment because we agree with the Productivity Commission that this is the most targeted and effective measure to help problem gamblers and those at risk, without adversely impacting on recreational gamblers.

The idea behind pre-commitment is that we can use technology to give people a tool, at the beginning of a gambling session, to think about how much they want to spend, set limits and stick to them. This is not about taking away people’s responsibility for their own behaviour, or the Government controlling people’s money. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s about providing a tool to help people make informed decisions to better manage their own money and exercise personal responsibility.

The Productivity Commission recognised that a well designed system is critical to its effectiveness. A well-designed pre-commitment scheme should give problem gamblers and those at risk greater control, while letting other players continue to enjoy playing the pokies. The design of the scheme is also critical to ensuring that clubs, pubs and casinos continue to make a significant contribution to community life, and Australia’s economy.

The Commonwealth supports a full pre-commitment system based on the recommendations of the Productivity Commission. Under the model recommended by the Productivity Commission, players can set the limit as high or low as they like. Players could of course change their limits periodically, but would not be able to revoke or increase them within their agreed set period. And players could choose no limit at all if they prefer.

We also want to minimise the impact on occasional players and overseas visitors. The Productivity Commission’s model would allow occasional gamblers to play outside the pre-commitment system, by purchasing a pre-paid card for example.

We support a full pre-commitment scheme because all the evidence shows that voluntary schemes aren’t as effective.

Much has been made in the media of pre-commitment technology and how it would work. Pre-commitment requires some form of technology to identify the player and their chosen limits and preferences. This can take a number of forms, however, most of the Australian trials so far have used a card system. This would require players to register, just like they do now for loyalty programs in gaming venues.

Some have suggested this would spoil the fun of everyone who wants to play the machines whether they have a gambling problem or not. I’m not convinced of this.

Requirements for identification are widespread in gambling industries already. Many venues, such as clubs, already require players to be members or sign in at the venue before they can play poker machines. I’ve recently visited a large regional club and a casino that both are already using card readers on their poker machines as part of their loyalty programs. People have cards for all sorts of things, including for their club membership or to borrow a book from the library, or rent a DVD from the video store. Pre-commitment would be no different.

The Government will be working with industry and gaming machine manufacturers to identify options that are practical, cost-effective and easy for players to use. I’m going to visit one of the pre-commitment trials in Queensland tomorrow.

We will also ensure that the pre-commitment system has very strong privacy arrangements for the data that is collected. The Australian Government has strict privacy legislation to protect people. These are issues that have been successfully resolved in a wide range of areas and we will be applying the highest standards to our gambling reforms.

Of course, how a uniform pre-commitment scheme would work depends a lot on the states and territories. While the impacts of problem gambling ripple across the whole nation, the regulation of gaming machines in Australia is a state and territory responsibility.

The Commonwealth is committed to working with the states and territories to deliver these reforms. I co-chair the COAG Select Council on Gambling Reform with my colleague the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten. The state and territory ministers on the council represent portfolios with responsibility for gambling regulation, treasuries, and community and human services, and we had our first meeting in Melbourne in October.

There are very different arrangements at the moment across all the jurisdictions in almost every area where we wish to act. Some states, such as Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, have already made significant progress on pre-commitment, and others have removed ATMs from gambling venues entirely.

I do not underestimate the task of achieving a consistent response across Australia. And as I’m sure you are aware, the Australian Government has committed to bring in our own legislation if there is no agreement with the states and territories by the end of May next year. The Productivity Commission recommended that the Commonwealth intervene if states did not agree to implement these changes Australia-wide.

There are also important issues to be considered by all governments related to online gambling; and states and territories are also keen to work together in developing responses to issues relating to online wagering and racing.

These issues are now on the COAG Select Council agenda and the Minister for Communications, Senator Conroy, who has responsibility for this area, has been invited to our next meeting. We are also making sure that we get the advice we need from those on the ground – from both the industry and community sector, as well as from academics and researchers specialising in this field.

We want our reforms to be practical, feasible and balanced. We want our reforms to work, and we want to anticipate and address any unintended consequences before we move to implementation.

That’s why the Assistant Treasurer and I have established a Ministerial Expert Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Peter Shergold. We have asked the Advisory Group to provide us with specialist and technical advice on implementing the reforms, and to keep us informed about the views of all interested parties. It will surprise no one that there is a range of strongly held, and in many cases conflicting views, among those on the advisory group. The Government genuinely welcomes a mature, and evidence-based debate on how to best implement these important reforms. The group met for the first time in early November, and will be meeting again in a week or two to look particularly at the issues associated with implementing a full pre-commitment scheme. I understand you will be hearing from a number of the advisory group members at this conference, and I’d like to thank those of you who are in the audience for your contributions.

The Government recognises that gambling is not only an important industry but a celebrated part of Australian culture. We have the horse race that stops the nation, and on one of our most sacred days, Anzac Day, many Australians like to play two-up. Millions of Australians enjoy a flutter each and every year, but for some Australians excessive gambling can leave a trail of destruction. We have a responsibility to implement effective reforms to tackle problem gambling.

We want people to be able to safely enjoy gambling and in particular, playing the pokies. We also want a vibrant industry that continues to provide entertainment and employment for many Australians, and makes a significant contribution to our economy.

Our reforms will make poker machines a safer product for all players.

Steering a path to a good policy outcome will be challenging. But we are committed to working with you all - state and territory governments, industry and community advocates, to introduce these reforms."
The missing expression is "EGM" signifying "Electronic Gaming Machines". The Minister refers to them as "poker machines". Pokie gambling is not a game. It's dangerous gambling. There are people's lives at stake. Reform now seems inevitable.

For the benefit of his members, ClubsNSW CEO Anthony Ball should be leading his members down a pathway that eases them into this new world where the inherent harm of the machines is addressed. Failure to do so will result in a crashed transition and possible losses for his members should their machines and systems not be compliant within the agreed timetables.

Mr Ball, that would be irresponsible. You would be failing your members.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Losses Disguised As Wins

A factor that likely contributes to continued and potentially harmful gambling is a characteristic known as Losses Disguised as Wins. Professor Kevin Harrigan of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada has produced an instructive video about Losses Disguised as Wins. You can have a look at it here:

To learn more, click here to go to the University of Waterloo's problem gambling research centre.

When you are next in a pokie pub or club, you'll be as horrified as I when you have a look at how many times the false reinforcement of LDWs occur.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Enough Pokies In Castlemaine

Tonight, arguably the best panel of Australian and Victorian pokie activists and researchers gather in Castlemaine. The goal is to inform about the application of the Maryborough Highlanders proposed expansion of their pokie business into Castlemaine.

Here's the full line-up:

Rev Tim Costello AO
CEO of World Vision and the voice of social conscience for many Australians

Sen Nick Xenophon
From running a small suburban legal practice to becoming Australia's leading independent political voice, Nick has battled the pokie industry for 14 years to eliminate the harm of these dangerous machines

Stephen Mayne
Australia's leading corporate activist and Walkley award winning journalist who has been provisionally elected as Victoria's first anti-pokie parliamentarian.

John Connor
A quiet shopkeeper who felt so strongly about the issue, he became the mayor of Macedon Ranges and successfully fought the pokies application for Romsey all the way to the full court of appeal of the Victorian Supreme Court. By the Romsey victory, the precedent for community involvement was set.

Dr Lorraine Beyer
Sustainable communities planner who created standard setting work in local council pokie policies.

David Pugh
CEO of St Lukes in Bendigo with extensive involvement with gambling and welfare issues.

Professor John McDonald
His University of Ballarat department is conducting groundbreaking research into the economic and social effects of pokie gambling on local communities.

The evening ends with all speakers participating in question and answer panel. For more information check out enoughpokies.org

Mr Hester, the leader of the Maryborough Highlanders' pokies push into Castlemaine was invited to attend when EPIC first raised the idea of informed community discussion. Here's a photo of Mr Hester, the Maryborough pokie club manager who seeks to bring more pokies into Castlemaine.
Mr Hester declined to attend.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Stephen Mayne Provisionally Elected

According to the ABC Live Guide to the Victorian state election for the Legislative Council seat of Northern Metropolitan, Stephen Mayne has been provisionally elected. Check it out!

Click here to view the whole page.

It seems that a primary vote of 2,999 that exceeded the Christian Democrats vote of 2,382, a margin of 617, allowed Stephen's carefully negotiated preferences with Joanne Stuart of the Independent Parents and Carers Group to kickstart and avalanche of preferences. This included the Greens, Family First, John Kavanagh of the DLP, the Sex Party and ultimately, the ALP.

The final tally left Stephen almost double the votes of the Liberal Party.

The potential cloud on the horizon is that 66.2% of the vote has been counted so the primary vote could change. Let's hope the present margin of 617 votes is too wide a river for the Christian Democrats to cross. Of greater concern is the slim margin revealed in Count 8 of 41 votes between Stephen and the Greens.

It will be a nervous next few days at Mayne campaign headquarters in Templestowe.

- Update -

As of 5:30 AM EDT, 29 November 2010; Stephen's margin against the Greens for Count 8 increased to 985! While there remains over 30% of the vote to be counted, this is good news and hopefully a trend.

On the other hand, I am a St Kilda supporter and fully expect disappointment at the last second.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Victorian Election

On the matter of gambling in Victoria there are three issues that should be borne in mind. They are listed in the order of importance:
  1. Eliminate the inherent harm of the machine
  2. Reverse the normalisation of gambling directed towards our children
  3. Stop the tide of pokie accessibility.
None of these steps need new studies, legislation or standards. There is already sufficient evidence and laws. Implementation requires only prescriptive enforcement of the existing legislation and enactment of Ministerial directions or regulations pursuant to existing regulations. It can happen at the stroke of a pen.

Point 2 includes the over-the-top marketing of telephone and online gambling.

To best assess the policies of candidates, click here to view the video of this week's gambling forum courtesy of the Mayne Report.

For what little it is worth, other than their admirable refusal to support a casino in Mildura, the Coalition's policies are inferior to the governments in that they will not accept the reforms of the Productivity Commission that are the foundation of present Federal ALP policy. But the ALP's policies, much criticised on PokieAct.org show a terrifying contempt for the Victorian public considering:
  • Victoria has the worst prevalence of problem gambling of any state.
  • 12,000 Victorian pokie gamblers contemplate suicide every year
  • 6,000 Victorian pokie gamblers stated that their gambling lead them to commit an act against the law.
It is nothing less than sickening to read that Minister Robinson blames New South Wales. How was New South Wales responsible for the Orwellian pre-commitment scheme that requires no commitment at all from the gambler or the silence on the vital $1 bet limit reform?

It was instructive to hear the Greens admit that when they had a chance to make a difference, they erred by allowing generic language to be inserted in amendments to the Gambling Regulation Act. Their policies going forward seem sound. One hope that they adopt the fervour of Tasmanian Green, Kim Booth to address the issue of the $1 maximum bet.

This writer stands with Woolworths / ALH in opposition to local councils levying discretionary rates against venues that operate pokies. Such levy will create a dependency at local government level upon pokie losses and distracts from the three substantive issues set out above that truly address the issue.

As one might expect, this blog wholeheartedly endorses Dr Lorraine Beyer and Stephen Mayne.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Crown Casino / ClubsNSW Disguise

The Productivity Commission found that cashless gaming may disguise the fact that people are spending "real" money on machines. As one might expect, cashless gaming is aggressively promoted at Crown through brochures and computerised terminals spread through out the casino floor. Here's what the brochure looks like:The New Zealand (Government) Gambling Compliance Group argued that cashless systems:
"... can preserve player anonymity and permit the rapid transfer of large amounts of money into gaming machines without breaks in play. These sorts of systems can exacerbate problem gambling behaviours by facilitating extended, continuous, repetitive and/or anonymous, emotionally detached play."
My opinion is that the permission to operate cashless pokie gambling at Crown runs contrary to both the Minister for Gaming and the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation's legal obligation to foster responsible gambling in the casino in order to minimise harm caused by problem gambling; and accommodate those who gamble without harming themselves or others.

Anyone who follows pokie news will be aware of the doom and destruction ClubsNSW predict if pre-commitment as undertaken by the Gillard government is implemented. ClubsNSW speak of enormous retrofitting of machines and lay-off of staff. Others speak to compromising the security of the machine by adding on technology.

My own inspection of leading clubs extensive use of cashless gambling strikes down these arguments as false.

Firstly, cashless gambling technology is an add-on.

Secondly, I have been informed that the cost per machine is about $1,000. This rate was likely achieved because of the size of the market. One would expect that the cost per machine would be similar should there be a similar mass market.

These facts reveal the hypocrisy of ClubsNSW position. When it comes to ripping more money from gamblers they have plenty of money to pony up but not when it comes to impeding their $800 million a year addiction to the losses incurred at their venues by problem gamblers.

Finally, cashless gambling also helps NSW reduce staff as the cash changing process automates.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Suicide Barriers on the Westgate

After years of promising action, suicide barriers are finally being erected on the Westgate Bridge linking Melbourne and its western suburbs as a part of a reported $1.4 billion upgrade. It is deeply sad that people act to end their lives in this way. The evidence linking so many Victorian to thoughts of suicide makes obscene those who argue so vehemently against measures that reduce the harm of gambling on the pokies.Readers may recall the Herald Sun story where it was revealed that about 12,000 Victorians pokie gamblers contemplate suicide. This is based upon a huge Victorian state study with 15,000 participants. Yet the Victorian government fails even to adopt the smallest of steps to full pre-commitment as recommended after 11 years of study by the Productivity Commission.

These suicide barriers symbolise the obscenity that seems Victoria's pokie policy. Do nothing that will even stem the flow of pokie gambling losses. Let not even the most damaging evidence of harm to Victorians get in your way.

About $20 million will be spent on lights on the Westgate's poles and cables. Imagine what the benefits would be if the same $20 million were spent on software that limited each pokie bet to no more than $1 and limited the volatility of pokies so that gamblers could lose no more than $120 per hour.

I do not know how these people are able to sleep at night. I am reminded of their terrifying contempt for the good of Victorians every time I drive over the Westgate.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Jan Juc's Bittersweet Victory

While there is still time left for the Beach Hotel to lodge a VCAT appeal, it was nice to be part of the first decision in many years by the VCGR to knock back a pokies application. Unfortunately, the decision is a poor one. In this blog the focus is on the issue of the applicant demonstrating that it would practice responsible gambling procedures should it be successful.

Here's the finding of the Commission under the heading of "Responsible gambling proposals"
"Mr Pertzel set out in his witness statement the work that has been carried out by him as general manager in order to prepare for the possible introduction of egms at the Hotel, including development of a staff training manual and a venue-specific responsible gambling policy. However, copies of these documents were not provided to the Commission. ..."
So we really haven't a clue what his policy might be. The paragraph goes on about how the policy that was not produced will be disseminated and the legal requirements about codes of conduct. One would have expected an adverse finding.

Not from this Commission.... Here's their finding:
The Commission has also been satisfied that if the application is approved, appropriate measures would be put in place to foster responsible gambling and address any instances of problem gambling that might arise.
The logical conclusion that can be drawn is for applicants to produce nothing because you'll automatically pass this apparently inconsequential test.

But it gets worse. Much much worse.

Mr. Pertzel, on behalf of the Beach Hotel produced job descriptions for his proposed venue manager and the assistant venue manager. There is no reference to responsible gaming practices in the job descriptions of either the venue manager nor the assistant venue manager. He does make reference to gaming performance and that a report is to be made to a David Blewett. There is no evidence lead as to Mr Blewett’s involvement with the Beach Hotel nor his qualifications.

Mr Pertzel’s evidence particularising his investigations into Responsible Gaming practices discloses minimal investigation. While his written statement indicates that contact had been made with problem gambling help services, the fact is that there are no such services in Surf Coast Shire. The only gambling help service is located in Geelong. There is no evidence of correspondence between this service and the Applicant.

Mr Pertzel’s co-director, Mr Closter indicated his involvement with management would comprise no more than showing up “on Friday and have a few beers” and that he had “a chat about it over the last few weeks”. While Mr Closter vows “best practice”, there is no evidence that either he or Mr Pertzel have made substantive investigation to be able to determine what “best practice” might be.

There was no evidence before the Commission that the Applicant nor anyone associated with the Applicant had undergone any training whatsoever in responsible gaming practices.

During the hearing, Mr Closter stated a mistaken impression that the VCGR supplies training. The impression that the AHA provides training in responsible gaming indicates ignorance of the joint venture disclosed on the Association’s web site with the William Angliss Institute.

Mr Closter’s evidence and the Chairman’s responses are set out below:
MR CLOSTER: Look, firstly, I like to delegate as much as I can to Rohan, so I’d show up there on Friday and have a few beers, it’s not necessarily I’m involved in the management. That’s strictly – it’s more on the financial side. In terms of responsible gaming and service of gaming, certainly Rohan and I and Stuart have had a chat about it over the last few weeks. And there’ll be, you know, best practice. So whatever the best practice is, and that is not trading 24 hours, as an example. We’ll be trading in the hours that we do trade in currently. Things – all the training that is available out there, supplied by either the VCGR or the AHA, and any other governing bodies, is what we’ll take up, as directors and as employees of the property.

MR THOMPSON: Have you considered getting consultative help in that regard?

MR CLOSTER: Certainly we will, yes.

MR THOMPSON: There’s some good people out there, I think, that are very well able to provide that to you.

MR CLOSTER: Yes, absolutely.

MR THOMPSON: Rather than have to reinvent the wheel.


Mr Thompson’s question and suggestion to Mr Closter fills a significant gap in the Applicant’s knowledge of responsible gambling practices. Rather than suggesting means to engage persons who might fill a gap in the Applicant’s knowledge, with respect, the Commission should be testing the applicant’s own suitability. Mr Thompson’s suggestion to Mr Closter that “rather than reinventing the wheel” Mr Closter engage a consultant is suggestive of a diminished need to be personally and fully informed about responsible gaming practices. Neither Mr Closter nor Mr Pertzel demonstrated that they would have sufficient knowledge to ascertain whether a consultant was satisfactorily discharging their obligations.

I did put the above submissions to the Commission. I am not surprised that they were ignored. My opinion is that Mr Thompson, as a Commissioner exercising judicial powers, acted improperly in filling this gap in the Beach Hotel's case and then making a finding upon that evidence he extracted.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What Pre-Commitment Might Look Like

Set out below are my suggestions as to how an effective pre-commitment system might be configured. There is little original thought in this as it borrows almost totally from the recommendations of the final report of the Productivity Commission. As always, comments are welcome.

Every pokie (casino, club and pub) has a pre-set limit that permits recreational gambling. The suggested default limit is 25¢ maximum bet. This will result in an average loss per hour per machine of around $30; within the limits of recreational gambling. This allows for recreational gamblers whether they be from Australia or overseas to gamble safely without the need for any device.

Should the $30 standard be too low, gamblers could obtain a pre-commitment device that allows them to opt out. To prevent a person from having or using multiple keys, they have to ID themselves at time of issue and consideration must be given to photo, biometric, or PIN identification. Adoption of the Norwegian system of direct electronic debit or credit is another solution.

The pokie would be activated to allow this higher risk gambling by this device (analogous to a key) that is either 'on' or 'off'.

While there will be a default setting on the device, the gambler sets their own limits. The setting of limits can be done via the Internet or a terminal other than the pokie itself. Government mandates no limit. However, in line with the Productivity Commission's own findings; the goal is that it should not be possible to lose more than $120 per hour on pokie gambling.

No need for government monitoring of actual gambling. Allows all entertainment features of pokie gambling to remain.

If the gambler is gambling within those limits, the machine is on. Once those self set limits are exceeded the key is internally disabled and no longer unlocks any machine i.e. the key sets itself to “off’

So if the gambler sets a limit e.g. “I can lose $5,000 in a week” and loses $5,001 in a day then gambling stops until the week expires. Nothing can be done to reactivate the key until the week expires. No one knows what limits the individual sets.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Victoria Abandons Pre-Commitment

The proposals set out in the Victorian government's consultation paper on pre-commitment demonstrate that the government intends do as little as possible to implement the considered recommendations of the Productivity Commission. These well researched recommendations were made after 11 years of study.

Click here to download the Victorian government's consultation paper that puts forward a fundamentally incorrect understanding of what is the true meaning of "pre-commitment". The Paper also sets out it's preferred recommendation that pre-commitment consists no more than a pop-up screen that disappears after 15 seconds or sooner.

Set out below is my submission:
“Policies addressing business practices that generate harm – such as pollution and hazardous products – do not give much weight to the resulting revenue impacts of raised standards … The revenue impacts associated with effective policies addressing problem gambling and other harms are analogous to this.”

Productivity Commission Final Report 2010 Page 11.28

"Victoria has the worst rate of problem gambling prevalence of any Australian state and thereby the worst harm minimization practices of any Australian state.

Based upon its own September 2009 epidemiological study 12,000 Victorian pokie gamblers contemplate taking their own life and about 6,000 Victorians were led to do something against the law as a result of their pokie gambling.

A further Victorian government study found a strong relationship between crime and pokie gambling:

“Gaming expenditure per capita is significantly positively associated with nearly every type of crime in all years of the analysis.”

The Productivity Commission (“PC”) found that “the harms from problem gambling include suicide, depression, relationship breakdown, lowered work productivity, job loss, bankruptcy and crime.” “For each problem gambler, several others are affected - including family members, friends, employers and colleagues.”

Given just these facts, the Department of Justice’s Pre-commitment Consultation Paper (“Paper”) is objective proof of a terrifying and continuing contempt of the interests of the people of Victoria with respect to the harm caused by pokie gambling. This considered statement is based upon the findings set out in the government’s own research. The Paper ignores the substance of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission.

The Paper also ignores the findings of the August 2009 study published by the Victorian Department of Justice titled Impact of changes to Electronic Gaming Machine characteristics on play behaviour of Recreational Gamblers.

The Paper gives weight to the biased Responsible Gambling Ministerial Advisory Council. No weight should be given to the views of this Council given that it’s makeup comprises mainly of people whose interests lie with preservation of the income derived from gambling losses. It is expected that this Council would suggest a course of action that would do little to impair the flow of gambling income. The Paper confirms that expected result.

The Paper’s definition of “Pre-Commitment” set out in the first line of the document is not only misleading but also wrong. Commonsense meaning of the word “commitment” connotes a pledge to a course of action. It is wrong to define the word commitment as the mere ability to set a limit. This is not semantics; rather, this distortion sets the direction of the Paper. Commitment means a commitment; not something else. “Self imposed limits are not commitments.” (PC Final Report 10.5) “The very concept of pre-commitment is that it is a contract that parties cannot breach without significant consequences.” (PC Final Report 10.23

The correct definition is found on page 10.2 of Productivity Commission’s final report:
“… regulatory options that would give people the opportunity to constrain their behaviour when in gambling venues (pre-commitment), with limited potential for reversal”

The Paper’s policy direction away from the true definition of Pre-Commitment must be corrected otherwise measures introduced will not minimise the harm of pokie gambling.

The absence of any specification or even the briefest mention in the Paper of an identifying device is in direct conflict with the first and essential key recommendation of the Productivity Commission for even partial pre-commitment. This failure is fatal.

Rather than the ineffective policy options described in the Paper; the findings of the Productivity Commission in Recommendation 10.4 and Chapter 10 of their final report should be expressly adopted including the specification of an identifying device. This approach is consistent with publicly stated agreement between the Prime Minister and the Member for Denison.

In particular, the Victorian full pre-commitment system must incorporate these essentials;
  • A compulsory device for all pokie gambling including pubs, clubs and the Crown casino
  • Non-transferable i.e. include measures to avoid identity fraud
  • Set a default limit that the gambler must opt out of
  • Require that gambling stops within a set period once limits are exceeded i.e. a commitment."

As a result of further debate, I have partially modified my suggestions to an arrangement taking better account of the concerns of the pokie industry. I will set these out in my next blog.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Nick Xenophon's Landmark Speech

On 13 October 2010, Nick Xenophon spoke as a "Distinguished Speaker" to the Gaming Executive Summit meeting at the Etihad Stadium. Here's what he said....

When I first entered Federal politics, way back in 2007, I addressed a conference similar to this one, basically as a way of introducing myself.

A lot of people then saw me as some scruffy-looking upstart from South Australia, obsessed with the damage being done by your industry.

And they were right.

Today I continue to campaign against poker machines and the harm caused by gambling addiction.

A lot has happened in the last three years.

Back in 2007, it was a struggle to get Federal politicians motivated to act on this issue.

Kevin Rudd….remember him?

Well, he made all the right noises before the 2007 election saying, quote, he "hated poker machines and knew something of the damage they caused to families".

Frustratingly though, Kevin didn't actually get around to intervening and to better regulating your industry.

I think he was going to do it in ‘due season’.

But one of the things he did achieve was to ask the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into gambling, a decade following the PC’s landmark 1999 report.

The latest report was handed down on June 23rd this year.

For some reason it didn’t get much air play that day.

It may have had something to do with events that unfolded in Canberra that night, that led to our first female PM.

Notwithstanding that temporary distraction, the Productivity Commission’s findings and recommendations are troubling for the poker machine industry. And judging by some of the responses to the report by many of you and your peers, I'd say many of you were indeed troubled.

As you should be.

Reform of the gambling sector is inevitable.

As you would know, the Productivity Commission found that around 40 percent of losses on poker machines – and 40 percent of your profits on poker machines – come from problem gamblers.

In fact, the Productivity Commission said it could be higher than that, perhaps as much as 60 percent; but let's stick with the conservative figure for now.

Of course, I suspect you all privately knew this even before the Commission’s report.

Although, Clubs NSW did try to argue in its submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry that "only" 23.1 percent of gamblers can be considered 'problem gamblers'.

Well, you know what, that's still 23.1 percentage points too many.

And at 23.1 percent, that means problem gamblers lose $800 million on Clubs New South Wales pokies alone, which flows straight through to the clubs of New South Wales’ bottom line.

That flow, that river of gold to pokies venues, results in a river of tears for so many.

Now, whether we're talking 23 percent, 40 percent or 60 percent, that's still many tens of thousands of people who shouldn't even be on the machines to begin with.

Given Clubs New South Wales admits that problem gamblers are playing their machines, the question is how do we better protect players?

Now, in the past my critics have tried, I would argue fairly unsuccessfully, to paint me as a wowser or a moraliser.

I'm neither.

I simply believe that poker machines are an unsafe product that needs to be better regulated, and made safer.

It's that simple.

I'm not trying to stop recreational players gambling on the machines.

I am simply trying to protect the hundreds of thousands of problem gamblers and those at risk of becoming problem gamblers from harming themselves with your dangerous product.

And we all know that it's not just the individual playing your machines that's affected.

It's their families too.

It's their partners.

Sometimes it is their bosses they steal from to fund their addiction.
The Victorian government’s own research found that 6,000 Victorian pokies gamblers admitted that their gambling led them to do something against the law.

Some of you have even tried to make your venues 'family friendly' in an effort to make your addictive product appear okay.

But in doing so, you have simply normalised an adult activity in the minds of many children.

I am glad to see both Coles and Woolworths have now agreed to the National Principles adopted by the State and Territory Gaming Ministers which says unequivocally that children should not be exposed to the sights and sounds of gambling.

And I am assured by the heads of both chains that their venues are being refurbished to protect children from exposure to gambling.

Kids learn what they live and children should not be privy to what is an adult-only past time.

But we must not pretend to ourselves that it is only children who are vulnerable.

Before politics, I worked as a lawyer.

It sickened me to see people losing their personal injury payouts to the pokies that seemed to take over virtually every pub in my state from the mid 1990s.

The final straw was when a client of mine, who was intellectually impaired, came to me in tears, hurt and confused because his so-called "friends" who ran the local pub didn't want to be his friends any more.

For months they plied him with free drinks, even to the point where he was so intoxicated, they would push the machine’s buttons for him.

Their ‘friendship’ also included giving credit so he could keep chasing his losses.

They'd even picked him up from his small unit to take him to their venue...all so he could gamble away everything he had. Almost 30 thousand dollars later, his money was gone and so were his "friends".

I know that one dodgy pub does not make an unsafe industry, but an unsafe product does.

Since the cliffhanger Federal election, gambling reform has finally made it onto the national political agenda, thanks in large part to Tasmanian Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, who negotiated a deal with the Prime Minister which will bring about the Productivity Commission’s mandatory scheme of national pre-commitment by 2014.

The reaction from the industry, specifically from Clubs Australia, was hysterical and deliberately designed to scare.

"They're going to fingerprint every Australian and treat us all like criminals," it’s Executive Director, Anthony Ball, claimed to the press.

It was nonsense of course, because no style of pre-commitment has been chosen by the Government yet – in fact, the Committee is due to hold its first meeting only next week, and there are plenty of models to choose from.

One – ONE – submission to the Productivity Commission talked about a bio-metric USB stick that only runs when a player runs his or her finger on it.

The fingerprint is retained only on the USB to activate it, and, to be effective, does not added to any sort of database, let alone a central database.

Yet, Clubs Australia came up with "They're going to treat us all like criminals".

Pathetic, but I wasn't surprised by the tactics.

After all, that's what these guys do.

They would rather run scare campaigns than debate the facts, because they know the facts are damning.

Ironically, the day before Clubs Australia launched its fictional finger-printing fear campaign, Andrew Wilkie and I had written to every Federal Member and Senator warning of such a campaign and advising them of the sort of spin that would be coming their way.

The first bit of spin the industry likes to fall back on is the claim that 'only' 0.5 percent of Australians are problem gamblers.

To use the Productivity Commission’s own words, claims like that are "misleading".

Clubs Australia has also claimed that a system of mandatory pre-commitment for all poker machines would be "completely untested".

Again, this is not true.

There have been results on full pre-commitment and sensible bet limits in Norway, as well as studies of optional pre-commitment in Nova Scotia.

There are also optional pre-commitment schemes being tested here in Australia, in Queensland and South Australia.

Clubs Australia would be aware of these studies – I'm sure many of you would be aware of these studies also.

So why tout these inaccuracies?

Why try to scare the public with lies, when we all here know that problem gambling is a real issue that needs to be addressed and pre-commitment will significantly reduce the harm caused by poker machines?

Could it be the $800 million? Or taking the Productivity Commission’s conservative 40 percent figure, could it be the $5 billion lost nationally by problem gamblers each year?

Clubs Australia has also argued that a full pre-commitment scheme would be an unfair burden on recreational gamblers.

They offer no evidence to support this claim.

However, there is significant evidence to prove that this claim is simply wrong.

For example, a Victorian Government study titled ‘Impact of Gambling Machine Characteristics on Play Behaviour of Recreational Gamblers, released in September 2009 concluded:

“From a recreational gambler perspective, it is quite apparent that the new policy decision of compulsory limits during play is not likely to adversely impact the gaming experience of recreational gamblers, as most indicate that this would only very marginally affect their play. Similarly, the same applies to the concept of having a compulsory set limit past a certain expenditure point – this was not seen as a major issue for recreational gamblers and hardly affected player enjoyment."

Clubs New South Wales has also piped up, claiming that if their machines were made safer they would have to reduce their community contributions.

Much is made by clubs about these contributions, but the Productivity Commission has questioned the value of these claimed contributions, saying that many of the benefits go back to the club venues, not the community at large; and that the gross value of social contributions by clubs is likely to be significantly less than the support Governments provide to clubs through tax and other concessions.

In other words, according to the Productivity Commission, the clubs industry takes much more tax breaks than it gives back in community benefits.

Clubs Australia has also tried to argue that any move to make machines safer would cost jobs.

Again, the Productivity Commission rejects this.

It says that while "many people are employed in the gambling industry, most are highly employable and would be in demand in other parts of the service sector were the gambling industry to contract. In that sense, the gambling industries do not create net employment benefits because they divert employment from one part of the economy to the other."

A report commissioned by the Tasmanian Department of Treasury and prepared by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies found that:

"Gambling facilities employed an average of 3.2 persons per $1 million in gambling income, 8.3 persons per $1 million income from sales of liquor and other beverages and 20 persons per $1 million income from meal and food sales."

So if you really want to create jobs in the community you should be arguing for less pokies venues, not more.

Poker machines are a net job killer, not a job creator.

Anthony Ball from Clubs Australia is on the record as saying he supports "people’s right to set their own limits on what they can afford to spend gambling".

Well, a comprehensive pre-commitment system, as proposed by the Government and the Productivity Commission after 11 years of study of the impacts of gambling, will achieve this.

And what we do have finally is a Federal government that has agreed to intervene if the States, who unfortunately are hopelessly compromised by the taxes they receive from gambling revenue, do not act.

The fact is, and you well know it, the community today sees the harm caused by poker machines and the Federal Government is moving to better regulate the industry.

The Productivity Commission made a number of key recommendations and all of these will be part of the Federal Government's Committee Inquiry, including the introduction of maximum $1 bet per spin.

Tasmanian Greens' MP, Kim Booth, recently introduced a Bill into the Tasmanian Parliament to achieve this, and I have introduced a similar Bill in the Senate, which is also calling for the volatility of machines to be slowed.

Many of you might have read that hearings into the Tasmanian Bill got rather heated when Kim Booth defended his knowledge of the issue, after being questioned by a somewhat belligerent spokesperson from the local branch of the Australian Hotels Association.

Mr Booth rejected claims he didn’t understand the impact of the machines.

He said he'd seen plenty … like the time he walked into a venue to see an elderly blind woman playing a machine with her husband guiding her hand.

He called on pokies bosses to go with him and speak to the husband whose wife suicided as a result of taking the payroll and taking it down to the casino.

He then offered to take them down to the cemetery and show them some of the corpses of some of these victims if they'd like.

Your industry should have seen this backlash coming. You should have known people would eventually fight back after the enormous damage these machines have done.

So much has been lost by so many because of these machines…houses, savings, businesses, lives.

Your product is an unsafe product.

And I am tired of seeing your unsafe product causing so much harm.

When other products have been found to cause significant harm to a significant number of users they have been banned.

Poker machines make half their profits from people who are addicted.

People with an addiction do not exercise free choice.

Free choice is when you can rationally weigh up the costs and the benefits of your actions, and then you choose.

The people who make your industry so wealthy can't do this because they are hopelessly addicted.

It's not 'entertainment' or 'gaming'.

The current state of your industry can only be described as an obscenity.

And it has got to stop.

Also, the potential for harm through online gambling is frightening.

Tim Costello summed it all up a decade ago when he said that, quote, “with internet gambling, you’ll be able to lose your home without ever actually having to leave it”.

So, parallel to the Joint Committee into Gambling and the implementation of pre-commitment technology, as agreed to between the Prime Minister and Andrew Wilkie, I have initiated a separate Senate Inquiry into interactive and online gambling, including sports betting, the potential for corruption and match-fixing, and the need to better protect consumers.

When I came to Canberra, I suspect many in this industry expected business as usual.

No-one expected one of the major parties to act.

But politics is unpredictable, and for those who thought common sense wouldn’t win the day eventually, well, you would have been delusional.

My message to your industry is simple; accept reform now.

This conference today, I see, has a prime focus on maximising growth of this industry.

But growth of this industry is unsustainable and untenable if you continue to be part of a business that knowingly exploits and destroys so many lives.

You have a clear choice here. You can either embrace reform and be constructive participants to tackle problem gambling, or you can fight change, knowing you are only delaying the inevitable.

At least you have a choice, which is a lot more that can be said for those whose lives have been destroyed by your dangerous products.

Monday, 16 August 2010

No Doubt About A "Suitable" Venue?

In order to get legal approval to run pokie gambling is that the club or pub has to be "suitable". Despite being 1,210 pages long there is no definition in the Victorian Gambling Regulation Act that defines what "suitable" means. So one is left with trying to apply the main legal objectives or aims as written in the parliamentary legislation to try and make some sense of this vague criterion of "suitable".

Here's a couple I found:
1. To foster responsible gambling in order to minimise harm caused by problem gambling
2. To ensure that minors are neither encouraged to gamble nor allowed to do so.
If a venue was designed in such a way to enhance the myth that the longer one gambles, the closer the gambler is to a jackpot then surely such a venue would not be suitable. Likewise, if a venue was built so that children were encouraged to gamble, that venue would be unsuitable too.

Plans for such a venue does exist according to the Victorian Gambling Commission's own report. In this proposed pub; a core gambling myth is enhanced and children are encouraged to gamble. Yet the plans for this venue, were deemed suitable. The venue is the notorious Pink Hill Hotel where the judgement was:
"the Commission has no doubt that the proposed hotel would be a well-designed and attractive building"
One must conclude that neither the Chairman, Mr Thompson nor Mrs King had any doubt about the suitability of this venue. David Gordon, the architect of the proposed building presented evidence to the Commission. He conceded that all who enter the bistro must walk past the gaming room, including families with children.

Also bear in mind that it is legal in Victoria for unaccompanied children to eat a meal at a pokie pub.

This is a design that is contrary to Victorian government policy that children are not to be exposed to pokie gambling inside pokie pubs and clubs as set out in the joint ministerial statement of July 2009 announcing the National Principles for responsible gambling.

This was a feature that Chairman Thompson and Mrs King had no doubt was a part of a well designed and attractive pokie gambling pub.

Here's the paragraph of the Commission's 25 page judgement that caused national controversy:
"Mr. Gordon said, in response to a question from Mrs King, that the children's playroom would be fully enclosed with soundproof glass so that children are visible to parnets from the gaming room or bistro"
This was another feature that Chairman Thompson and Mrs King had no doubt was a part of a well designed and attractive pokie gambling pub.


Soon after the judgement was published, the VCGR issued a media release stating that the play area did not have a clear view of the pokie room. Here's what they said:

"Plans for the Pink Hill Hotel show a wall, lounge and lobby separate the gaming and playroom areas.

The plans for the $8.4 million hotel make it clear that evidence was mistakenly given to the VCGR that parents could see into the playroom from the gaming area.

As well, children in this playroom must be under active parental supervision or the playroom must comply with the Children's Services Act, which governs childcare.

The VCGR said it is better to have children supervised than not. In 2000 a 22-month-old boy died after being left in a car while his mother gambled.

The VCGR, which approved 60 poker machines for the hotel, is reviewing Responsible Gambling Codes of Conduct, which each venue operator must adopt and comply with. The codes ban minors from gambling areas."

Is a parent gambling on the pokies actively supervising their children? Of course not. Are pokie pub play areas likely to be registered under the Children's Services Act. Unlikely.

The web site of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development provides:

"In Victoria, services that are required to hold a licence are children’s services that provide care or education for 4 or more children who are under the age of 13 years in the absence of their parents or guardians:

  • for fee or reward; or
  • while the parents or guardians of the children use services or facilities provided by the proprietor."

One can only speculate the consequence of ascertaining whether every pokie pub or club possesses such a license.

The Commission's statement that it is better to have children supervised in a pokie pub is extraordinary of itself.

I actively lobbied the Coles group of pokie pubs who, as a consequence, now have a car park monitoring system in place to ensure that children are not left in cars. I have been told that Woolworths' associated hotels have a similar system in place. Notwithstanding, there is no mention of such a practice in any of the responsible codes lodged with the Commission despite each code having to be approved by the Commission. The Commission give themselves an excuse of preventing a dangerous circumstance (children being left in cars) and then do nothing to solve it.

While one can understand placing a reserved sign on a machine when the gambler has some credits and needs to leave the machine to go to the toilet. Nearly all venues provide signs that the gambler places in the coin bin. For some machines, the gambler can press a series of buttons to reserve their machine. At many Victorian Tabcorp pokie pubs the "Reserved Signs" proclaim:

"You can feel it"
What is it that gamblers can feel? It is open to argue that this message reinforces the gambler's myth that they have a counter balancing win is coming because they have already experienced a series of losses. At the Pink Hill, Mr Gordon designed the venue so that gamblers could watch their machine to ensure no one takes their place.

"he considered it important that patrons be able to maintain visual contact with the machine they had been using and to which they intended to return"

Mr Gordon also conceded the point that his design whereby gamblers had direct access to smoking areas from the pokie room would be important to reconsider.

All these features add up to a venue that should have been found to be unsuitable.

Instead, these were all features that Chairman Thompson and Mrs King had no doubt was a part of a well designed and attractive pokie gambling pub. There is a case for Minister Tony Robinson and Premier John Brumby to set clear and consistent policy for their gambling commission.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Senate Candidate Julian McGuaran. Please Explain.

The serious offense of children being present in a pokie room was observed by a colleague and I at the Millers Inn located in North Altona, Victoria. What makes the offense even worst is that the Millers Inn is a pokie pub associated with a candidate seeking to be elected to the Australian Senate, Julian McGuaran. Mr McGuaran needs to explain why he should not be seen as a hypocrite incapable of truly dealing with the concerns of the Victorian public he now seeks to represent.

Click here to see the VCGR web page confirming Mr McGuaran's association with the Millers Inn and it's 70 pokies. In 2009/10 Victorians lost over $12.1 million dollars at McGuaran's Millers Inn. That's $173,467 per pokie per annum. The Millers Inn is located amongst the most economically disadvantaged areas in Victoria. It is located within a small suburban shopping centre. The pokie room entrance is only metres away from the Woolworths Supermarket entrance. See the picture below:

When using this entrance, gamblers are greeted by the ATM located a mere 6 steps from the nearest pokie. It is out of sight of any venue staff.

The gambling warning signs are all located on the top box rather than the pokie machine itself. In this way, vision of these signs is minimised while the gambler is gambling on their pokie. My opinion is that this is worst practice.

Mr McGuaran's Millers Inn promotes its "Family Friendly Bistro" on the home page of its web site. Yet children eating with their parents are fully exposed to pokie gambling through the glass window of the door to the pokie room. There's lit sign above the doorway that attracts further attention to the pokie gambling inside. See the picture below.

To go to the toilets, one has to walk up to the pokie room door and then turn left. For young boys, just outside their toilet they are confronted with an open doorway with the pokies just a few steps away.

Pokie gambling is a harmful adult only form of entertainment. It's not for families. It's definitely not for children. In this bulletin, Mr McGuaran writes about young people and the issue of resilience. He expresses his concern about suicide. One wonders how Mr McGuaran feels about the 12,000 Victorian pokie gamblers who contemplate suicide according to the government's own survey.

How many of them gamble at his Millers Inn pokie pub?

While recording what I saw in one of the two internal pokie adjacent smoking areas, at around 1PM on 23 July 2010, my colleague and I observed three girls walk into the smoking area. In order to get there, they had to walk through the pokie room. It appeared to us both that their ages were being checked and two of the girls were asked to leave.

An official complaint has been lodged with the Victorian Gambling Commission by Senate candidate Stephen Mayne.

My colleague, a former journalist, talked to them out side.

The girls told him they were 15 years old. Their mate, who was over 18, was still gambling with her pocket money inside the Millers Inn hoping for a win.

Mr McGuaran has a lot to explain.