Sunday, 25 April 2010

Questions Tony Robinson Didn't Want Asked

Last week, Victorian Minister for Gaming, Tony Robinson, launched the Statewide Problem Gambling & Mental Health program at the Alfred Hospital. I had agreed to attend and wanted to ask the Minister some questions. Both as a matter of courtesy and with the goal of a better response, I emailed a number of questions to the Minister's office. The Department of Justice intervened and requested that I not publicly ask those questions. Here are the questions I proposed to ask:
Dear Minister,

I will be attending the launch of Statewide Problem Gambling & Mental Health Program as the representative of the Local Government Working Group on Gambling of the Victorian Local Government Association. In that capacity, I will be listening and reporting back to the working group during their scheduled meeting on 21 April 2010.

While my personal views do not represent the position of the working group, I do intend to raise some questions with you at the launch with the goal of better informing the group with respect to matters relating to the reduction of harm caused by Victorian pokies. The object of this email is to provide you with notice of the matters I intend to raise.

This programme is praiseworthy as any funds set aside to remedy the effects of pokie gambling is good. However, it's existence runs contrary to the considered research and views gathered over 10 years by the Productivity Commission as set out in their draft report. Please refer to chapter 3 in particular. While it is recognised that this program will better integrate help services with the rest of the health system, and that's a good thing, it fails to address key findings:
"Help services relate to people who have already developed major problems and, as such, are not a substitute for ... preventative measures"
The Commission urges a public health framework as providing
"the best basis for coherent gambling policies, emphasising the importance of policies that address the gambling environment as well as gambler's behaviours. The framework for gambling policy needs to recognise that it goes beyond ameliorating the harms to people suffering sever harm from their gambling."
What are you and the government going to do to put in place effective harm minimisation measures? Objective observations show failures in current measures. Going from the easy to remedy failures to the more substantive,
  • warning signs without even a link, phone number or takeaway card are allowed to be placed upon pokies where they are least visible. There is no venue requirement place cards that allow gamblers to discretely pickup a card that may be the first step on a pathway to prevention
  • advertising messages to gamble responsibly imply that the venues themselves bear no responsibility for the harmful adult entertainment they offer; that it's all in the hands of the individual
  • self exclusion is promoted in a way that is practically invisible, by small cards placed by a cash register or sometimes not provided at all... how can gamblers participate in a program that they are unaware of?
  • pre-commitment to be implemented in years from now is ill defined lacking even a requirement of compulsory gambler participation or an opt out structure. The lack of such requirements makes it effectively useless. That's not only my conclusion but also the conclusion of the Productivity Commission.
Your government did not wait for any federal finding to reduce the maximum pokie bet from $10 to $5 yet, even allowing a slower gambling rate and decreasing the required return to the pokie operator by 20% (RTP from 87¢ to 90¢), a Victorian gambler can still lose $6,000 per hour on a Victorian pokie. That's not harm minimisation. Pokie gambling at a potential loss rate of $6,000 per hour is not recreational.

While there are substantive faults in the methodology and findings of recent state government surveys, they all surveyed huge samples and the fact is that Victoria had the worst problem gambling rates of any state.

Is your government going to put in place the key recommendation of the $1 per button push, reducing volatility to a $120 per hour loss limit, and a $20 cash acceptor maximum? I am reliably told that this can be implemented immediately, by regulation. If yes, when can we look forward to this progressive and admirable measure? I am also informed that it requires only a software change.

The pokie entitlement auctions that commenced 20 April have been criticised in the Herald Sun for their secrecy. You have been properly praised for making public the losses incurred at each pokie venue at the urging of VLGA and we hope that this information will continue to be released as it helps in planning services and councils making decisions relevant to the VCGR process. The reason stated for the secrecy is to ensure there is no collusion. While such goal is admirable, bearing in mind that this auction is not for a home or a piece of art,
  • all bidders should be known,
  • the entitlements already allocated to clubs disclosed,
  • the clubs to whom they have been allocated and
  • the amount bid by those clubs
Secrecy does not prevent collusion. Having all the information out there levels the field.

What is the progress on the controversy surrounding management agreements that, it has been reported, effectively bestow control to terminate and appoint a club venue licensee. This is the case of the Woolworths' joint venture sacking the Footscray and Richmond footy clubs and favouring Carlton. You may recall that I wrote to you about these agreements that are considered and approved in secret. Please bear in mind that these agreements are bestowing rights over publicly granted pokie licenses. You may also recall that parts of my submission to the Gambling Review were blacked out from public viewing. These blacked out paragraphs related to these agreements. There is now a report of a basketball club holding a pokie club license whose registered office is the same as the Woolworths joint venture that ceased to play basketball years ago. If continued, such agreements will impact upon effective control of pokie entitlements (a grant of license by the Victorian community) for both clubs and pubs.
  • Will you place these management and lease agreements on the public record so the public can see who is truly controlling Victoria's pokie licenses?
  • Will you bar the Woolworths joint venture from participating in the pokie entitlement auction until the controversy involving the North Melbourne Basketball Club is publicly resolved?
  • Will you remove the pokie tax break for "clubs" like the footy organisations so that they are no longer incentivised to open up more and more pokie venues that are no more than gambling venues with a state tax break?
Your assistance in answering and encouraging public discussion of these matters will be appreciated.
This was the same launch where Alfred Hospital staff revealed that 1 in 5 of their suicidal patients was a problem gambler. I was told that my questions would be answered.

I have received no answer, not even an acknowledgement.


Anonymous said...

Paul, the article from today's paper (below) just confirms that your hypocrisy will ensure that the people of Romsey are left with no hotel.
You epitomise the quote of being part of the minority that drive these campaigns, yet never go to the venues.
As you choose to ignore that these premises need to be commercially viable, and as council's will never have the courage to support such initiative, more and more communities will lose the facilities that previously they took for granted.
Interesting that your own family chose to cash in on their pokie extravaganza at Burswood rather than turn it into a "family friendly venue" when they had the chance.

Town's win on pokies may cost it a pub
• Peter Rolfe
• From: Sunday Herald Sun
• April 25, 2010 12:00AM
THE Victorian community that won a fight to be pokie-free is now set to lose its only pub.
The rural Macedon Ranges village of Romsey could soon be a town without beer and gaming machines, with the doors to its only inn to be shut permanently only five months after a landmark decision to ban the installation of 30 pokies in the town.
Romsey Hotel owner Jim Hogan has vowed to sell the pub to "non-hotel people" or turn it into a block of units after having his application for a $5 million redevelopment refused.
Mr Hogan slapped a $3 million asking price on the hotel, received two offers from developers and is meeting with a petrol retailer in coming weeks to discuss a possible deal.
"The biggest loser will be the town and the people in the town," he said.
"They may not have a pub there."
Mr Hogan said he told Macedon Ranges Shire Council that if there were no pokies, there may be no pub.
"If there is no gaming it will definitely be gone, there won't be a pub there because it's not viable," he said.
"If there is no pub there you can lay the blame squarely at the council for being petrified of a small minority who wouldn't even go to the pub."
Macedon Ranges Mayor Rob Guthrie said the pub was important to the social fabric of Romsey, but the community was happy with its non-pokies stance.
"There have been a few rumours that it may be sold or converted into an Aldi supermarket, but nothing has been substantiated," he said.
"It's an important part of a small community, but what happens to the pub is up to Jim Hogan."
Mr Hogan said closing the pub could turn Romsey into a "hick town", with other businesses following suit.

Daddy must be so proud.

PokieWatch said...

The Romsey surveys of the local population taken by both the Council and Mr Hogan (on behalf of his application) were found by the court to be similar, the community did not want pokies. The community surveys were driven by the community itself.
Romsey's opposition to pokies existed prior to my even being aware of the harm of pokie gambling.
It must be recognised that these expressions of opinion are self motivated. People really do think for themselves!
The same self motivation is occurring across Victoria in Mildura, Bendigo, Jan Juc, Brighton, Maribyrnong, Indigo, and Whittlesea where local people are objecting to this harmful form of business at their own initiative.

Regarding whether I go to pokie venues, please have a look at where you will find my observations upon over 200 venues that I have visited in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. I have also been to nearly 30 venues in NSW but have not posted my observations.

The commercial viability of any business is the responsibility of the owner, not local government. I disagree with your view that local government should subsidise hotel businesses.

Finally, you imply that I had some ability to control the conduct of business at the Burswood casino. This is untrue. Please refer to my comments on the Don't Poke Jan Juc blog.

Anonymous said...

Pokie crusaders in the dark on partner's casino fortune
Rebecca Urban
From: The Australian
April 20, 2009 12:00AM
ANTI-GAMBLING crusaders Nick Xenophon and Tim Costello launched a new push against poker machines unaware one of their fellow campaigners owes much of his family's wealth to casinos.

But a little-known fact about Mr Bendat, a former lawyer who once worked for Frank Lowy, is that a sizeable portion of his family's wealth came from an investment in the asset class he loathes - poker machines.

Mr Bendat, 58, insists he has never tried to hide the fact that his father, Jack Bendat, owned part of Perth's Burswood Casino before selling the stake to the Packers' Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd as part of a $77 million deal six years ago.

Senator Xenophon said yesterday he knew nothing about it. Nor did Mr Costello.

It's not surprising. Despite having built up a public profile thanks to his website, Mr Bendat's casino ties appear to have gone largely unreported.

In September 2003, PBL announced that it had acquired a "14.2 per cent strategic stake" in the Perth casino operator from companies associated with property tycoon Bill Wyllie and Jack Bendat. A notice issued by the Wyllie Group revealed it had sold its 47 million shares to PBL for $52.9 million. The Bendat family, which owned almost 5 per cent of Burswood through a company called Dreamtime Nominees, made about $24 million in the sale.

The Burswood Casino, now owned by James Packer's Crown, is the only venue in Western Australia permitted to have poker machines. In 2003 - the same year Dreamtime appeared on the casino's share register as its fourth-largest investor - Burswood's 1000-plus machines brought in $95.9 million revenue.

Paul Bendat is keen to distance himself from his father's casino investment. "I tell people," he said when asked by The Australian whether he had disclosed the links. "But ... that's my dad, not me."

However, Australian Securities and Investments Commission filings for Dreamtime Nominees reveal that Paul Bendat - along with his father and his mother, Eleanor - was a director of the company between 2001 and 2005.

Mr Bendat said he was working in the US at the time the Burswood shares were held, and derived no financial benefit from the investment. He does not believe it detracts from his message - that Woolworths, Australia's biggest operator of gaming machines, and Coles are not doing enough to minimise the exposure of children to pokies.

Although Mr Bendat said he had told Senator Xenophon about his casino links before Friday's book launch in Adelaide, the senator insisted yesterday he did not know about Jack Bendat's part-ownership of the casino.

"But so what? You can't put what the father does on the son," he said. "He (Paul Bendat) is obviously genuine with his campaign. I think he's a terrific bloke, and I am very happy to work with him."

Yep, this is the same Mr. Paul Bendat that now runs this website, and jumps at any chance to grab a cheap headline by criticising anyone associated with pokie machines.
His claim is that his father was solely responsible for the investment in the Burswood Casino, and yet this article clearly states that he was in fact a director of the company at this time.

Paul, you have no credibility on this issue.

Daddy must be so proud!

Tom said...

"Daddy must be so proud." Anonymous, you're a broken record. Worse than that, you're boring, and worst of all, you're irrelevant.

To use a footballing analogy: you don't have the skills or the guts to play the ball, so you're trying to play the man. Shame you fail at that too.

I don't see you questioning Paul Bendat's message, only his integrity. That, to me, means that you can't argue with his message... which makes everything else you say pointless.

I notice that you quite happily trumpet about the imminent closure of the Romsey Hotel (reported in late April) but conveniently ignored the fact that Jim Hogan actually has no plans to close the Romsey Hotel (as reported in the Macedon Ranges Leader on May 4 2010). Your first comment: irrelevant.

Then you fall back on an article you've posted many, many times before, talking about Paul Bendat's links to the Burswood casino. Umm... Anonymous, this article is over a year old. All the interested parties are well aware of this information. And yet they continue to work happily and willingly with Paul Bendat. This includes Rev. Tim Costello and Senator Nick Xenophon. Something tells me I'd trust their opinion of Paul Bendat before I'd trust yours. Your second comment: irrelevant.

Do you really want to try for strike three?

Banpokies1 said...

Thanks Tom! I am sure we are all a little sick of hearing from he dredges irrelevant and what amounts to idle gossip.

Personally I think that Paul Bendat deserves a bloody medal! Nothing would be more tedious that having to check hundreds of pokies see how they complied...or didn't! The fact that Paul has raised awareness of the issue IS is his work to stop children's areas from being close to pokies rooms.

Keep it ALL up Paul! Thanks from all of us! xoxo