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.

Whoops!

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.