Saturday, 17 September 2011

Is ClubsNSW worthy of anyone's trust?

ClubsNSW express a lot of opinions about the potential impacts of the proposed pokie reforms. Because of the cash generated by pokie gambling losses and the enormous tax breaks they get from State and Federal governments, they have a lot of money to spend to present their opinions. Can ClubsNSW management be trusted? If a recent release is truly their information then the answer is "no".

The Merriman-Webster dictionary defines "trust" as follows:
"assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something"
If a recent media release about Norway's gambling harm prevention measures is truly from ClubsNSW, my view is that it demonstrates that the people managing ClubsNSW can not be trusted. This untrustworthiness affects not only reporters who write stories but, more importantly the members of registered clubs. Readers can make up their own minds.

While this media release can not be found on the ClubsNSW web site, it appears to be fully reproduced on the web site of the NSW Womens Bowling Association Inc. Click on the picture below to read what the purported release says:
The headline is entirely false and I detailed why in the last PokieAct blog. The privileged Pokie Club lobby's love of the word "mandatory" and the false impression it delivers is on display yet again. This misleading marketing ploy was discussed in this PokieAct blog.

The statements that concern me most are the first and second paragraphs. Here they are:
"The Federal Government’s support for mandatory pre-commitment on club and pub poker machines has been dealt a massive blow with revelations that the problem gambling rate could rise by as much as 60% if introduced in Australia.

A study of 3,000 people in Norway, which is the only country to have mandatory pre-commitment on all poker machines, found that the current rate of problem gambling has increased from 1.3% in 2007 to the current 2.1% following the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment 2 years ago."
A 60% increase in problem gambling!
Oh My God!

Apart from the fact that there is no mandatory pre-commitment in Norway, this argument, cited as fact is wrong.

Slots / Pokies were removed from Norway in 2007.

So, of course, problem gambling rates were lower.

They were removed. It's no wonder that problem gambling rates increased in later years. Pokies or slots were re-introduced in later years. And of course, the incidence of problem gambling rose.

Furthermore, anyone reading the actual Norsk Tipping report knows that the statistics were for all gambling, not just slots/pokies. Other forms of gambling are accessed though what Norsk Tipping now refers to as Interactive Video Terminals. This demonstrates that if slots/pokies are removed that problem gambling actually declines. It does not increase by 60% as a result of mandatory pre-commitment. ClubsNSW management wants you to believe problem gambling goes up. This is wrong.

It's not true. It is a misrepresentation. It is false. It is deliberately misleading. It is bull shit.

The Norwegian ban on machines was discussed in the 24 March 2011 PokieAct blog. Obviously, ClubsNSW management never read it or read it and are intentionally distorting the facts.

How can ClubsNSW management, in good conscience, mislead their members with such a distortion? How can ClubsNSW management ever expect to be trusted as a result?

They can't.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Confusion at the Daily Telegraph

Today's Daily Telegraph published a story that was substantively inaccurate.  If the press considers it an obligation to report the facts, reporter Andrew Clennell has failed.  Here's Mr Clennell's opening sentence under the headline of "Julia Gillard is gambling on failed poker machine limiting system".
"The poker machine restrictions on which Julia Gillard is staking her prime ministership have failed in the only country in the world to have introduced a mandatory pre-commitment spending limit."
The subject country is Norway. Let me make this perfectly clear.

There is no mandatory pre-commitment in Norway.

The Norwegian system to gamble on Video Lottery Terminals requires every gambler to have a card. From 10 February, 2011 gamblers could voluntarily choose to set a limit. Apologies for being pedantic but the facts are important. The only pre-commitment was implemented in 2011 and it was voluntary, not mandatory. It is still voluntary. It has never been mandatory. Norway has never introduced mandatory pre-commitment.

The survey was conducted in 2010. Not 2011. There was no system of pre-commitment either voluntary or mandatory in place at the time the survey was conducted.

What was in place was a different solution. The government imposed a spending cap. Converting the Norwegian limits to Australian dollars it is about $A70 per day or about $A380 per month.

Here's a quote from the Norwegian authority as to the results of the research on their system.
"[They] concluded that there appears to be a general decline in the proportion of Norwegians with a gaming problem, and that those with a moderate form of compulsive gaming have either ceased to play or developed a rather greater problem with their gaming."

Click on the image below you can make up your own mind whether you agree that Mr Clennell has corrupted the facts. It's where the quote comes from.

No one is proposing anything like the Norwegian system of a government imposed spending limit for Australia. This is not a word game. The Norwegian system is something quite different from the modest consumer protection measures proposed for Australia. Mr Clennell and those who fed him that information are misleading the public.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Why the Pokie Clubs Love Mandatory Pre-commitment

I am most of the way through reading the excellent novel Freedom by Johnathan Franzen. One of the characters, a failed activist, decides that population growth is the greatest threat to our planet. There is this wonderful passage that applies equally to the Pokie Club's media strategy about justifying and marketing their opposition to reform:
"It's all circling around the same problem of personal liberties.... People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don't have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can't afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are being shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to. That's what Bill Clinton figured out- that we can't win elections by running against personal liberties."
That's why the Pokie Clubs love to say "mandatory". That's why the Liberals love to say "mandatory". The word reeks of taking away personal freedom. It's why the Pokie Clubs and the Liberals stand for "voluntary". Because they love freedom. And screw the consequences.

With the Pokie Club's campaign to have people shout at their local politicians in full swing, there is no mention about a core feature of the proposed pokie reforms i.e. gamblers will not be required to register, obtain a card, or set a limit on lower loss machines. In other words pokie gambling pre-commitment is NOT mandatory and not ALL machines will be required to have a mechanism whereby gamblers either have to or have the option of setting a maximum loss.

No one is proposing 'mandatory' pre-commitment.  There is no 'license to punt'. It is a misrepresentation. It is false. It is untrue. It is deliberately misleading. It is bull shit.

The parrot is dead. He has ceased to be. A stiff. Bereft of life. If the Pokie Clubs hadn't nailed mandatory pre-commitment to the perch, it would be pushing up daisies.

The proposal for lower loss machines will mean that about 80% of pokie gamblers won't need to change anything. Their freedom to gamble is preserved. Personal liberty remains intact.

But the notion of "all" and "mandatory" continues to be falsely published. Every time the media says "mandatory", the anger rises amongst the pokie club's rent a crowds.
Tony Eastley during 26 July AM where he said;
"TONY EASTLEY: The clubs industry is on the record: it doesn't like the Federal Government's proposal to require all poker machines to allow players to set a maximum loss for each gambling session."

In this context Timothy McDonald reported;
"TIMOTHY MCDONALD: At its heart, the debate is about how much it will cost to have machines that allow players to set a maximum loss at the beginning of each session.

Here's a link;
One needs only to look at the executive summary of the Select Committee to know that this is wrong. It might be barely acceptable if this were identified as being the advocacy of the pokie industry. Instead it is being reported as fact.

This misconception continues to be widely covered in the press. The Pokie Club's favourite word 



Check it out
Gold Coast News
"Staff and supporters of the Tweed's 30 registered clubs filled the South Tweed Sports Club yesterday, providing a show of force against the Federal Government's proposed mandatory pre-commitment scheme on pokies.

Central Western Daily
"The federal government’s proposed poker machine changes include introducing mandatory pre-commitment technology, where all poker machine players must commit to a spending limit before playing."

Herald Sun
"The federal government's plan would see pre-commitment required on machines that allow players to lose $1200 an hour."
While this statement is correct, this report omits any mention of pre-commitment not being required on low loss machines.

ABC online fails to report this key aspect online:
"More than 200 people turned up to the South Sydney Juniors Rugby League Club at Kingsford last night to protest against mandatory pre-set betting limits for pokies."

Daily Telegraph
FEDERAL Labor MP Peter Garrett last night delivered a fiery speech to a hostile crowd protesting against the Gillard government's proposed mandatory pre-commitment poker machine technology.

Narooma News
"Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie wants Prime Minister Julia Gillard to address problem gambling through legislating for reforms such as mandatory pre-commitment in exchange for his support in a nearly hung parliament."

St George & Sutherland Shire leader
"The proposed reforms include requiring gamblers to nominate self-imposed limits on betting and the updating of club machines with systems which link machines to those in other clubs."

Southern Courier
"The 29 local clubs came together to speak out against the Federal Government’s proposed mandatory pre-commitment system for pokie machines."
Penrith City Star
Local clubs would be forced to spend more than $32 million to install the mandatory pre-commitment scheme being proposed by the Federal Government and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Hawkesbury Gazette
ORDINARY punters and community members will finally have the chance to speak up about the Government’s proposed “licence to punt” policy at a forum to be held tonight

The Australian
The vexed issue of gambling reform being championed by Andrew Wilkie is coming to a head. Wilkie is demanding mandatory precommitment on all poker machines by 2014 and wants legislation passed by next May, with the bill on the table by the end of this year.

Herald Sun
"(Wilkie's) stance is that unless the Gillard Government introduces pre-commitment limits on every gaming machine, he will withdraw his support from the Government, which in turn will put it at risk

Making worse the poor reporting causing this confusion, I found a video on the website of The Australian. It has Mr Wilkie talking about "mandatory" pre-commitment. This segment became available on their web site on 29 July. However Mr Wilkie's quote is extracted from an interview conducted in December 2010; before the Select Committee's hearing commenced, before new evidence presented, let alone before the report issued.
It seems that what he said back in December 2010 is being presented as his current view.

So here's the truth. Here's a link to Mr Wilkie's Preface to the Joint Committee Report. Lower loss machines are referred to in the 5th paragraph.
"But many of Australia’s 600,000 regular poker machine players, and millions more genuinely occasional recreational players, would be just as happy to gamble on the sort of low intensity machines referred to by the Productivity Commission and available overseas. Such machines would not need to be part of the MPC regime as they are relatively safe due to a $1 maximum bet and other features limiting losses to an average of $120 an hour. Venues will need to have MPC high intensity machines or non-MPC low intensity machines, or a combination of both."

The detail is in Recommendation 36. Please read it.

There will no mandatory pre-commitment
on lower loss pokie machines.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Real Problem with the Entitlement Auction

The Victorian Auditor General issued a report this week about the incompetence of the process of legislating and then implementing the pokie entitlement auction that likely cost the State of Victoria hundreds of million of dollars. I agree that incompetence in legislating and implementing could have been factors. I agree with Prof Livingstone comments that the auction was an opportunity missed to truly address the issue of harm minimisation. I blame the Greens for caving in when they held the balance of power.

Click here to read some literal hand wringing in today's The Age.

The true core problem in not getting more $$$ is that Victoria has an effective monopoly with Woolies / Mathieson joint venture. No one could realistically bid against them so probably no one did. Firstly, Woolworths would always have more money. Secondly, because of the takeover of the Fosters and Taverners pubs with Woolworths $$$$ there was no pub real estate left.

And it is the metro pub pokies where the significant deficiencies between earnings and the cost of the entitlements occurred.
Here's an article I initiated when the matter was being debated.

I emailed and called Michael O'Brien's and Greg Barber's office. They both ignored my advocacy. That advocacy was to lower the maximum percentage owned, at the very least, by reference to clubs managed. With 20/20 hindsight, what I was suggesting was not radical enough but it would have helped a little to promote competition.

Here's a copy of the media release I sent out in March 2009.

Let's cut to 2011 and see if mistakes are not being made again. They are.

Minister O'Brien seems equally intent as he was in March 2009 in ignoring not just moderate advocacy on pokie reform but also the deficiencies in enforcing even existing legislation as to harmful machines, responsible codes and encouraging children to gamble.

Pre-commitment on high loss pokies can be implemented from a central control if Victoria adopts the QCOM system now operating in Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. New Zealand is QCOM compliant. Here's what the Productivity Commission found at page 10.38:

"In discussion with regulators, experts and the gaming machine industry, the Commission understands that some existing central monitoring systems — such as the Qcom system in Tasmania, Northern Territory and Queensland — could be used to provide ‘full’ pre-commitment across nearly all community venues and machines.21 The Victorian Government has announced a monitoring system that would have a similar functionality as part of its legislated intention to implement pre-commitment."

If this extract is correct then consumers will be protected by quickly indicating what they are prepared to spend for their pokie entertainment and be bound by whatever limit they set. And it can all happen rather quickly and inexpensively.

But Minster O'Brien is resisting even this considered advice.

In addition to the matters raised in the notice to the Victorian gambling commission and Minister O'Brien, Victorians can add the Lucky Envelope pokies nastiness. No matter what the technicalities say, these are low loss pokies are parading as something somehow OK and they're not.

Paraphrasing the Minister from his brazen statements on Four Corners, where was the "holistic" evidence based approach before these low loss pokies were allowed to spread? And are they low loss at all?

The burden is on the Minister to prove that these new style of pokies have spread on the basis of considered research. My guess is that there isn't any. My guess is that this is yet another instance of this Minister's terrifying contempt for the interests of affected Victorians.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Peter Cohen Post VCGR

Peter Cohen is the former Executive Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation. He was responsible for all aspects of gambling regulation in Victoria, including Crown Casino, 27,500 poker machines in over 500 venues, two public lottery operators, bookmakers, the TAB, Keno and charitable gaming. With all this knowledge, Mr Cohen is now working for The Agenda Group; a firm that combines "the political, corporate and media expertise of senior consultants in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, we exhaust all possibilities to deliver for our clients". Amongst their claimed accomplishments are:
Tactical media and government relations campaign to overturn sections of the Federal Government’s health professionals accreditation scheme

Regulatory transformation of an international gaming organisation
I would call this a lobby group.

Here's the release from the Victorian Gambling Commission upon Mr Cohen's retirement.The business of The Agenda Group is not what would have first come to mind although it is private enterprise.

There is a lot of confidential information that came across Mr Cohen's desk in his capacity as chief executive officer. He likely had access to information as to how much was being lost at what venues and on what forms of gambling. That includes KENO and Club KENO. It makes Mr Cohen's promotional statement about the attractive nature of the new KENO license all the more extraordinary:
"The new keno licence which has just been issued and which will take effect from April 2012 overcomes some of these limitations. Firstly, the network of available outlets has been expanded to about 3,000 as it will be allowed in a broader range of premises licensed to serve liquor – with or without poker machines – as well as wagering outlets. Also, any tension that might exist because of the joint venture will cease with keno being licensed to a single entity, Tabcorp. And as Tabcorp already operates keno successfully in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, it has both a business model which is successful and a system approved which can be expanded into Victoria."
This same position was provided to the International Association of Gaming Advisors. One wonders why Mr Cohen is spruicking an investment in Tabcorp.

Mr Cohen also knew what was in the secret management agreements that practically control so many pokie venues. The VCGR, when Mr Cohen, was in charge was reported to be investigating the goings on at the Richmond Tavern (licensed to a basketball club that had ceased to ay basketball years earlier) when pokies were withdrawn from this venue yet the same North Melbourne Giants basketball club (whose address is the same as the giant Woolworths / Mathieson joint venture) apparently applied for 30 pokie entitlements.

I am not aware of any investigation report even though the "ripping out" happened over a year ago. While not critical of anything relating to the Richmond Tavern, the Victorian Auditor General's report into was critical of many other things surrounding the auction of pokie entitlements.

Annexed to the Auditor General's report is a letter from the present VCGR Chairman explaining inconsistencies in some of its information recorded for venue operators.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Media Watch Exposes Uncritical Reporting

The uncritical reporting of the pokie clubs' advocacy has reached an unacceptable level. The poor journalism includes Four Corners.

Click here to read the transcript of Media Watch.

Media Watch uncovers the poor reporting of the clubs' speculative claim of a 40% decline in pokie losses should the Federal Parliament enact the Productivity Commission's consumer protection measures.

ClubsNSW have failed the goal of sustaining the pokie clubs by promoting frightening information that incorrectly generates concern amongst clubs and the public about reduction of pokie revenue as a result of the Productivity Commission's consumer reforms.

Peter Newell and Jeremy Bath were nationally exposed. This reduces the effectiveness of anything they now might say on behalf of clubs. Mr Newell should now be urged to drop the false claim of a compulsory "license to punt" when gambling on low loss machines will require no registration, no card and no setting of limits. Otherwise, there will be further exposure, embarrassment and decline in public acceptance of anything clubs have to say.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Minister and the VCGR on notice

On Monday, 19 June I sent notice to the Chairman of the VCGR, Bruce Thompson, a notice requesting remedial action. An identical letter was sent to the Minister, Michael O'Brien. My co-signatories were Nick Xenophon and Tim Cosello. A similiar letter, relating to matters in South Australia was sent by Nick Xenophon to the relevant parties in that state. Reproduced below is a copy of that letter. Click on the images to read them.I will post any response once received.

Click here to read the coverage in The Age.
Click here to read the coverage in the Adelaide Advertiser.

Friday, 17 June 2011

And Now The ABC Has Fallen

After years of fair coverage, the ABC has now fallen to the pokie clubs strategy to stop pokie reform. It is the very strategy that Yes Minister parodied yet the next Four Corners has been completely duped by it. Here's the hilarious Yes Minister parody extract from the Productivity Commission's report. Click on the image to have a read and a laugh.
What is not funny is how this strategy has become the reality of the battle to implement pokie reform.

The promotion for Four Corners lacks any mention of the cornerstone of the reforms. Pre-commitment was never proposed to be "mandatory" for all. The truth is that gamblers will be able to lose up to $150 per hour gambling on pokies that require no pre-commitment, no card, no license to punt. At a maximum bet of $1, this will account for 80% of existing gamblers without them having to change their gambling habits. This modest consumer protection measure asks only gamblers whose choice it is to gamble on the dangerous high intensity machines to choose how much they are prepared to lose.

Here's how Four Corners pro-pokies bias shows through:
  • The reforms are described as "radical",
  • The core question posed is "it was good politics - but was it good policy?"
  • Wilkie "cut a deal"
  • The lead advocate for the clubs statement is broadcast that "it was a deal done behind closed doors" - the truth is that the agreement has always been a matter of public record. Want a copy? Email me at and I'll send you one.
  • The reporter states "And the punters are in a spin"
  • A gambler's statement is broadcast "people have got to register at how much they are going to play. They won't play at all". This is wrong and promotes the ClubsNSW spin without question.
It would be irresponsible of the ABC to broadcast this ignorance unless it is followed by a broadcast of the fact that the reform does not require most gamblers to either register or set any limits on their gambling.

One wonders how many times this inaccurate and biased promo will be broadcast before Monday night. It should be withdrawn and re-edited.

Click here to read the Four Corners promo page.

There appears to be more bad and biased reporting on the way...
  • The story is called "Wilkie's Gamble".
  • There is a false statement " "Labor promised to introduce smart card technology that would force gamblers to decide in advance how much they would spend when they played poker machines." The actual promise allowed for gamblers to gamble on safe machines without any card, any registration, any setting of limits.
  • The reporter's question is set "why did he choose pre-commitment technology that had never been properly tested?". The fact is that the technology has been tested. It has been in use in Australia and overseas for years.
And, in addition to stop talking about 'mandatory' when the proposal has never been mandatory, let's get something semantically straight.... pokie gambling is not play. It's not sport. It's not kicking or throwing a ball. It's not something that children do in a playground. Pokie gambling is gambling. People who gamble on pokies are gamblers.

By using the word "play" instead of gambling; the ABC has been duped by the Yes Minister strategy.

I have already written to Four Corners in an effort to have the full facts disclosed. I urge you to do the same. Click here to send a comment.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Garbage In Garbage Out

On the surface, the reporting from the Tweed Head Daily News seems straightforward. However, quick examination of the claims being made uncover uncritical journalism that blissfully publishes the garbage advocacy of the giant pokie industry propaganda machine. The worry is that uncritical reporting dangerously transforms this advocacy into some kind of truth. Here's a reproduction of the article.Click here to read the article online.

No one wants people to lose their jobs and 882 jobs is a lot. I would want whatever causes that to not happen. Ms Masters relies upon a KPMG report to substantiate the headline. However, the story is in immediate trouble as Ms Masters fails to disclose that the KPMG report was initiated and paid for by the pokie clubs. Ms Masters fails to disclose that KPMG is a corporate partner of the giant pokie lobby ClubsNSW. Click here to see the special web page set aside for KPMG on the ClubsNSW web site.

Review of Volume 1 of the Productivity Commission's report shows doubt being expressed about findings submitted by KPMG.

But this is window dressing. The substantial step is to examine the basis of the KPMG finding. And it is lacking in substance. It is based upon an assumption of loss of revenue. The only evidence cited in support of that speculative assumption is a trial in Quebec. No detail can be found on the specifics of that trial so one must examine what does happen in Quebec and see if it has a parallel in NSW.

Turning to the reality of Quebec, click here to read the web page of Loto Quebec, the operator of all Quebec pokies (called "VLTs"). The reality is that in Quebec, gamblers set time limits, losses are limited to $60 per session, the required return to player is significantly higher than any Australian jurisdiction, and bets can be no higher than $2.50. That bet limit is 50% less than Australia's strictest requirement. Who knows what it was before?

There are 12,000 VLTs in the Province of Quebec, a population of 7,970,672. There are 97,065 pokies in NSW, a population of 7,134,421.

The reality of the Quebec consumer protection measures on pokie gambling bear little relationship to the claims being made for NSW.

Then there is Ms Masters uncritical acceptance of the claim that it will cost Far North Coast clubs $73 million to implement the reform. No basis for this claim is made. Looking again upon the reality of "nearly there" systems in place for years in Queensland, this claim is false. The reality is that there is NO CAPITAL COST and the periodical cost for "nearly there" systems is as low as $1.50 per day per machine.

The revenue drop is equally speculative. Again no facts are cited.

Finally, the statement that the "proposed technology, put forward by the federal government in return for the support of Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie" is critically untrue.
  1. The modest consumer protection reforms were the recommendation of the Productivity Commission. Not Mr Wilkie. Not the federal government. They were made after 11 years of study commissioned by both Liberal and Labor governments and full consultation with the pokie club industry.
  2. Jenny Macklin, the responsible federal minister, identified implementation of the Productivity Commission's recommendation on pre-commitment as a "first priority" on 23 June 2010. This is months before Mr Wilkie even ran for election.
Garbage In. Garbage Out. While it is always open for a paper to editorialise, articles presented as news do have some responsibility to accuracy.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The MiHi Tragedy Continues

In June 2009, I blogged about the tragic incident of a child being left in a vehicle at the Coles associated MiHi Tavern near Ipswich in Queensland. Readers may recall my recounting my meeting with Coles' senior executives and my please for them to take similar steps to those in place in Victoria. Some very commendable steps were taken (that I applauded publicly - for what that is worth) but not enough. It has all happened again. At the same pokie pub.

Click here to read the story.

By email dated 15 December 2008, I asked Coles to erect these signs:

Instead they erected these signs:

Click on this photo (supplied by Coles) to see an expanded version.

Click here to read my 25 June 2009 blog.

On 18 September 2009, I wrote to Coles and indicated my concerns about the signs they chose to erect:
"With regard to the child warning signs, I believe that the KidsSafe signs will be more effective than the design in the pictures. There is no question that the message in the signs you forwarded is correct and that their design compliments the 'look' of the Mihi Tavern. The suggested signs are aesthetically pleasing. The problem is that the message needs to be forcibly noticed to be truly effective. This KidsSafe design was mentioned in your 6 point plan. I believe that the KidsSafe design used by all Victorian pokie pubs remains the best option. It may well be that this is a less expensive option than custom designed signs. There is also matter of how many signs will be erected and where they will be located."
Regretfully, I may have been right. Another infant has been left in a car at the MiHi while her parent gambled inside. What will it take for Coles to correct it's practices?

I have written again to Coles suggesting that these signs are ineffective, that their car park monitoring be increased and that the public address system be used hourly at all their venues to warn against leaving children in vehicles.

But Coles' practices remain a model to emulate compared to my experiences of the giant NSW pokie clubs. While I may have missed them, no car park of any NSW pokie club or pub had any warning signs whatsoever. Given the harmful nature of pokie gambling and the vast car parks of these pokie clubs, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Len's Ainsworth Soaring Eagle

Len Ainsworth was the founder of Australian billion dollar company Aristocrat Leisure. Aristocrat is our largest pokie manufacturer. As such, he is the man most responsible for the harm caused by these dangerous machines. Len left Aristrocrat and founded Ainsworth Game Technology. I dropped by their stand at a recent UK trade show and picked up some of their material. Ainsworth spruicks a feature on their new Soaring Eagle Super Game that make me worry.

There has been an ongoing debate about whether pokies are programmed to display a near miss. A 'near miss' is where the symbols nearly line up to reward the gambler. To understand the Victorian situation, here's what the Victorian Gambling Commission published in Spring 2010 about an article that appeared in the Herald Sun;
"The newspaper also claimed that gamblers experience a ‘near miss’ effect when playing gaming machines. This occurs when players believe they have almost won a prize and are encouraged to keep playing. For instance, a reel may show four of the five symbols required to win the major jackpot.
Contrived ‘near misses’ are banned in Australia. Games must display symbols that are the result of a random number generator.
A gaming machine showing a contrived ‘near miss’ will not be approved in Victoria."
P 3.9.57a of the Australian/New Zealand Gaming Machine National Standard Version 10.0 and 10.1 states:
"3.9.57a The display of the result of a game outcome must not be misleading or deceptive to the player (e.g. must not improperly indicate a near-miss)."
One of the ways that a near miss can be contrived is when the symbols leading to a win are stacked on certain of the computerised reels but held back on other reels. The gambler experiences winning symbols on say, reels 2, 3, and 4 but because those sysmbols are held back on, say reel 5, the win never comes. By weighting the reels, the near miss effect will be experienced notwithstanding that reels spin by virtue of a random number generator.

Tim Falkiner has been an evangelist about the circumstance of weighted reels.

Click on the image below and have a look at the third bulleted feature of the Soaring Eagle game.

Here's the spruick:
"Long arrays of stacked wilds across reels 2, 3 and 4 held on reel 5 for exciting play"
I could be wrong but this sounds a lot like Ainsworth deliberately weights reels on the Soaring Eagle in a way that contrives near misses.

And a near miss is certainly "exciting" for the pokie gambler. Professor Kevin Harrigan of Waterloo University has written about how a near miss encourages a gambler to continue gambling:
"The above research shows that near misses are an indirect risk factor that may explain how “cognitions are influenced and distorted” (Griffiths 1995, p. 196), lead to “significantly longer playing times” (Strickland and Grote 1967), “may motivate people to gambling” (Cote et al. 2003, p. 433), “causes a gambler to over-estimate their chances of winning” (Clarke as cited in Lane 2006), and “appears to perpetuate play, and is therefore a structural characteristic that has the potential to greatly influence the ‘addictiveness’ of the machine” (Parke and Griffiths 2004, p. 409)."
You can read more about near misses by following these links:

It is quite possible that I have mis-read the Ainsworth spruick. It could be that Len intends that the Soaring Eagle game never soars in Australia. I hope so.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Peter Newell Can Sleep Tonight

During yesterday's address Peter Newell mentioned what happened in Norway as a cause for concern. He was worried about online gambling sucking up the gambling dollars that problem gamblers would spend after turning away from pokies once full pre-commitment was in place. He need not worry. The evidence direct from the Norweigan Gaming Authority is good news for Mr Newell. Slot machine gamblers in Norway did not move to other forms of gambling. Mr Newell can sleep well tonight.

I'm guessing Mr Newell did not know about this information. Of course, if he did, and proceeded to state publicly that Norweigian pokie gamblers moved to other forms of gambling then that would not be telling the truth.

Here's an expert commenting on this very same information. He's got it nearly right.
"the majority of former slot machine players did not move to new forms of gambling and the turnover and participation in new gaming terminals is lower than it was for slot machines. In addition, fewer individuals are seeking help from telephone help-lines and treatment services"
This expert was named and touted by Peter Newell (and members of ClubsNSW) as being authoritative on pre-commitment. This paragraph was taken from his expert submission to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform. Mr Newell referred to this committee's proceeding during his talk yesterday.

Is it reasonable to presume that Mr Newell read the whole of this expert's report? It's only 10 pages. It's available publicly. One might hope that Mr Newell owes it to the members of Clubs Australia before he talks about it before the National Press Club in a nationally televised event.

The quote is from pokie expert Professor Alex Blaszczynski of the University of Sydney.

Backing up the research discussed in my Tale of the Ol' West blog, here's a further breakdown from the Norweigan Gaming Authority:

My assumption is that the pokie industry regards the addicted gambler as an incurable sicko who will fall from alcohol, drugs or other forms of gambling. The best place for these people is the warm embrace of their clubs and pubs. The multi billion dollar pokie industry takes insufficient responsibility for the inherent dangerous nature of the machine itself nor the environment they create in their pokie dens.

It would, indeed, seem that Mr Newell was somewhat casual with the facts during his talk yesterday.

My hope is that the damage of pokie gambling causes Mr Newell not to sleep very well until he leads all clubs into embracing not only the Productivity Commission's recommendation of full precommitment but their full suite of measures including $1 bet limit and reducing the cash acceptor maximum.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Real Pokie Crusade

Tomorrow, Peter Newell, Clubs Australia chairman and crusader (who threatened sue me twice) is delivering a speech at Canberra's National Press Club called "The Government's Undoing - The Andrew Wilkie Pokie Plan". He will flag the upcoming launch of a "hard hitting" campaign (when is a campaign ever described as anything but "hard hitting"?). It is his declaration of war.

I have little hope that Mr Newell will balance his advocacy with the truths I urged him to divulge to his members in the ad I took in the Illawarra Mercury

If balance is the goal, it seems that I am bound to be disappointed as Mr Newell has characterised the reform as the "Andrew Wilkie Pokie Plan" when it is not. The reform is part of the suite of measures recommended by the Productivity Commission. Mr Wilkie played no part in their formation. The blurb for Mr Newell makes the false assertion that "Australia's 5 million annual poker machines players will needs a license to gamble". Not true. Given that my advertisement pointed out that casual gamblers will be able to bet without a pre-commitment card, Mr Newell seems to have passed from advocacy to wilful misrepresentation.

But the Productivity Commission's reform is not what is truly driving Mr Newell. The crusade is the preservation of the largest NSW pokie clubs.

These brontosauruses have been fatally ill for a long time as their customers move on to forms of entertainment that are relevant to their lives rather than a model that was invented in the 1950's. These clubs are so dependent upon an unrestricted flow of pokie losses from an ever diminishing customer base that they are now begging for government intervention to keep the playing field permanently tilted in their favour despite the damage to Australian society.

The failed pokie club model is compounded by poor management practices that focused upon self-serving over-the-top pokie manors rather than a model free of dependence upon pokie gambling. As the elderly who were once the lifeblood of the mega clubs pass on, their pokie gambling habits have not been replaced by the young. It is a failure of competence at the very top of pokie club management.

Don't take my word, rely instead of the findings of the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) whose report on the pokie clubs is so often cited by the dynamic duo of Messrs Newell and Ball.
"there appear to be a range of deficiencies in clubs’ corporate governance. Stakeholders identified that limitations in the skills of directors (especially limited understanding of financial concepts) and difficulties in attracting and electing directors with appropriate skills present challenges to board effectiveness."
IPART also found that the smaller clubs, more reliant on volunteers, were consequently less reliant on pokie revenue. While cited by the Batman and Robin of Clubs Australia (Messrs Newell and Ball) as the entities that might be most harmed by pokie reform, the fact seems to be that they will be least affected by the consequent drop in pokie losses once the Productivity Commission's considered reforms are implemented.

What the pokie clubs need to do is introduce gambling that is both safer and more entertaining that will grab back people. The products exist. Here's the IGT Batman pokie I saw in operation at a recent gambling trade fair.

And there's a lot more possibilities with statewide or national platforms that will allow implementation and easy adjustment of the whole suite of the Productivity Commission's reforms as detailed in the blog about The Most Important Thing.

True community clubs still exist. Even in metropolitan Sydney. Without pokies. Click here to experience the very cool family environment offered by the Petersham Bowling Club without pokies.

But then you would need competent boards of pokie clubs to recognise future opportunities rather than maintaining the manor. They should be assisted by a crusading leadership (caped or not) that keeps their members fully informed as to all sides of the argument.

And that isn't happening.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

More Bad Gambling Commission Findings

The Victorian Gambling Commission never ceases to amaze in their ability to reject submissions that may impede the march of pokie availability to Victorian suburbs and rural communities. One of the arguments put to the Commission as a part of Jeremy Ham's submission to the Jan Juc hearing was that the presence of pokies in Jan Juc would lead to an increased incidence of crime. This was rejected without reason by the Commission in these words:
"the Commission does not accept that the case for increased crime and threat to the safety of the community of Jan Juc resulting from the introduction of gaming machines was made out."
Here's the case that was not accepted:
There is potential for the Beach Hotel to impact the community negatively by enhancing the likelihood of income producing crime. This can occur in 3 ways:
  • Gamblers committing crime to support problem gambling behaviour
  • Venue staff exploiting the gambling business being conducted at the venue
  • Crime committed against the venue and patrons
Unfortunately and despite the perceived good fortune of the Torquay and Jan Juc communities, it has been reported that a staff member has been charged with stealing $187,000 from the nearby Torquay Golf Club. Crime is not a theoretical possibility but is a real issue for the Jan Juc community.

The findings of the Victorian Department of Justice report into the relationship between income generating crime and gaming expenditure (“Crime Study”) are relevant. Given the finding that there is a positive association between gaming expenditure and crime, the Beach Hotel’s evidence that gaming expenditure will rise founds the likelihood that income producing criminal activity will rise in the Jan Juc community if the Beach Hotel’s application is successful.

The high SEIFA index for the Shire’s residents is not a mitigating factor. The study found (with qualifications) that there was a positive relationship between lesser disadvantaged areas and income generating crime (Section 5.2 on page 73-74) when viewed by reference to gambling expenditure.

The observation in the Crime Study that “ it has been generally found that the higher the income, the more likely it is that households gamble” fits with this conclusion even though those better off households may be under represented in the top gambling expenditure group.

A significant percentage of both moderate risk and problem Victorian gamblers were found to answer positively to whether their gambling had led them to do anything that is technically against the law in the past 12 months. Please refer to pages 217-218 of the epidemiological study undertaken for the Department of Justice titled “Problem Gambling from a Public Health Perspective” (“Epidemiological Study”). The percentages of 3.45% for moderate risk gamblers and 15.17% for problem gamblers were well above the total population percentages disclosed in figure 4 on page 53 of the Crime Study.

While the crime participation rates for moderate gamblers were below that of problem gamblers it should be recognised that there are many more people in this group of moderate risk gamblers. The findings from the Epidemiological Study must be read subject to the qualification that although an overwhelming percentage of respondents in these categories are pokie gamblers; the category includes participation in all forms of gambling.

Howsoever qualified these studies clearly indicate that there will be an increase of the likelihood of income generating crime if pokies are approved at the Beach Hotel. The issue is not whether there will be an increase but how much that increase will be. Taking into account the lack of disadvantage, the likelihood is significant as the incident at the Torquay Golf Club demonstrates and a negative impact.

There have been a number of Melbourne pokie venues that have recently been the subject of violent crime. These venues include the Cross Keys Hotel in Essendon, the serial robberies of Raylene and Anthony Szarvak, the veteran robbed in his driveway after leaving the Werribee Plaza, the pensioner attacked and robbed for her pokie winnings after leaving Geelong’s Norlane Hotel, and most troubling, the Westmeadows Tavern. The Westmeadows Tavern is most troubling because of its environmental similarities to the Beach hotel.

The Westmeadows Tavern is an attractive Woolworths / Mathieson associated venue with a family orientated “Western” theme. The public bar area is in a semi detached building. The pokie area is adjacent to a neighbourhood family bistro. The Westmeadows Tavern operates 42 pokies. Like the Beach Hotel, it is not adjacent to a highway. It’s operators have considerable experience. Yet on 25 June 2010, three masked men armed with a knife and guns demanded cash and ordered three staff and three patrons to lay on the floor. Given the combination of TAB, alcohol service and the pokie and bistro areas in one area at the Beach Hotel, there is likely to be significant cash generated. This is a worse configuration than the Westmeadows Tavern where the income generating sections of the facility are discrete.

The negative impact of the likelihood of crime is exacerbated by the intended conduct of the Applicant. There was no mention nor any evidence lead by the Beach Hotel as to precautions to be taken to minimise the likelihood of income generating crime being imposed upon the Jan Juc community should its application be successful. Not only does this omission impact upon an assessment of net detriment but also the suitability of the Applicant to be granted such a license.

The low-level security nature of the Jan Juc residential neighbourhood and the low-key business may well perceive the need to raise security standards. This will result in a negative cost impact being borne by the community.
A study by the forensic accounting firm Warfield & Associates about Gambling Motivated Fraud was released today. Click here to download the whole report. Here's the key page. Click on the image to read it in full size.

No surprise that pokie gambling is overwhelmingly the primary choice for gambling motivated fraud.

The Commission must consider crime as a negative impact of enhancing access to pokie gambling in Victoria's suburbs and regional communities.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Most Important Thing

The most important thing I would say about the implementation strategy is that it itself involves precommitment to precommitment and by that I mean really the technology platform. So the starting point for the implementation plan is to put in place the standards and the technology across the states that would allow precommitment. It is also the same platform that could allow a whole range of other measures to be put in place and, most importantly, to withdraw or amend them at very low cost depending on their effectiveness.

That's not something I wrote although I wish I could have.

It is an extract of the transcript of the Productivity Commission's contribution to the Select Committee's inquiry into pre-commitment. The words are from Dr Ralph Lattimore who was very much involved in the 1999 inquiry as well as the 2010 inquiry. His recommendations deserve the greatest weight together with the views of Gary Banks and Robert Fitzgerald who also conducted both inquires (no disrespect whatsoever to Ms Sylvan who is a veteran of only the 2010 Inquiry!).

Why is it the most important thing? Because the Productivity Commission never recommended pre-commitment as the complete fix-it to Australia's enormous pokie gambling problem. Again, Dr Lattimore words are preferred
"the commission has never suggested that precommitment will be a silver bullet. It is part of a suite of measures. You cannot just rely on a single approach to address problem gambling or, indeed, consumer protection."
Pre-commitment was only one of a series of measures considered that included the $1 bet limit, reducing the amount of cash that could inserted into a pokie at any one time, the volatility of the machine, the spin rate, the maximum ATM withdrawal and others.

Let Dr Lattimore, Ms Sylvan and Mr Fitzgerald do the talking:
I can give an illustration of this. This is why we have put a lot of emphasis on the platform at the commencement. We had a lot of dealings with the ATM manufacturers because we wanted to address rigorously the costs associated with ATM changes. Changing a limit on an ATM machine in a gaming venue is very low cost because it can be done remotely. In Queensland, where they use the QCOM system, again it is extremely cheap to make a change to the gaming machine because the communication between the machine and the monitor—a private monitor in this case—is easy. So they were able to introduce a change in the amount you could put into the machine in any one go overnight. As it happened, we withdrew it shortly afterwards but again remotely. On a platform side, that is what you are looking at. That involves the capability for precommitment and it also gives you the capability for a range of other regulatory measures. That is why the most important part of that implementation strategy is getting agreement on standards and technology.
Ms Sylvan—We are talking about a national uniform set of standards, which industry said to us was very important. One of the concerns at the moment is that the standards are quite variable across the states and territories. Our use of the term ‘adaptive technology’ means you have a base set of standards, but the implementation of that in different jurisdictions could in fact be different. For instance, bet limits could be different and could be changed quite easily. So that is an important feature of the system.

CHAIR—So you could have a state based technical solution to a set of common standards?

Ms Sylvan—A different implementation really.

CHAIR—Okay, but ultimately arriving at a uniform technology?

Mr Fitzgerald—The technology should be standard across Australia. That benefits industry. It is the most cost effective way to do it. Once you introduce this new technology, individual jurisdictions can implement different measures. The problem at the moment is that the current status quo machinery means that all implementation of measures is expensive. This changes forever the way in which the industry, the regulators and government policy can interact. The key thing is that it is very cost effective, but to do it you need national technological standards with a capability to do a range of things."
It would be ultimately
  • cheaper
  • quicker, and
  • more effective
if Australia followed the considered recommendations of the Productivity Commission.

Let's hope that the ALP will stay the course and the Coalition will think about Australia's welfare instead of their apparent cynical priority of calling an early election.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Victorian Local Councils - The New Pokie Addicts

Darebin now joins Moreland and Manningham in an idiot's parade of local government councils eager to get their share of the pokie gambling losses. Once locked into this new source of revenue, without a clue about what to do with it, they will become as addicted as our own State governments, the AFL and the NRL. Bear in mind that 40% of this new money is earned on the backs of problem gamblers. It's immoral and, frankly, disgusting.

Instead these Victorian councils should be doing their best to address public health concerns focussing on carefully considered measures preventing or, at worst, minimising the harm of pokie gambling itself. No need to re-invent the wheel. That is what the Productivity Commission came up with after 11 years of study and extensive consultation with all involved in pokie gambling.

Councils have three formal means to influence pokie policy in their city or shire;
  1. Participate in the Victorian Gambling Commission process regarding the approval of new or additional pokies
  2. Participate in the approvals required pursuant to the town planning process
  3. Levy discretionary rates
The most powerful is a fourth means. Rather than look for a stoush with their local pokie pubs and clubs, try talking to them. Here's an agenda for such a chat:
  • An undertaking to implement the measures recommended by the Productivity Commission.
  • Either ban children from their venues or at least remove children from the sights and sounds of pokie and other forms of gambling once inside the pokie pub or club.
  • More visible promotion of self exclusion
  • Prohibition simultaneous gambling on two or more machines.
  • Place Gambler's Help information not only in their toilets but their smoking areas.
All of these discussion points address only the at risk gambler and will not affect the revenue earned from the genuinely recreational gambler.

There is little cost in having an intelligent chat. Not even close to the legal, survey or consulting costs of a VCAT or VCGR brawl.

If the venues fail to co-operate the Council can make it known, so long as the objective criterion are established, that the venue is considered an unsafe gambling venue. Given Council's existing means of communicating with their rate payers the cost of communication is minimal.

Any council genuinely concerned about their citizen's welfare will resist the siren call of sharing in pokie revenue and, instead, address the real problem of the machines themselves.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Tale of the Ol' West

South Dakota is known as the Mount Rushmore state. It's where four presidents likenesses have been blasted out of a mountain and people pose so that their finger appears to be sticking up Abe Lincoln's nose. It is also the state where pokies were banned for three months in 1994. This real world experience provides a true guide as to what might happen if the harm of pokie gambling were somehow limited.

Is the answer as the politicians and the monster Clubs Australia lobby predict? Will problem punters find other harmful ways to gamble?


What happened according to is:
"...the inquiries about gambling and the number of individuals receiving treatment for problem gambling diminished abruptly. When the machines were turned back on, there was a prompt increase in both of these categories.
These changes occurred despite the fact that alternative forms of legal gambling were available (i.e., scratch tickets, Indian Reservation casino gambling, and multi-state lotteries). This suggests that video lottery gambling machines presents a unique risk for the development of problems severe enough to prompt treatment. These data suggest little substitution of other forms of gambling occurred when video lottery gambling was not available."
These are not the conclusions of but a summary of the findings of a paper issued by the South Dakota Journal of Medicine co-written by two persons holding doctorate degrees and two with medical degrees in either psychiatry or psychology.

I would be happy to email anyone a copy. Just write to me at

This should end the speculative fantasy that the clubs are trying to fabricate into fact by virtue of repetition.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Lack Of Perspective From The Big Bad Wolf

There was wild speculation due to an idea floated during testimony given to the Federal Pre-Commitment Inquiry. That idea was Tasmania would be an ideal location to trial full pre-commitment. It was mentioned in the testimony given by Dr Ralph Lattimore of the Productivity Commission. The mere mention of this idea seem to have made Anthony Ball CEO of ClubsNSW froth at the mouth.

Here's what drooled out of Mr Ball's chops,
"The fact politicians are now talking about a trial confirms that they know this mandatory technology is a lemon."
The truth is nothing like that.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin correctly pointed out that a trial of full pre-commitment had been originally recommended by the Productivity Commission. For my own part, I have lobbied for such a trial to be conducted in the relative geographic isolation of Ballarat. Such a trial would allow the controls of an effective platform to be fine tuned. Those controls would include bet limitations and lowered cash acceptor maximums in addition to the pre-commitment system. It is a great idea.

So there is no doubt where the trial fits into the process, click on the graphic below. It is an extract from the Productivity Commission's final report and it clearly shows how full pre-commitment should proceed.
Let's be clear. It is not a trial as to whether there should or should not be full pre-commitment. Formal legislative resolve mandating full pre-commitment must happen first. It is a trial to fine tune the suite of other measures the Productivity Commission recommended that builds upon the foundation of full pre-commitment but includes so much more.

While it is fundamental for Mr Ball to express opinions that conform with the position he advocates, this most recent statement has no substance.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Michael O'Brien in Disney's Fantasyland

It looks like I made a mistake assessing Michael O'Brien. Given his involvement in exposing the VCGR's error in granting a pokie license to a venue that, on the record, wanted to place a child play area adjacent to the pokie gambling area, I thought that he might be the person to substantively guide the Victorian legislature to measures that will reduce the harm of pokie gambling. I was wrong.In opposing full pre-commitment as recommended by the Productivity Commission, Mr O'Brien has taken Victoria backwards to the aggressive pro-gambling policies of the 90's where there was little regard for the dangerous nature of these machines let alone the harm they cause to tens of thousands of Victorians, their friends, families and workmates.

This is what Mr O'Brien said to the ABC. This minister has clearly left Main Street for Fantasyland.
"Victoria believes that pre-commitment should be available on every single gaming machine in the state, and we want to see that implemented as soon as possible really.

But we do believe that the choice to use the technology should be with the individual player. It shouldn't be a case of a big brother government forcing players to provide personal details to get some sort of ID card to be able to play a gaming machine.

We think that's intrusive and, more to the point, it won't help problem gamblers because all the research shows that that sort of activity doesn't affect problem gamblers.

Pre-commitment works best when people want to modify their behaviour. That means a voluntary system will work where a compulsory system just won't."
Later, in the same interview, one wonders if Mr O'Brien has just gotten off the Mad Hatter's Tea Cup ride when he says:
"What the Commonwealth is proposing will do nothing for problem gambling. It's really borne of their own political necessity rather than good policy outcomes.

So there's no reason why Victoria should have to change our clearly thought-out plan to bend to the Commonwealth's interests on this one."

Maybe Mr O'Brien was stuck on Mr Toad's Wild Ride during the last two years that the Productivity Commission considered all the evidence and, at the end of it all, recomended full pre-commitment. It seems that he has not read Minister Jenny's Macklin's December 2010 speech that simply endorses this recommendation including even the fine detail that truly recreational gamblers will be able to gamble on the pokies outside the system.

He also ignores the recommendation of the Victorian government's own gambling advocate.

Adding to this Fantasyland of ignorance, Minister O'Brien even ignores Professor Delfabbro's submission to the inquiry on pre-commitment based upon work undertaken for the Victorian government:
"From a public policy perspective, voluntary systems do not appear to work very well."

To paraphrase Mr O'Brien, his clearly thought out plan won't work very well according to the Productivity Commission, The Victorian Gambling Advocate and the Victorian government's own study.

In order to return to Main Street, Mr O'Brien owes it to all Victorians to read the Productivity Commission's final report. If he thinks that venues will go the extra step to implement measures that might decrease their losses from their machines, read the Productivity Commission's final report or maybe even Prof Linda Hancock's research on Crown casino that was personally handed to him. They won't. I've tried.

Mr O'Brien, minimisation of the harm of these dangerous machines is not a visit to Disneyland. There are real lives that depend upon you following the considered recommendations of the Productivity Commission reached after 11 years of study. If you can't do even that, at least read Table 1 on page 41 of the final report.