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 As the elderly who were once the lifeblood of the mega clubs pass on, their pokie gambling habits have not been replaced by the young.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.


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