Friday, 17 August 2012

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

Instead of showing leadership Michael O'Brien has turned to diverting the discourse away from poker machine reform in today's Herald Sun column.

Here's what the  Minister writes
It was a financial disaster for Victoria that the Coalition strongly opposed from Opposition. So it was curious, to say the least, to read Paul Bendat's claim (Herald Sun, August 15) that I "endorsed" the former government's gaming auction.

On the day the decision was announced I said that the then-premier had blown a once-in-a-generation opportunity and that Victorians were the worse for it.

As a former lawyer, Mr Bendat should know that the factors that led to the poor auction result, including the setting of a rock-bottom reserve price and ending the auction while bids were still being placed, were decisions taken solely by the government of the day and did not come before Parliament.

This is not an "endorsement" and it seems less than honest to pretend otherwise.

Here's the response

It was my recollection that all aspects of this legislation were passed unanimously. This recollection is confirmed by the online record of The Greens. It shows all unanimous votes on all things gambling in 2009 when these amendments were enacted.

So the Minister agreed to  and thereby endorsed the termination of the Tabcorp and Tattersall's poker machine licenses, the root cause of the action by Tattersall's.

It seems that the Minister's real problem is something else, that the auction did not raise enough money.

I believe that the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Licensing) Bill 2009 - the enabling legislation - gave the then Minister (Tony Robinson) the power to make rules with respect to the allocation of entitlements. So Mr O'Brien assented to the Minister  having these powers not to have to come back to Parliament. He should have specified this at the time.

But he did not.

His recollection that the Opposition "strongly opposed" when he voted for and thereby endorsed legislation should be questioned.

It is, of course, open for Mr O'Brien to criticise the Minister after enabling him.

The Minister's stated concern is not whether an auction was conducted but how it was conducted. But the auction was doomed from the beginning. In June 2011 I blogged:
"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."

I emailed Michael O'Brien's office on three occasions voicing concern about Woolworths' domination in March 2009 without response.

It was not the way in which the auction was conducted (what Mr O'Brien whines about) but that there should never have been an auction in the first place.

Mr O'Brien spruicks his accomplishements;
"We have removed ATMs from gaming venues, ensuring that any cash-out transaction via EFTPOS involves interaction with staff."
The system has already been the subject of critical reports in The Age and Crikey. In essence past ATM limits have been lifted and staff are not mandated to intervene.

In Crikey, the Woolworths joint venture spokesperson was invited to comment about intervention but demurred.

I was present when a reporter from The Age questioned staff at a poker machine venue who said that how much was being withdrawn was none of their business.

There is many things that he has not done. Implementing the evidence based recommendation of the Productivity Commission of the $1 bet limited so that hourly losses can be no higher than $120 is the main thing.

The use by Mr O'Brien of the 0.7 of the total Victorian population figure is misleading. In fact, the Productivity Commission found that describing problem gambling prevalence in this way was "misleading". Their finding was:
"though problem gambling is indeed low in the total adult population, it is pronounced among those who gamble regularly."
 The number is high as 31% (Productivity Commission report page 5.25)

The undisputed fact remains that Victoria has the highest prevalence of problem gambling of any Australian state.

Instead of irrelevant arguments, the Minister should adopt the evidenced based recommendation of the Productivity Commission to legislate the $1 bet maximum so that gambling losses are limited to $120 per hour.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ted Ballieu Can Legislate Real Reform

The real point of my two page opinion article published in today's Melbourne Herald Sun was to urge the Ballieu government to legislate poker machine reform.

Two simple steps.

Adopt the evidence based recommendation of the Productivity Commission for a staged implementation of the $1 bet limit so that poker machine losses will be limited to $120 per hour.

Raise taxes on all poker machine venues. This includes Crown casino, clubs and hotels.

Here's why this is a great political move.
The public want poker machine reform. The Age reported that 70% of Victorians wanted the more sophisticated reform that required gamblers to set a limit. Mr Ballieu will ride an unsurpassed wave of popularity if he takes this moral stand.

The reform is evidence based. The harm of poker machine gambling will be reduced.

Victoria's revenue won't be reduced. Victoria's poker machines rake in more losses than any other state providing a comfortable cushion for poker machine operators.

The capital value of poker machines will be reduced and therefore the potential for a damages claim.

Have no doubt, the poker machine industry will push back.

Bruce Mathieson, the pokies king, will call out his lobby team from his $18 million Mermaid Beach mansion. Woolworths will be shocked. James Packer will get his ex-Labor spin doctors to ring their Labor and Liberal mates.

But ultimately reform must occur.

It's inevitable.

like tobacco, the more we learn about this industry and the harm it knowingly causes, the more obvious it becomes that at some point these companies will be held to account.


Here's a link to the opinion:
If you find that this story is behind a firewall, google Pokies giants Tatts and Tabcorp land the jackpot‎ and then click on the resulting link.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Failure of the ALP

Regardless of Andrew Wilkie's analysis of the wording designed to save the Government's useless legislation what resounds from the events of Friday, 20 April 2012 is the failure by the ALP of simple management.

Poker machine reform is supported by the electorate. Andrew Wilkie was willing to support the Prime Minister's choice to take her government down the path of mandatory pre-commitment. Mandatory Pre-Commitment was the Gillard Deal.

Mr Wilkie's support was given to the Gillard Deal despite Mr Wilkie's preferred evidence-based option of the $1 bet coupled with a ceiling on losses of no more than $120 per hour. This was the Productivity Commission's recommendation that could be implemented without a trial.

What happened was that the hard work of poker machine reform was assumed to be done by someone else. Mr Wilkie assumed the Prime Minister would do this within caucus and with the independents. Maybe Ms Gillard thought Mr Wilkie was going to do the hard yards with other independents. Neither did either. For whatever reason.

But Andrew Wilkie is not the government. The ALP are and the ALP demonstrate garbage government and garbage management. The Gillard government has failed to discharge its responsibility to those damaged by these dangerous machines.
Our Prime Minister seems more obsessed with the retention of her own position within her party.


The result of Mr Wilkie's consideration of new wording to the proposed legislation will either nothing or a shit bill that accomplishes nothing and likely to be thrown out in the Senate anyway.

The harm of poker machines continues.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Reducing Gambling Harm Through Education

By watching this classic Warner Bros cartoon, Early To Bet, the answer to how to reduce the harm of gambling through education is revealed.

I found out about this cartoon from Rev Tim Costello who referred me to an excellent article by Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre. Click on this link to read Dr Longstaff's article.

Due to a report in The Age by Richard Willingham with the title "School gambling education call" (Click here to read the report)  and the story of the Geelong youth forum on responsible gambling being conducted inside a pokie club, the issue of gambling education has gotten some recent attention. Click on the image below to read the report and editorial in the Geelong Advertiser.

So, how is the question answered by this cartoon?

As usual, one must look to the Productivity Commission's report on gambling; in particular Chapter 9 - titled "School-based gambling education." The critical statement that guides any information or "education" directed to children is found on page 9.9;
"... the key evaluation issue is whether educational programs reduce current and future gambling related harm, not whether they merely inform."
Programs that reduce current and future gambling related harm are the goal. While making clear how sparse the research is, the Commission noted a key finding of the existing studies:
"The factor that most strongly predicts decreased gambling behaviour is when students develop a negative attitude towards gambling after attending the program."
The meaning of this key finding is clear. "Education strategies focused on young people and responsible gambling messages" is absolute shite. There is a vast difference between "responsible" messages and "negative" messages. While research is limited they find;
"improved understanding of gambling but little evidence of positive behavioural change"
It is negative messages that are needed..... just like the Early To Bet cartoon.

There is a 1988 finding cited by the Commission (Page 9.14) reinforces the need for negative messages:
"... partly attributed the relatively greater success of school-based tobacco programs (compared with alcohol) to the fact that these were accompanied by ‘consistent anti–smoking messages in the general media and to the emergence of a strong anti–smoking social movement’"
It is negative messages that are needed..... just like the Early To Bet cartoon.

The sense I took from the Commission report was that caution is essential because of findings that increased knowledge might result in increased harmful behaviour;
"... findings suggest that increased knowledge of gambling in children and adolescents may have the unintended consequence of intensifying harmful behaviour, a risk that should be considered in the design (or even in considering the introduction) of school-based programs." (@9.14)
The Commission went further at 9.17
"... the Commission considers that there is scope for adverse outcomes to occur from school-based life skills programs including gambling."
Finally, consider the Commission's finding and recommendation:
"Little evidence has been collected about the effects of school-based gambling education programs on students’ gambling behaviour. However, evaluations of similar programs in alcohol and vehicle safety have found that, while they can raise awareness, they tend to have no, or even adverse, behavioural impacts."

"Given the risk of adverse outcomes, governments should not extend or renew school-based gambling education programs without first assessing the impacts of existing programs."
The point is that not only are the suggestions of Clubs Australia wrong but so is the substance of the Geelong program of the Victorian government being held under the banner of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week. It is called "A Safer Bet? - Look after your mates" rather than "Don't Bet". It appears to be an option whether an accompanying teacher is even required. The Geelong youth forum is doubly wrong by being held at a poker machine club. Both the message and the environment in which the message is being delivered are flawed.

Governments should follow the studies cited by the Productivity Commission. No one campaigns to "Smoke Responsibly". Equally no one should campaign to "Gamble Responsibly". The proper course is to implement campaigns for people to quit gambling emotionally pointing out the harm caused by these dangerous machines.

It is negative messages that are needed..... just like the Early To Bet cartoon.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Did Woolworths Chairman Mislead Shareholders?

On Saturday, 7 April 2012, Richard Willingham wrote in both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age about complaints laid against James Strong, Woolworths Limited Chairman of Directors that he mislead shareholders at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. Click here to read the Sydney Morning Herald report.

This is a serious allegation.

The same story lead the AM program on ABC radio on Saturday's morning nation wide broadcast. Click here to read a transcript of the ABC Radio report. You can also listen to the Samantha Hawley's interviews with Simon Sheik of and Tim Costello on the same web page.

The essence of the story is that have lodged a complaint with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission asking them to investigate Woolworths Chairman James Strong about statements that he made.

Apart from being Woolworths' Chairman of Directors, some background about Mr Strong may be helpful. He is unquestionably a man whose statements demand respect and serious consideration.

James Alexander Strong has been admitted as a barrister and/or solicitor in various Australian state jurisdictions. He was CEO of Qantas from 1993 to 2001. He was National Managing Partner and later Chairman of law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia's largest. In 2006, Mr Strong was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. Click here to read more about Mr Strong from the Woolworths Limited web site and the Kathmandu web site. Mr Strong is the Chairman of Directors of both companies.

On 19 March 2012, I wrote to the Company Secretary of Woolworths Limited on two matters. One of those matters related to Mr Strong's statements to shareholders. On that matter, here's what I wrote:

"I found statements of your Chairman, James Strong AO, at the last Woolworths AGM about Woolworths' pokie and liquor enterprise were not only false but mislead shareholders. I have attached MP3 files of what he said. You would be aware that the only restriction on liquor sales relating to hotel ownership (not pokie ownership) is in Queensland. Even that Queensland restriction is limited. There is no such restriction in other states where, as you would be aware, Woolworths conducts liquor sales operations independent of hotels.

As a consequence, I urge that the best course is that Mr Strong tender his resignation as a director of Woolworths Limited.

Mr Strong's conduct indicates a substantial misdirection in Woolworths actions regarding minimising the harm suffered by the public as a result of your poker machines. It casts doubt on the sincerity of Woolworths present course of action based upon voluntary pre-commitment; a measure that has already been trialled and deemed failed. The best course for Woolworths is to adopt the staged implementation of the $1 bet coupled with maximum losses of $120 per hour. This course is based upon effectiveness, evidence based, and the least costly."
The Company Secretary did not respond on this matter.

I based my finding on three statements made by Mr Strong. So that readers can make up their own minds as to whether Mr Strong mislead shareholders or not, I have attached videos of each statement. These statements are presented in chronological order. In order to consider the context of these statements, readers are urged to watch all three. They were not made next to each but separated by a period of time.

The first statement was part of Mr Strong's formal response to issues raised by shareholders. There are other matters dealt with before he turns to the topic of pokies.

The second James Strong response was made in reply to a shareholder who made the following statement:
"I personally would like to see Woolworths extract themselves from gaming machines".

The third Strong statement on the matter was the statement broadcast on ABC Radio. In my view, Mr Strong makes his views clear by as to what he meant by his prior two statements. This is not a casual or flippant observation. It seems intended to be serious guidance to shareholders. If anything Mr Strong seems to be annoyed by having to repeatedly give the same advice on behalf of the Woolworths' board of directors

As Mr Strong is making statements about Australian law, if the statements about the laws are incorrect, the matter is made worse in the light of Mr Strong's considerable legal background.

While shareholders at the 2011 Annual General Meeting were not referred to prior events, Mr Strong's written response to the 249P statement that accompanied the 2009 Notice of Meeting is relevant to consider his views about all Australian liquor laws. In that statement, signed by Mr Strong, he refers to all liquor licensing laws. The highlighting is mine. Click on the image to enlarge.
It is reasonable to assume that as Woolworths Chairman, by this statement, Mr Strong has at least some knowledge of those laws and the legal circumstance of all Woolworths liquor sales outlets in all Australian states. Yet he tells shareholders that ownership of hotels, being a requisite of enormous revenue for Woolworths Limited, mandates the company's continuation in the poker machine gambling business.

The truth is that only Queensland laws mandate connection between hotel ownership and off location sale of liquor. And, as visibly evidenced in my previous blog (click on the blog called "Queensland, Pokies and Alcohol") it is possible to "open" an on-premise and an off-premises liquor outlet even in Queensland. Put most simplistically, the Queensland restriction is that one can not be the licensee of the bottle shop or liquor barn without owning an associated hotel.

But the Queensland situation is a red herring. It is his mis-statements about the laws in all other states that are significant. Shareholders are asking simple questions about the harmful Woolworths poker machine business and the Woolworths Chairman is responding with answers that, in my opinion, misrepresent the facts. Mr Strong puts it to shareholders that the undertaking of their company in every state will be severely diminished if they do not follow the law and own hotels.

Furthermore, there is nothing in any Australian law that mandates that in order to operate a hotel license, one must operate poker machines. There are Queensland hotels without poker machines. It is open for Woolworths to surrender its gambling licences or cease to operate poker machine club licenses on behalf of others.

Readers can make up their own mind whether Mr Strong might be guilty of an offence against Section 1309 of the Corporations Act. Here it is:

False information etc.

              (1)  An officer or employee of a corporation who makes available or gives information, or authorises or permits the making available or giving of information, to:
             (a)  a director, auditor, member, debenture holder or trustee for debenture holders of the corporation; or
             (b)  if the corporation is taken for the purposes of Chapter 2M to be controlled by another corporation--an auditor of the other corporation; or
             (c)  an operator of a financial market (whether the market is operated in Australia or elsewhere) or an officer of such a market;

being information, whether in documentary or any other form, that relates to the affairs of the corporation and that, to the knowledge of the officer or employee:

             (d)  is false or misleading in a material particular; or
             (e)  has omitted from it a matter or thing the omission of which renders the information misleading in a material respect;

is guilty of an offence.

             (2)  An officer or employee of a corporation who makes available or gives information, or authorises or permits the making available or giving of information, to:
              (a)  a director, auditor, member, debenture holder or trustee for debenture holders of the corporation; or
              (b)  if the corporation is taken for the purposes of Chapter 2M to be controlled by another corporation--an auditor of the other corporation; or
              (c)  an operator of a financial market (whether the market is operated in Australia or elsewhere) or an officer of such a market;

being information, whether in documentary or any other form, relating to the affairs of the corporation that:

              (d)  is false or misleading in a material particular; or
              (e)  has omitted from it a matter or thing the omission of which renders the information misleading in a material respect;

without having taken reasonable steps to ensure that the information:

              (f)  was not false or misleading in a material particular; and
              (g)  did not have omitted from it a matter or thing the omission of which rendered the information misleading in a material respect;

is guilty of an offence.

             (3)  The references in subsections (1) and (2) to a person making available or giving, or authorising or permitting the making available or giving of, information relating to the affairs of a corporation include references to a person making available or giving, or authorising or permitting the making available or giving of, information as to the state of knowledge of that person with respect to the affairs of the corporation.

             (4)  Where information is made available or given to a person referred to in paragraph (1)(a), (b) or (c) or (2)(a), (b) or (c) in response to a question asked by that person, the question and the information are to be considered together in determining whether the information was false or misleading.

So what is the point of all this? What should Woolworths do?

Without hesitation, urgently correct the record.

But the real point is that if Woolworths Chairman cannot be relied upon to correctly answer simple question about pokies, can Woolworths be relied upon to responsibly operate their pokie business? It adds weight to the call for all pokies to be limited to a maximum $1 bet / $120 per hour maximum bet solution. This was the evidenced based measure of the Productivity Commission that they recommended be implemented without a trial.

Woolworths should announce their adoption of the Productivity Commission's recommendation of  1-120. At a lesser level, it would show true leadership.

At the most important level it would reduce the harm of poker machine gambling that is inflicted upon too many Australians.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Victoria Jump Starts Pokie Advertising

Victoria's Michael O'Brien proves again that he is one of Australia's leading supporters of poker machine gambling. By amending Victoria's signage regulations, Mr O'Brien accepted that it would be appropriate to more than double the advertising presence of Victoria's non-casino poker machines. This dramatically increased visibility will particularly affect the presence of poker machine gambling in Victoria's less affluent communities where gambling losses cause the greatest damage.

The purpose of any sign is to advertise goods or services. The intention is to draw people to sample the product. The purpose of a sign advertising pokies is to draw people to gamble on these dangerous machines. Victoria will now have double the poker machine advertising in a state that already has the worst prevalence of problem gambling of any Australian state.

Mr O'Brien's endorsement of increased poker machine advertising truly disgusts and demonstrates his contempt of the harm suffered by Victorians affected by problem gambling.

Here's how O'Brien did it. First, have a look at his media release from 8 March. Enlarge the image by clicking on it.

The key words are:
“The Council recommended that a generic term, such as ‘pokies’, would be most appropriate, and I have accepted the Council’s recommendation.”
The result is that signs will now be permitted on poker machine pubs and clubs that draw attention to the availability of poker machines inside. This step puts Victoria well in front of even New South Wales in agressively promoting poker machine gambling.

Now, secondly, Mr O'Brien could have used this opportunity to adopt the NSW position where gaming machine advertising is prohibited. The relevant NSW section is 43(1).
43 Prohibition on publishing gaming machine advertising
(1) A person (whether or not a hotelier or registered club) must not publish or cause to be published any gaming machine advertising.
Consistent with his support of the poker machine industry, Mr O'Brien chose to enhance the presence of poker machine gambling instead.

But even this was not enough for the Victorian Minister for Pokies. He repealed regulation 6(e) of the Gambling Regulation (Signage) Regulations 2005 that prescribing that signs other than those prescribed as acceptable for pokie pubs and clubs
  1. ... contains no other words, numbers, symbols or pictures that draw attention to the availability of gaming machines for gaming or that are frequently associated with gaming machines,
You find the "prescribed" signs in the two schedules to these Regulations. Here they are:

 In the Tatts prescribed sign, the word "pokies" is a secondary image.

In the Tabaret prescribed sign there is no mention of the pokies whatsoever. These signs will now be replaced by signs that prominently draw attention to the availability of poker machine gambling. The replacement are 2 square metres signs containing the word "Pokies" in white text on a single colour background.

The Tabaret venues (where no pokies had been allowed to be advertised) comprise 50% of all Victorian non-casino poker machine pubs and clubs.

 The result is a massive increase in the physical presence of poker machine gambling. It is an expansion of the marketing poker machine gambling in Victoria's suburbs and towns that is likely to have an effect far greater than the addition of a few machines to a given pub or club.

The objects of the Gambling Regulation laws requires the Victorian government to foster responsible gambling. This latest move by Mr O'Brien does the reverse.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hear No Evil

"And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear you indeed, but understand not; and see indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed."
-  Isaiah 6:9-10
"Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society.  If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power."
-  P.J. O'Rourke

This week Jenny Macklin, Australia's Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform completed Australia's leading trio of poker machine supporters by telling Dr Charles Livingstone  he was not welcome to accompany members of the Christian Gambling Task Force at a meeting  held in her office on 22 March.

"Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not"
-  Jeremiah 5:21

The full story was broadcast ABC Radio's AM programme. Click hear to read the transcript and listen to the broadcast.

Dr Livingstone was to attend the meeting for the purpose of providing knowledge on technical issues.
"I was there to provide some technical advice and assistance to people who'd asked for that and who aren't themselves experts in the field"
This extract from the interview is informative:
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The independent Senator Nick Xenophon says Dr Livingstone's advice shouldn't be ignored.

NICK XENOPHON: What an independent expert such as Dr Charles Livingstone has told the Government about their proposed trial is unpalatable to the Government; they don't like a truth-teller saying to them that this trial is deeply flawed.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: I assume there's other experts in this field though, they don't necessarily have to get advice from him?

NICK XENOPHON: Well I think it's interesting to actually exclude an expert who has raised in writing serious concerns about what the Government is proposing smacks of shooting the messenger. It's a case where the Government is saying we don't like the fact that you have exposed the flaws in this trial.
Who are the two other members of those who don't want to hear the evil of any view contrary to their own? Here they are, flanking Jenny Macklin, a triumvirate of Australia's most effective poker machine supporters whose actions seek to stamp out not only debate but also meaningful reduction of the harm caused by these dangerous machines.

On the left is Peter Newell OAM. Mr Newell is the Chairman of ClubsNSW.

On the right is Hon Michael O'Brien. Mr O'Brien is the Victorian Minister for Gaming, Minister for Consumer Affairs and Minister for Energy and Resources.

Peter Newell - Clubs NSW

Mr Newell has either directly or indirectly threatened legal action against me to stop publishing news advertisements concerning the conduct of NSW pokie clubs as it relates to children and providing the NSW public with a balanced truthful account.

I have recounted told the story of my legal issues with Mr Newell and ClubsNSW on this blog. You can see the ads they tried to stop publishing, read the nearly contemporaneous account and their threats. Click here to read about the "Truth" advertisement. Click here to read about the Children in Pokie Clubs advertisement.

Mr Newell was to attend a meeting with Nick Xenophon. I was asked by Nick to attend. When told I would be at the meeting, Mr Newell refused to attend.

On 29 January 2010 (months before the release of the Productivity Commission's report) I emailed Mr Newell with a cc to ClubsNSW CEO Anthony Ball. Here's the exact text of that email.
As a matter of courtesy, I have attached a pdf file of the advertisement scheduled to appear in the Illawarra Mercury on Monday, 1 February 2010.

My objective is that pokie clubs voluntarily adopt the same standard that protects children from the sights and sounds of pokies as exists with respect to NSW pokie pubs. You would agree that Clubs' status as mutuals is not an excuse for the conduct of irresponsible pokie gambling activity.

I would be grateful for the opportunity to meet with you to discuss a plan whereby the standard can be implemented.

At such time, I would also like to discuss the immediate measure urged by the Productivity Commission to bring in the $1 button push / $120 per hour loss restriction and $20 cash acceptor limit. This measure will target addicted gamblers and, as you are likely aware, there is substantial research that supports the fact that recreational gamblers will not be affected.

I did not receive the courtesy of a response. My offer was ignored. I was given the silent treatment. I wonder if the refusal was out of revenge. This would have been a great starting point for dialogue with the industry. The fact of ClubsNSW and Mr Newell's refusal to have any contact reduces the weight any reasonable person should attach to this ClubsNSW recent release.

Michael O'Brien - Victorian Gambling Minister

Michael O'Brien presides over the state with the worst problem gambling prevalence in Australia. He often claims a mandate to act based upon his 2010 pokie platform. Yet when it is pointed out that he has failed to honour this policy, he will hear no evil.

Here's a paragraph from that policy:
  • Enforcement: laws designed to ensure probity and minimise harmful gambling practices must be enforced if they are to deter illegal behaviour.
On 19 June 2011, Rev Tim Costello, Sen Nick Xenophon, and I wrote to Mr O'Brien pointing out 7 different matters where the Victorian government had failed to enforce existing laws. I wrote to him again on 3 August reirterating these breaches by him and the Victorian regulator. I asked to discuss the matters raised including the evidence based recommendation of adoption of the $1 bet limit and $120 per hour loss restriction on volatility.

The best Mr O'Brien could do was to direct me to meet with the Victorian gambling commission. Here's Page 1 of his letter.

I duly met with the Chairman of the Commission on September 29 and emailed the Chairman on 3 October.

The email was lengthy and covered a number of breaches by the Minister and the Commission. I will reproduce item 1 below.

1. Online and Telephone Wagering

Given the Minister's recent media release relating to online gambling and the expensive media campaign now being conducted, the failure to enforce the Minister's directions of 8 October 2009 is of immediate concern. Paragraph 8 of Part A of the Minister’s directions of 8 October 2009 provides:
8. Pre-commitment strategy
Other than a code of conduct applying to a commercial raffle organiser, a code of conduct must specify what the relevant person will do to:
(a) assist a customer to make a pre-commitment decision
(b) support a customer who has made a pre-commitment decision.

Examination of Tabcorp Wagering web pages reveal only this provision:
“From 1 January 2010, it is anticipated that Tabcorp Wagering will be in a position to offer the ability for account customers to set gambling limits on their accounts, subject to any technical limitations that may delay this anticipated commencement date.”

This provision has been in place since 2009 and remains a part of the Tabcorp code despite the fact that it is clearly outdated.

With respect, your written response indicates a number of practices none of which responds to this matter. When signing up for an online account there is no procedure to set a binding limit let alone any mention of the word "pre-commitment".

The inaction of Tabcorp in Victoria can be contrasted with Tabcorp's actions in South Australia indicating that their stated qualification as to technical limitations has no substance. Reproduced below is the web page relating to their South Australian practice. I attach a screenshot of this web page that indicates the practice.
It would seem that any technological limitations were overcome in South Australia some time ago but not applied to compliant practice for Tabcorp Sportsbet in Victoria. As such it would seem that Tabcorp have breached a condition of their license.

It is essential that any limit set by the gambler be binding upon the gambler otherwise there is no commitment having regard to the normal understanding of the word.

This information unequivocally evidences a breach of existing Victorian gambling legislation. The Victorian government is spending considerable $$$$ on an online gambling campaign yet unwilling to act on existing legislation.

No response.

I then wrote to Michael O'Brien on 14 November 2011 enclosing this unequivocal evidence of his and his Commission's breach of a statutory obligation. Compliance with the law could reduce the harm of Victorian online betting. I copied the email to Premier Ted Ballieu.

No action.

No response.

"There are none so blind as those who will not see."
-  John Heywood 1546

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Violent Crime at Woolies Pokie Pubs

The wave of violent crime at Woolworths poker machine hotels continues. This morning's papers report upon two security guards being robbed for their guns and the weekend takings at 11:20 on Monday morning. The venue was Woolworth's Westside Hotel.

Click here to read the report in the Herald Sun. Click here to read the report in The Age. The Age report is accompanied by a Channel Ten video.

This latest incident continues the wave of crime at Melbourne's pokie many of which are operated by Woolworths. Click here to read The Age report on the network of gangs who have been terrorizing poker machine venues.

Here's the Victorian Police video offering a $50,000 reward to help catch the gang.

This latest incident is the reality about whether it is safe to gamble at one of these venues.

Any responsible adult should think twice about exposing their children to the potential of violence at these venues. Any responsible adult should think twice about exposing their children to the poker machine gambling at these venues.

Here's the poster for the upcoming Kids Club promotion at Woolworths Westside Hotel where this violent crime occurred.

I would not take children to Woolworths' Westside Hotel regardless of the lure of face painting and prizes to be won. Remember that it is legal for a child to attend this event unaccompanied by an adult so long as the child is eating.

Woolworths should cease this or any like promotions targeting children.

It's the responsible thing for Woolworths to do.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Woolworths Guarantee

Last night, during the Channel 9 broadcast of the Great Mint Swindle, Woolworths chose to blanket the airways with the launch of the Fresh or Free guarantee. According to the website, Mumbrella, this defence of Woolworths claim to be the Fresh Food People is in response to the Coles marketing "There's no freshness like Coles freshness". It seems like this campaign about the word "Fresh" has been around for a while.

There is even "Fresh Food Kids" where one can "learn about healthy eating and have fun at the same time." Given last night's Sunday Night on Seven, there should be lot's of cautions for kids about sugar intake. The best warning is that high sugar foods are classified as "sometimes" or "these foods are okay to eat every now and then". Regrettably their kid's recipe for Apple Sultana Muffins has no "sometimes" food classification despite it prescribing a full cup of sugar.

I'll return to the evidence about Woolworths real concern for children below.

Here's is the latest Woolworths' graphic.

Last night's TV ads depicted happy Woolworths' farmers and producers spruicking their concern for freshness. The research and production cost of these ads would have been enormous. Potentially millions were paid to the television networks for advertising time.

So is it just marketing? Or is it like our Prime Minister Gillard desperate for success who will make an undertaking that she ultimately dishonours. Like Gillard, does Woolworths show contempt for hundreds of thousands of people simply to maintain their particular status quo. 

Put another way, can Woolworths be trusted? If Woolworths' conduct of their pokie business is a guide, then, in this writer's opinion, the answer is no. 

David Schwarz - Gambling Ambassador

An example is their paid exploitation of the AFL through David Schwarz. Schwarz had an outstanding AFL career showing incredible personal and physical courage. Unfortunately, Schwarz had a addiction to gambling. Woolworths has made Mr Schwarz the image of their pokie gambling empire, the largest in Australia.
While it seems that most of his gambling was horse related, Schwarz is now paid a six figure salary by the Woolworths poker machine gambling associate (ALH) "to provide employee education and customer awareness about the importance of "being honest with yourself about your gambling." His title is "Responsible Gambling Ambassador".

The reality is that Schwarz makes a far more attractive spokesperson than "Pokies King" Bruce Mathieson with his multi-million dollar homes and poor media presence.

And Schwarz is being used. You can read about Schwarz opposing gamblers being required to set a limit on their losses with any mention of him being a Woolworths shill (look it up!) edited out in The Age. It's not in this release by Clubs Victoria either.

According to reports, Schwarz has been recruited by Clubs Australia to aid their campaign against pokie reforms. His slickly produced video is posted to YouTube by ClubsNSW. With outstanding arrogance, he dismisses the years of work and evidence based recommendations of the Productivity Commission. He fails to mention his employment by the Woolworths' pokie associate.

Read how Schwarz pushes to take credit where no credit is due in this article about Brad Scott putting gambling back on the agenda. Scott spoke in the context of the 'Roos pioneering sponsorship with WorldVision. As the face of Woolworths' gambling, Schwarz  discloses his pokie association by shamelessly managing to pitch Herald Sun writer, Mark Robinson to include a plug for the Woolworths' associate ALH.

Schwarz' plug for ALH is about an award the Woolworths' associate was given by Clever Duck Media Ltd who publish the Infinity Gaming magazine. They are self-described as "a digital agency specializing in Websites, branding, design, technology, press ads, online ads, interactive content, digital presentation." The award won by the Woolworths 75% owned operator was sponsored by TCS John Huxley - a maker of casino accessories.

In their media release of 30 January, the Woolworths / Pokie King joint venture spruicked the following about the award;
"The judging panel commented “ALH were head and shoulders above the rest as they continuously make every effort to emphasise socially responsible gaming across the land-based sector. Demonstrating commitment, ALH puts people at the heart of their company mission to great effect.”

ALH Group responsible gambling initiatives include our industry-leading hotel and gaming charter, responsible gambling staff DVD and pocket guide.

David Schwarz, ALH Group Responsible Gambling Ambassador said “As a reformed problem gambler I am proud of my involvement over the past four years with the ALH Group and in the development of the unique responsible gambling program they have put in place”."

Woolworths Dominates in Australia's Worst State

Instead of being "proud" examination of the prevalence of problem gambling amongst Victorian gamblers should disgust any reasonable individual. Victoria is the worst in Australia. In case there's any doubt, here's table 5.4 extracted from the Productivity Commission's report on Gambling.

And with interests 6,566 Victorian pokies, (24.5% of all non-casino pokies) Woolworths and the Pokie King are the dominant poker machine force in Victoria. In the last fiscal year, gamblers lost an incredible $876 million at these Woolworths associated pokies. At 32.6%, this is nearly a third of all non-casino poker machine losses. Here's a list based upon Victorian Gambling Commission numbers where I calculated these sums. Please click on the image to enlarge.

For those who are statistically minded, an average of $133,467 was lost on each Woolies Victorian pokie. That's a lot of money in the state with Australia's worst problem gambling prevalence.

Woolworths Does Not Enforce Poker Machine Room Rules

And despite these awards, Woolworths and the Pokie King can't even enforce their own "guarantees" i.e. the rules in their own charters.

In February 2012, I was contacted by a reporter for The Guardian, a leading UK newspaper to have a chat about pokies. Rather than just chat or throw statistics, I took him to the Woolworths associated Meadow Inn Hotel in Fawkner. We both watched a man gamble simultaneously on two machines in plain view of venue staff.

The gambler's practice was a likely sign of problem gambling when the intensity of one machine is insufficient. Moreover, the practice was in clear contravention of the venue rules posted by the poker machine room cashier.  Simultaneous gambling is illegal in South Australia where Woolies and the Pokie King have pokie pubs.

This incident demonstrates poor training or tolerance of non-observance of Woolworths/Mathieson's venue rules. It also shows how little weight is truly given by Woolworths to the ALH gaming charter. At the last two Annual General Meetings of sharholders Woolworths' Board and management have been promoting their new Gaming Charter. Here's an extract of the relevant paragraphs:
  • We restrict gaming room access to adults and ensure gaming rooms are screened or separated from other areas of the hotel, so as to not attract children
  •  We ensure responsible service of alcohol and provision of gaming, by making sure management and staff adhere to all applicable rules and regulations and are trained to encourage and promote responsibility. 
  • We believe we have a shared responsibility, along with individuals, governments, families and the community, to prevent harm.
Lack of enforcement of the simultaneous gambling rule indicates lack of adherence to "all applicable rules".

Children Exposed to Pokie Gambling in Woolworths Venues

Then there is the exposure of pokie sights and sounds to children in this venue.  A clear glass divider allow for presence of pokie room lights to dominate eating area as well as child play area. In effect, there is no screening at all. Here again are the words of the ALH Charter:
"We... ensure gaming rooms are screened or separated from other areas of the hotel, so as to not attract children"
Unless it has changed since my last visit, only a clear glass wall separated the eating area of the Matthew Flinders Hotel. The picture below was taken from inside the child playing area.

There was not even a glass wall between the eating area immediately outside the child play room and the poker machine area at the Sands at Carrum Downs.

Children in the Pokie Room in Woolworths' Venues

Worst still is the report published in The Age. Read again the words of Woolworths' "Safety & Health" Charter. Woolworths states/undertakes/markets that
"we restrict gaming room access to adults..."
Now look at this picture of a child seated in front of taken inside the poker machine room at Woolworths associated Elsternwick pokie pub.

The Age reported that the prosecutor in the action against the Woolworths/Pokie King joint venture said
"the child ran in and out of the gaming machine area about 15 times over more than two hours and had used it as its ''plaything''
Margot Johnson, for the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, yesterday described the circumstances as ''one of the worst examples'' of the offence of a minor entering a gaming machine area."
It is extremely damning that the circumstances in a Woolworths associated hotel are publicly described as "one of the worst".

These events breach the ALH or Woolworths / Pokie King charter.

Contrary to its international award and promotion through David Schwarz, it shows that Woolworths is an organisation that makes guarantees/promises/undertakings that they do not observe. It shows a company that can not be trusted to do what it says.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Terror of Pokie Addction

This is an actual first person statement of a real afternoon and evening by a pokie addict. All the names, dates and places have been deleted.
"On ........ at approximately 2 pm I attended the ...... gaming room by myself with $8,000.00 in my bag. I was there until approximately 11:00pm. When I left I had $45.00 in my purse.
My daughter had given me $10,000.00 that she owed me. I spent $2000 on bills and took the rest to the ............
I was playing using my [loyalty card], which I don’t use very often. This card is inserted into the machine and I believe it keeps a record of the money that I spent. It also gives me points which can then be used in lieu of cash.
I changed my money at counters with attendants only. I did not use a machine to change money at any point during my time there.
At first I was changing about $100.00. This then increased to $200.00. I was changing about $200.00 every 15 minutes or so. I was there for approximately 8 hours and lost $8,000.00, so I must have been changing about $1,000.00 every hour I was there. The machine I was playing on was visible from the change counter.
During my time in the gaming room I came into contact with three different attendants. ....... The two ....... were there when I got there and left at 8 pm. The .... arrived at approximately 6:00 pm and was there when I left at 11:00pm.
One of the ...... said to me “good luck. But you must be sick of hearing me say that” after I had changed a fair bit of money with her. The ....... attendant didn’t say anything to me. One of the .... attendants discussed with me how the machine I was on wasn’t doing very well.
I said very little to any of the attendants. I was feeling very embarrassed, but I wasn’t crying. Towards the end of the night I couldn’t even look the ...... attendant in the eye when I was at the counter changing money.
A few customers spoke to me while I was there. One lady said “look darling go home”, to which I responded “I don’t think I can now”.
A couple of men sat near me during the night. One said to me “why are you betting so high?” I said “I don’t know”.
At approximately 9:00 pm the attendant brought sandwiches into the gaming room. I believe that the kitchen had closed just before then. The attendants offered the sandwiches to everyone in the gaming room while we were sitting at the machines.
At no point during my time there did I drink anything, including alcohol.
I did not withdraw any extra cash from an ATM, I only used the money I brought in with me. I didn’t withdraw any more cash because I know that I have bills to pay.
When I left at approximately 11:00 pm I didn’t say anything to anyone.
I have been going to other gaming venues over the past few weeks. Four or five days ago I went to a gaming lounge in ...... (the one that is open until 5:00am) late at night. On this occasion I lost approximately $3,000.00. I have been to this lounge a couple of times and I see the same attendants each time.
I have been in touch with ..... from [an organisation that helps gamblers] this morning and am going to a meeting with her tonight. I am “in a hole” and need help. I also want to get involved with helping other people with an addiction to gambling.
I want to be banned. .... will make an appointment for me today with ......
I have upped my anti-depressant dosage from half a tablet to one whole tablet. I had originally been on one whole tablet but cut the dosage myself after I started feeling better. ..... told me that it was imperative that I speak to my doctor immediately to arrange a time to discuss the dosage of my antidepressants."
This person gambled in a state where one has to change notes into coins to gamble on the poker machines. Given the ignorance - and cruelty - of the venue's attendants to stand back and watch, this regulation made no difference.

The conduct of our state and federal politicians is disgusting. They put their own re-election interests before the service to the people damaged by pokies. Prime Minister Gillard and Minister Macklin's intent appears to be to sweep the problem under the carpet. Tony Abbott is no better. And the state parliamentarians are worse, particularly Premiers Ballieu and O'Farrell.

Their contempt for the interests of suffering Australians is disgusting.

The grubby pokie pub and club operators are disgusting. The pokie clubs should be ashamed of their greed.

Every individual director and every employee of Coles and Woolworths should be repulsed by their company's horrific pursuit of profit through pokie gambling.