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.