a fair trial? no chance

Clubs Australia’s latest angle of attack with regards to poker machine reforms is the trial. Not just any old trial; we’re talking about a full trial of mandatory pre-commitment technology. They want a trial, they’re calling for a trial, they’re criticising the government for not supporting a trial. Trial, trial, trial.

Their poster boy, CEO Anthony Ball, has been particularly effusive on the subject. He is quoted in the Clubs Australia “Won’t Work, Will Hurt” leaflets as saying that the government has refused to trial the technology, and has gone on record many times stating that he and his organisation want to see a trial take place before any legislation is passed.

And most recently, in a briefing pack distributed to the states’ clubs bodies in the past couple of days, Clubs Australia claim that they support “the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to introduce voluntary [partial] pre-commitment and trial mandatory [full] pre-commitment”.

Now, saying that “voluntary” and “partial” pre-commitment are the same thing, and that “mandatory” and “full pre-commitment” are the same thing, is a complete crock designed to confuse the issue… something Clubs Australia is very good at.

But there are two very, very important points to recognise here.

The wrong trial

Everyone’s talking about a full trial of mandatory pre-commitment technology. By that, they mean that every poker machine in the trial area will be fitted with pre-commitment technology, and will require a card to play. The clubs, our MPs, the media… everyone’s talking about.

This type of trial would be useless, and would prove nothing.

Why? Because that’s not what the proposed reforms entail. The report from the Joint Select Committee on Gambling explicitly recommended that pre-commitment would be mandatory for high-spending machines, and that low-spending machines (the famous $1 pokies) would NOT require pre-commitment.

So to conduct a trial where ALL machines are subject to pre-commitment would NOT give any kind of indication of the effectiveness or otherwise of the proposed reforms. It also would not give an accurate assessment of the technical aspects of the scheme.

An analogy: many school zones have 40 km/h speed limits. Imagine if the traffic authority had said, years ago, “We’re not convinced that this will work. We want to have a trial. Let’s pick an area and make all roads subject to a 40km/h speed limit. No, not just the school zones; all roads.”

They would have been laughed out of town. But that’s what Clubs Australia want.

If we have a trial, it MUST involve a combination of $1 poker machines and pre-commitment-enabled high-spending machines. Otherwise it will be a waste of time.

Something the clubs already know.

No fair trial

The concept of a trial is that it is fair and impartial, and not influenced unduly by external influences. This holds true in our courts, in our laboratories… and needs to hold true for poker machines as well.

But as things stand, there is no chance of a fair trial of pre-commitment technology being conducted anywhere in this country… and the blame for this lies squarely with Clubs Australia.

Because Clubs Australia have a vested interest in making sure that any trial of the technology ends in failure. They’ve stated this plainly:

“The fact politicians are now talking about a trial confirms that they know this mandatory technology is a lemon.” – Anthony Ball, The Age, 27/2/2011

Clubs Australia, and Ball in particular, have been savage on the matter of pre-commitment. They’ve branded it a Licence to Punt, they’ve toured the eastern seaboard telling their clubs how much pain it will cause them, they’ve organised rallies and they’ve misinformed their members.

They’ve bleated to the media over and over again how mandatory pre-commitment won’t work, how it will shut down clubs, slash jobs, kill communities. They’ve enlisted the assistance of the NRL in their campaign, and even the Federal Coalition.

So in the event that a trial could be held, and it involved clubs… do you really think that the results are going to be a fair and accurate representation of reality? When the members of those clubs have been told what to think, and what these reforms mean to them?

Not a chance.

Clubs Australia have persistently and thoroughly affected the thinking of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people with regards to these reforms. To stand up now and say that they support a trial, as long as it is used to prove that the reforms won’t work, is disingenuous at best.

Another analogy: imagine if three members of a jury were friends or employees of the defendant. There would be no hope of a fair trial. Well, the jury in this case is the general public, and the defendant is Clubs Australia.

I would honestly be unsurprised if, during a trial, club members were advised to stay away from the pokies until the trial was finished. Or at the very least, not use the pre-commitment poker machines. It would be the sort of underhanded tactic we’ve come to expect from an organisation whose CEO recently admitted he had only ever met one “problem gambler” in his life… yet is fighting these reforms tooth and nail and constantly talking about “problem gamblers” (notice he never mentions “poker machine addicts”) as if he actually knows what he’s talking about.

The verdict

A trial may happen; it may not. The proposed reforms (like the Productivity Commission) recommend a trial, but will not stop if this isn’t possible. But what is certain is that whether or not a trial includes $1 pokies as well as pre-commitment machines, and no matter where it happens, it can never be a fair trial. The process has been hopelessly compromised.

Clubs Australia have made sure of that.


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