clubs and pokies – a comedy of errors

The clubs industry’s ongoing campaign to oppose poker machine reforms is fast becoming little more than slapstick comedy. It seems that no matter what they do or say, they manage to trip themselves up in spectacular fashion. It’s a farce; I almost feel embarrassed for them.

Almost.

It was on a Sunday two weeks ago that they made their “AFL” mistake. A Samantha Maiden story in the News Ltd press, accompanied by a crowing Clubs Australia media release, trumpeted that the AFL was joining the NRL in their allegiance to the clubs’ campaign. There would be ads, there would be protests… there would be glorious mayhem, all in Grand Final week. Well there was mayhem all right, but not what they expected. Just about every media organisation, newspaper, radio station and website in the country picked up on the “story” and ran with it… only for AFL boss Andrew Demetriou to stand up the following day and categorically deny ALL of it. That was the day he infamously told “that bloke” (Anthony Ball) from Clubs Australia to “just shut up.” And THAT was a quote that ricochetted around the nation.

(So far, I’ve resisted the urge to say “I told you so”… I called bullshit on that story before lunchtime on Sunday, well before most of the press had jumped on board. Nice to be proven right!)

You’d think the clubs would have learned to be careful after that… but no. This weekend just gone by is proof that they just don’t learn. Sunday morning rolled around and again we were treated to a Samantha Maiden story, this time telling us how Clubs Australia was willing to help organise trials of mandatory pre-commitment technology, in order to prove that the scheme wouldn’t work. Anthony Ball was again front and centre, talking about “Andrew Wilkie’s experimental technology” and the need for a trial before “billions are spent and permanent damage is done.”

There is an awful lot wrong with this stance by the clubs. They have previously slammed the government for NOT trying to arrange a trial, even though the government had actually tried to trial the technology in Tasmania… only to be rejected by the industry. They have also previously claimed that if the government DID arrange a trial, it was proof that they had no confidence in their reforms. And their bias towards conducting a trial to prove that the scheme “wouldn’t work” is at complete odds with the government’s long-held position that any trial would be focussed solely on fine-tuning the technology for the best final solution.

But all that fades into insignificance… because on Saturday evening, before the Clubs Australia pre-commitment trial story went to air, this happened.

An internal briefing document, prepared by Club Training Australia and presented at a Clubs Qld seminar in July, was accidentally posted on the Clubs QLD website… and it made fascinating reading. The first I heard of it was when it was posted on Twitter, and of course from there it went far and wide very quickly. Titled “Future Directions”, it covered upcoming regulatory changes facing the clubs industry, and how to handle them.

Low-intensity machines ($1 maximum bets) were specifically mentioned, along with the fact that they would NOT require mandatory pre-commitment… despite Clubs Australia consistently denying that they exist, or could be part of the solution.

Analysis was made of expected club profits should the reforms take place… and found that clubs could still expect to be profitable whether the reforms were partially or fully implemented.

The potential reduction of gaming revenue was predicted to be 10% to 20%… a far cry from the 40% to 60% that Clubs Australia has been screaming about for months.

A number of strategies were put forward to circumvent ATM bans and restrictions, despite the fact that these restrictions are designed to help poker machine addicts and problem gamblers… strategies that include mobile ATMs that could be towed from venue to venue. Now that’s just mercenary.

Mind you, we already have mobile betting kiosks that circle the stadiums before AFL and NRL games… so don’t rule it out.

(picture courtesy of @mrtiedt)

The briefing paper also contained analysis of the potential impact of the carbon tax on the gaming industry, as well as the current review of “not-for-profit” taxation rules… something that understandably strikes fear into the hearts of the clubs industry. But as far as the current reforms go, this document was quite clear: the expected impact will be nowhere near as severe as Clubs Australia claim.

By Sunday lunchtime, everyone was talking about the clubs… but they weren’t talking about the pre-commitment trials. No, they were talking about the briefing paper. They were talking about the much lower predicted impact on clubs profitability. They were talking about the lies.

Too late, Clubs Qld swung into damage control. Having already said that presenters at the July seminar (including Club Training Australia, who have a long association with Clubs Qld) were commissioned for their expertise, Clubs Qld boss Doug Flockhart recanted and claimed that this presentation was “not commissioned” by his organisation.

Sound familiar?

Flockhart also said that “Clubs Queensland is a fully transparent organisation and is comfortable with these documents being open to the public, including all media.” Which is kind of funny, as the briefing paper quickly vanished from the Clubs Qld website. So too did a “Media Relations” guide, which gave Clubs Qld staff tips on how to handle the media… including writing their articles for them, and striving to get media releases into the news because people would assume they were factual.

So… another weekend, another major announcement, another embarrassing custard pie in the face. I wonder what comedy gold Clubs Australia are going to bring us next weekend?

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5 Responses

  1. cyenne says:

    Since publishing this article last night, I have had some strong dialogue with Samantha Maiden. This conversation (conducted publicly on Twitter) revolved around: 1) my depiction of News Ltd as being opposed to poker machine reforms; 2) that the Courier Mail broke the “leaked documents” story; and 3) that the documents I saw online on Saturday night would have been sourced from News Ltd.

    I am happy to concede that the documents were most likely sourced from News Ltd, and that David Murray broke the story in the Courier Mail on Sunday morning. No argument from me, I had not made mention of either of these points (either for or against).

    I still firmly believe that articles published in News Ltd publications are weighted strongly against poker machine reform. That is my opinion; I’m entitled to it. To paraphrase Mr Bolt: “Can I have my opinion now, please?” (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  2. Peter Cox says:

    As far as I’m concerned, more power to your right arm for pursuing this enquiry. I am continuously amazed at how the …..shall I say falsehoods? …. regurgited/dispensed by so many in the media are accepted whole, without qualms, by (it seems to me) too many people who, despite their actual wealth compared to their parents’ & grandparents’ wealth, are convinced they’re “doing it tough” & therefore 2.7% of Clubs Australia’s members going to the community is quite adequate recompense for the poor bs who are hooked by the pokies.

  3. Scott Strange says:

    hang on. the clubs oz media release never claimed there would be an afl advertising campaign. media watch made this clear last week. it was an admitted error from AAP.

    C’mon, at least try to be factual.

  4. cyenne says:

    If that’s all you have to say Scott, then I take it everything else meets your highly critical standard. But please, feel free to substitute “public campaigns” for “ads” if that makes you happy.

    C’mon, at least try to be relevant.

  5. Zvyozdochka says:

    Good for you Tom. I followed your discussion with Maiden which seemed petty and very pedantic.

    I think she mentioned they’d had the document for a week. A week! Why were they waiting when the document was discoverable on a public server? When did Ltd News speak to Nick Xenonphon? Did they speak to any advertisers that might be troubled by such bad news? Why is their Courier Mail story so much weaker than the analysis you’ve made?

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