clubs australia – telling porkies for pokies

The Australian clubs industry, led by ClubsAustralia (with ClubsNSW pulling the strings), is well known for having a vested interest in keeping gambling levels in this country sky-high. Their heavy reliance on poker machine revenue influences everything they say and do, and anything that threatens that revenue is criticised, attacked and rejected out of hand. ClubsAustralia even resisted enforcing non-smoking laws for as long as possible, because of the impact it would have on gambling revenue.

I can’t think of a single non-profit organisation that is as agressive or as predatory as ClubsAustralia. What makes it worse is that they hide behind a veneer of respectability, leaping out to issue threats and denials and then scurrying back to the safety of their not-for-profit status and their supposed community concern. Maybe it’s just me, but when clubs that rely on gambling dollars from the community they are meant to serve, spend more every year on advertising and social expenses than they give back to that same community, then the system is not merely flawed; it’s broken. Smashed beyond repair.

So ClubsAustralia have launched their “It’s un-Australian” campaign to combat the evil, evil poker machine reforms being driven by the Federal government. Fair enough, they have every right to oppose the reforms. But not only is the nature of the campaign itself ridiculous (who appointed them the arbiters of what is and isn’t un-Australian, anyway?); what’s worse is that it’s all a lie. I’ve spoken of this before, about their opposition to a “licence to punt” that doesn’t exist, government spending controls that will never happen, and implementation costs that fly in the face of expert advice. But every day, as the campaign rolls on, the lies continue to pour forth from the hallowed halls of ClubsAustralia.

Two separate examples in the past week caught my attention. On April 25th, a story broke across the nation’s News Limited newspapers. Written by Andrew Clennell, the same article (with minor variations) appeared in the Herald Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Daily Telegraph, the Courier Mail and the Perth Sunday Times (late on the 24th), as well as News Limited’s own website. Apparently a document had been leaked from the ministerial expert advisory group on gambling; that’s the group providing advice on poker machine reforms to the Joint Select Committee on gambling reform. This document reportedly reveals the “full extent of the change and how it will be implemented.”

A few points: Andrew Clennell is the same journalist who “broke” the fingerprinting-pokie-players story about six months ago. That story was nicely complemented by an immediate media release from ClubsAustralia, howling in outrage at the thought of fingerprinting, and was followed by a series of club-driven local newspaper articles on the same topic. Of course, fingerprinting for pokie players was never seriously considered and was ruled out months ago.

Now, Clennell has another contentious pokie-reform-related scoop, and look! Just hours after his “leaked document” stories were published, ClubsAustralia issued a media release referring to the leaked document and rejecting everything it contained. The timing is, once again, suggestive.

Another thing: given that the leaked document supposedly details the “full extent of the change and how it will be implemented”, Clennell’s articles are surprisingly light-on for content. Surely a major scoop such as this would have resulted in the blueprint of the reforms being laid out in excruciating detail? And surely the competing newspapers would have picked up the story and run with it? Neither has happened… which makes me wonder just how detailed and authentic this leaked document really is.

The ClubsAustralia media release was a cracker; apprently we’re going to get UK-style fruit machines! Not going to happen. For starters, they would require regulatory approval, which takes time; also, the reforms talk about “low-intensity” gaming machines. Half of the poker machines in Australia can be easily reconfigured to become “low-intensity” machines; the only people talking about buying fruit machines are the clubs. But ClubsAustralia go one further. Riding the fruit-machine-pony for all it’s worth, they claim that these machines haven’t helped in the UK, “where the rate of problem gambling is rising and in fact is now double what it is in NSW, Victoria and Queensland”. Absolute rubbish; while the recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (2010) does show that problem gambling is on the rise, it states the following:

Problem gambling prevalence rates observed in Great Britain, measured by either the DSM-IV or the PGSI, were… lower than countries like the USA, Australia and South Africa.

Lower than countries such as Australia. Not double; lower. A bit of a difference there!

The second item that caught my eye was a report on the insane comments made recently by Len Ainsworth. In case you don’t know, Ainsworth is the “grandfather of pokies” in Australia. He founded Aristocrat Leisure, the biggest gaming machine seller in the country. While speaking to Channel 7, Ainsworth offered some advice on how to win at the pokies. His advice? Look for machines where people are consistently losing. When they become free, jump on; the chances are that they’re about to pay out.

THIS IS NOT TRUE! Every game played on a poker machine is completely random; past results have no bearing on future games. They can’t. It’s illegal, and any gaming machine manufacturer who fails to make their pokies completely random is not only breaking the law but would be liable for massive fines and penalties. Ainsworth is speaking complete and utter rubbish, and he should know better. Small wonder Senator Xenophon has raised a fuss over these comments… but even more telling is that, once again, ClubsAustralia have poked their noses in. Their media man Jeremy Bath tried to put the old club-spin on Ainsworth’s comments, saying that obviously he was talking about linked jackpot machines; obviously as the jackpot grows and time goes by, the chances of it paying out increase; and that Ainsworth machines are well known for their progrssive jackpots.

Right. I asked ten people what they thought of Ainsworth machines; none of them had any idea what I was talking about. Ainsworth wasn’t talking about progressive jackpots; he was talking about poker machines, and suggesting you could predict when they were going to pay out. It was an appalling statement, and ClubsAustralia should have distanced themselves from it. That they didn’t, shows where their priorities lie.

It would be nice if ClubsAustralia would try telling the truth for a change, instead of relying on telling porkies to look after their pokies. Instead, we’re stuck with an endless stream of fabrication and misinformation.

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