exploding the “experimental technology” myth

The recently-leaked Media Relations guide from Clubs Queensland contains a number of tips and strategies for dealing with the media. On page two, there is a short section called “Advantages of proactive media relations” and the first two points are:

You define the agenda/subject
You manage the message/key words

It’s pretty clear that this approach is not specific to Clubs Qld. This strategy is the one employed by the Clubs industry nationwide, especially Clubs Australia. Since they began their campaign to shoot down the Federal government’s proposed poker machine reforms, they have tried to drive the agenda into areas that they could control, and they have regularly latched on to phrases that have been hammered into every statement, every media release, every article on the subject.

There was the fingerprinting angle, where clubs managers around the country were quoted in local and national papers expressing their outrage over the supposed plan to fingerprint poker machine players. Clubs Australia Executive Director Anthony Ball famously said, “Until now, it was only criminals fingerprinted. From 2012, it will be criminals and anyone who ever plays a poker machine.”

Of course, fingerprinting was never a serious option and was soon discounted. The push behind the media attention on this came from Clubs Australia… never mind that clubs in Sydney were already fingerprinting drinking patrons… and still do.

Then there were the catch-phrase campaigns. “It’s Un-Australian.” “Won’t Work, Will Hurt.” Both these phrases became standard inclusions in any club statements about the reforms, repeated over and over again.

And who can forget the 40% drop in revenue? Spruiked by the clubs and reinforced by the media… until Mediawatch blew the whistle and revealed that there was no substance to the claims.

More recently, a new expression has found favour. It’s popped up time and time again in the past couple of months, and like so many other catch-phrases before it, has gone unchallenged.

Experimental technology.

Here’s a selection of recent statements from key players in the clubs industry:

PETER NEWELL: The sole reason for this experimental technology is being forced upon clubs, pubs and the casinos of course because of one man, Andrew Wilkie, a politician in Tasmania who secured fewer than 14,000 votes at the last federal election. (15/09/2011)

ANTHONY BALL: We are against, strongly against this experimental technology that has been proven to fail in recent data that’s been obtained from Norway. (16/09/2011)

ANTHONY BALL: Tim (Costello) is saying that this experimental technology is not going to help everyone, well it’s not going to help anyone, and it’s going to cost about three and a half billion dollars to introduce. (16/09/2011)

ANTHONY BALL: We’re out there saying that let’s do more to help problem gamblers, but let’s not embark upon an experiment that’s going to cost over three and a half billion dollars and kill clubs, and also hotels. (16/09/2011)

ANTHONY BALL: Millions of supporters, millions of players, kids and families will suffer if this experimental technology comes into being. (26/09/2011)

ANTHONY BALL: The proponents of this scheme are demanding that clubs, pubs and casinos find $3 billion to install the experimental technology required to change and link Australia’s 200,000 poker machines to a national database. (01/10/2011)

ANTHONY BALL: Andrew Wilkie’s experimental technology should be subject to testing and examination before billions are spent and permanent damage is done. (09/10/2011)

DOUG FLOCKHART: The Productivity Commission has been calling for a trial for 15 months, yet Andrew Wilkie is continuing to demand that the Government support his experimental technology sight unseen. (10/10/2011)

(all dates are approximate)

And here’s a selection of statements from recent Clubs Australia media releases:

The Salvation Army’s rejection of mandatory pre-commitment technology on club, hotel and casino poker machines is yet another nail in the coffin for Andrew Wilkie’s experimental reforms. (01/09/2011)

The Federal Government needs to realise that their plan to introduce a multi-billion dollar, experimental mandatory pre-commitment scheme will hurt the community, including those who have sacrificed much for this nation. (14/09/2011)

The newsletters feature the face and name of local MPs and call on them to vote against the licence to punt experiment being demanded by Andrew Wilkie. (15/09/2011)

AFL Presidents will meet Monday to discuss the issue of mandatory pre-commitment and the lack of evidence showing that the $3 billion experiment will reduce problem gambling. (25/09/2011)

A trial of Andrew Wilkie’s experimental pokie licence technology was first recommended by the Productivity Commission 15 months ago and is also supported the Salvation Army (Eastern Territory) and many of Australia’s leading gambling researchers. (09/10/2011)

Oh yes, “experimental technology” is certainly the flavour of the month! It’s a clear ploy to depict the technology that will be used to implement these reforms as untried and untested… in short, experimental. And we all know that “experimental technology” can’t be trusted, and should be examined, tested, trialled and assessed for years before we can even think about putting it to use.

(of course, the government wanted to trial this scheme in Tasmania, but the industry said no. And Clubs Australia’s position on trials has flip-flopped backwards and forwards for months)

So are these reforms based on experimental technology? Is it true?

Not even slightly.

Do me a favour. Get your wallet or purse and pull out your credit or debit card (and if you don’t have one, I salute you!). See the little chip over there on the left? The grey or gold square with the funny pattern on it? That’s a smart card chip, and it’s the foundation of the proposed pre-commitment scheme.

Smart cards have been around for years. I remember as a younger man, working for a very big bank about 13 years ago, being part of a team that was looking into smart card technology. We looked at Visa and Mastercard, what they were doing with them, how they could be used. I remember going on holiday to Queensland, and getting a smart card to use for shopping at the theme parks. Since then, smart card technology has exploded across the world. It’s safe, it’s stable and more and more applications are being found for it every day.

One thing it isn’t, is experimental. Companies around the world have poured billions of dollars into the research and development of smart card technology… maybe even more than Australia’s poker machines take in a year.

Or maybe the clubs are referring to the idea of setting limits? Pre-commitment in general? Nothing experimental about that. Voluntary pre-commitment schemes have been trialled and (in some cases) are still in use in South Australia and Queensland. In fact, the most common outcome of these trials has been the recommendation to make pre-commitment mandatory, as not enough people took up the option when it was voluntary.

No. As usual, Clubs Australia are reading from the handbook. They’re trying to set the agenda and manage the keywords. Never mind that they’re wrong… factuality is not high on the list of desirable attributes discussed in the Media Relations guide. In fact, you won’t find the words “truth” or “honest” anywhere in that document, and the only reference to actually being “factual” pops up on page 16, in a section on writing media releases.

Then again, page 2 drives home the message that people “believe” the media to be “factual”… I guess perception is more important than reality as far as the clubs are concerned.

There is nothing experimental about the technology that will be used to implement mandatory pre-commitment. There is, however, a different kind of experimental technology that the clubs WON’T tell you about… because it’s responsible for billions of dollars of revenue every year. I’ll write about that next.

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3 Responses

  1. Gonzo says:

    Seems to me the “kill clubs” argument is the one to focus on. If, as they claim, the clubs would be killed if they didn’t exploit people who are unable to stop themselves, then the clubs need to be killed for the sake of society.

    It’s an argument that’s worked in much of the world to completely eliminate them. Put a total ban on the table and they might consider this a more agreeable compromise.

  2. Dramfire says:

    Once upon a time the word propaganda didn’t have an infamous connotation. Of course, the word is now associated with Dr Goebbels and the Nazis. Dr Goebbels excelled at manipulating people by presenting untruths as ‘facts’ albeit for less sinister reasons than Clubs Australia (aka Clubs NSW).
    ClubsAustralia’s propaganda is unconscionable. Their propaganda is making the anti-smoking reform cartel, which at one time they were a part of, look lacklustre.
    Enough is certainly Enough!

  3. Peter B says:

    Great article Tom. It’s interesting that there is a suggestion of a pre-commitment trial. Interesting that the clubs never seem to trial new, faster,hungrier pokies before they are introduced.

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