industry fights for earphone poker machines

The industry body that represents Australia’s poker machine manufacturers has likened gambling on pokies to listening to music, and labelled a ban on earphones for poker machines as “potentially discriminatory.”

In December 2011, Victorian Minister for Gaming Michael O’Brien issued an interim ban order covering the use of earphones with poker machines. The ban was for a 12 month period, and the state regulator (the VCGLR) was directed to investigate the technology and advise whether the ban should be made permanent.

This all came about because of an article I wrote in October last year, which revealed that Bally Technologies (also known as Bally Gaming) were advertising a new series of poker machine cabinets that would allow gamblers to use earphones while playing. This flies in the face of every known concept of “responsible gambling” that the industry pretends to follow; there is already widespread recognition of the fact that many poker machine gamblers fall into a semi-hypnotic state, “the zone”, while playing… plugging in to the machines could only exaggerate and intensify that condition.

The article caused quite a stir, and was quickly picked up by the media who also revealed that earphone pokies were already in use in other states, such as NSW. I also brought the ads to O’Brien’s attention via Twitter, and his response was alarmed and swift. Two months later, the state-wide ban came into effect. He and I rarely see eye to eye, but on this occasion we certainly did.

Fast forward six months. In June this year, the VCGLR issued a media release, calling for public submissions on the use of earphones on gaming machines. “All Victorians” were invited to have their say, and submissions closed at the end of June. Sadly, this media release was largely overlooked; it received no publicity, no media coverage and quickly sank without trace like a pebble in a pond. Heck, I missed it too and I keep an eye out for this kind of thing!

The VCGLR is due to make its recommendation (on whether or not to make the ban permanent) to the minister. I don’t know how many submissions they received, but I know of at least two. The Victorian InterChurch Gambling Taskforce made a submission, emphasising their support for the ban and clarifying the destructive impact this innovation could have.

And the Gaming Technologies Association (GTA) made a submission, written by their CEO Ross Ferrar. The GTA are the industry body that represents Australia’s poker machine manufacturers, including Bally. They flatly opposed the ban order, which is no real surprise… but it’s what they put in their submission that speaks volumes.

According to the GTA:

“…no evidence has been provided that supports the order.”

This is a classic example of “reverse-speak” from the industry. If poker machine manufacturers want to introduce new technology, surely the onus is on them to prove it DOESN’T cause harm, rather than on the government to prove it DOES?

Not to mention that the GTA, along with Clubs Australia, the AHA and every other organisation dependent upon poker machines, has consistently opposed the introduction of “new technology” such as mandatory pre-commitment or bet limits, on the (incorrect) grounds that there is “no evidence” that they are helpful… yet they support THIS “new technology” on the same grounds.

“On the contrary, many millions of people worldwide routinely utilise earpieces for listening to music and other entertainment purposes.”

Excuse me? People listen to music via earphones, so therefore it’s ok to use them for poker machines? I don’t know about you, but the last time I listened to an album on my iPod (Muse’s “The Resistance”, in case you’re interested), it didn’t cost me a dollar every 6 seconds!

This smacks of Woolworths’ gambling boss David Curry telling a parliamentary inquiry that playing poker machines was like eating hamburgers. It’s stupid, condescending and it makes absolutely no sense.

“GTA considers any ban order which prevents gaming machine players from utilising common methods including the use of earpieces to permit them to enjoy the entertainment facilities provided by gaming machines as potentially discriminatory and inappropriate.”

Believe it or not, this is the core of the GTA’s argument: that Victoria’s gaming machine players are being discriminated against by the government, because they’re not permitted to plug earphones into their poker machines while gambling.

Sorry, did I say “gambling”? I meant to say, “enjoying the entertainment facilities provided by gaming machines”.

Wow. I knew it was wrong to discriminate on the basis of someone’s gender, race, religion, appearance, age and marital status (to name a few)… I had no idea it was wrong to discriminate on the basis of how engrossed you want to be in a poker machine!

“It is unclear to GTA why this particular means of delivering entertainment to hospitality patrons has been apparently persecuted by imposing an interim ban.”

Make a note. Next time you want to criticise the poker machine industry, remember that they’re not creating addicts to maintain a billion-dollar-revenue stream; they’re “delivering entertainment to hospitality patrons.”

And it’s not just poker machine gamblers with a penchant for plugging in to their machines who are under attack; the earphones themselves are apparently being “persecuted.”

“GTA and its members understand and support every means of addressing problem gambling.”

Words fail me.

The GTA conclude by suggesting that the interim ban should have focused on noise-cancelling headphones. They reiterate their opposition to the ban, and recommend that:

“…venues be directed to consider whether any player utilising ‘exclusive’ noise-cancelling headphones might be susceptible to problem gambling issues”.

In other words, do nothing. Venue staff are already supposed to recognise problem gambling “symptoms” and behaviours, and intervene when they feel appropriate… yet they are not psychologists, or counsellors, and have only the most basic training required by law. Now the GTA wants them to keep an eye out for noise-cancelling headphones as well.

If you ever had any doubt as to the intentions of the poker machine industry, this submission should serve to put it all in perspective. In representing the position of poker machine manufacturers, they have confirmed that they do not care about the impact their products have on so many, many people.

Remember: these earphone pokies were promoted, by Bally, as having the ability to “deeply immerse and engage players in game play”, and promised “a new level or profitability” for venues. This translates to more addictive gambling behaviours, in exchange for more money.

That’s what the GTA supports.

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