pokies 101: don’t gamble with education

Having successfully seen off the threat of mandatory pre-commitment, Clubs Australia have turned their attention to the question of image. They’re desperate to been as champions of real reform, while at the same time ensuring that their own particular brand of gambling can carry on unimpeded.

Their recent submission to the Senate Inquiry into problem gambling is a case in point. It’s stuffed full of the perils of online and sports gambling, and proposes a range of half-hearted measures that stoically ignore the root of the problem: poker machines themselves.

It also talks about education.

In his National Times article today (carried by The Age, The SMH and all the other Fairfax papers) Richard Willingham wrote about Clubs Australia’s proposal for school-based education programs, supposedly to combat problem gambling. The reaction to this suggestion was less than positive; representatives of the Australian Education Union, Parents Victoria and the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals all criticised the concept.

According to Clubs Australia’s submission:

The content of the school-based education program could draw from the Productivity Commission recommendation 7.1:
• dispel common myths about gambling and educate people about how to gamble safely
• highlight potential future consequences associated with problem gambling, and
• make the community aware of behaviours indicative of problem gambling, to encourage earlier help-seeking or interventions by family and friends.

That’s the crux of their argument. Take careful note of the first point: “dispel common myths about gambling and educate people about how to gamble safely.” Now, I’ll come back to the common myths argument a little later on… but are Clubs Australia really suggesting we teach our children how to gamble?

You bet they are.

There is one fundamental problem with this proposal. It’s supposedly predicated upon “recommendation 7.1”, which is found in the 2010 Productivity Commission report into gambling in Australia. But recommendation 7.1 is not about education. It’s not saying that schools should be doing these things. No, it’s a recommendation for the government to place greater emphasis on campaigns to do this.

That’s an extremely important point, because later in their report the Productivity Commission did look at education and school-based programs. They had only one recommendation to make on this topic, which is recommendation 9.1, and it states:

Given the risk of adverse outcomes, governments should not extend or renew school-based gambling education programs without first assessing the impacts of existing programs.

How about that. Clubs Australia have based their call for gambling education in our schools on a report that explicitly recommends the exact opposite.

Now, back to the myths. One of the reasons Clubs Australia want this school-based gambling education program in place is to “dispel common myths about gambling”.

The question is, whose myths?

Are Clubs Australia talking about the list of common myths that are found on the official South Australian problem gambling website? Here’s a selection:

MYTH: ‘I know that if I hit the button on the machine at just the right moment, I can stop the reels at a winning combination.’

MYTH: ‘The person who played the machine after me won big. I should have kept playing as that win would have been mine.’

MYTH: ‘My gaming machine hasn’t paid out for a while, it is therefore due for a win.’

MYTH: ‘If you put enough money into a poker machine you will eventually win.’

MYTH: ‘Some poker machines are luckier than others.’

Or are they talking about their own sanctioned list of common myths? Here’s a selection of Clubs Australia’s “common myths”, as found in their submission to the Senate’s earlier pre-commitment inquiry:

MYTH: The club movement is addicted to gaming revenue and is not interested in tackling problem gambling.

MYTH: Academic research is conclusive that poker machines are the antecedent of gambling addiction.

MYTH: All poker machine players are vulnerable, and the government must impose a solution on all to ensure their spending is appropriate.

And here’s a selection from an official Clubs QLD document called “Mythbusting The Problem Gambling Deal”, which was part of the “It’s Un-Australian” campaign and was authorised by Clubs Australia:

MYTH: The gaming industry is not serious about problem gambling.

MYTH: Recreational gamblers can play low intensity machines and avoid the mandatory pre-commitment scheme.

MYTH: The industry is opposed to pre-commitment scheme.

MYTH: Community clubs profit from gambling.

Seems to me that the “common myths” that Clubs Australia want to dispel have nothing to do with preventing problem gambling or poker machine addiction, and everything to do with protecting their image and their industry. These are, after all the myths that Clubs Australia themselves have written and authorised.

So, to summarise. Clubs Australia want gambling education in our schools, to teach our youth how to gamble, and to dispel negative perceptions of their industry. They base this call on a report that unequivocally recommends doing nothing of the sort.

Just another day in the Clubs Australia office, really.

If you want to read the Clubs Australia submission to the Senate Inquiry into problem Gambling for yourself, here is the link to the Senate Inquiry submissions page. Clubs Australia’s submission is number 29.

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14 Responses

  1. ted says:

    Tom,

    Why would you oppose evidence-based harm minimisation measures. Is it just because they are being proposed by the industry.

    There are a number of leading academic experts that support school-based gamblng education. You might want to read Dr. Derevensky’s submission to the inquiry for example.

    Also take look at the following materials which provide great exmaples of dispelling common gambling myths:

    http://www.nsgamingfoundation.org/pages/Videos.aspx

    http://www.olgr.nsw.gov.au/pokie_myths.asp

    ted

  2. Libby Mitchell says:

    The secondary education curriculum especially is tight enough already for space, often having no time or money to teach intrinsically valuable, personally empowering, potentially life-improving subjects, across the board.

    I find it more than odious that we should be ‘educating’ students about pokies gambling as if the whole topic were socially acceptable…an important and worthy part of life. That presupposes a state of legitimacy that pokies gambling especially does not deserve.

    Health courses at secondary level already address other ‘problem issues’ like smoking, [prescription and illegal] drugs and alcohol. These are presented as ‘problem’ issues caused by ‘problem products’, but we accept that children must be warned about them, because of their long history of strong social links and adverse health consequences.

    A move to ‘educate’ children about dangerous products like pokies….just like cigarettes, drugs and alcohol are presented, might have some use if the poker machine were explained as fully as a cigarette for example, as being a dangerous product.

    However to ‘educate’ young people in a way that normalizes the USE of a dangerous product like a poker machine, in a way that we would never promote a cigarette, is lamentable, irresponsible and wasteful. It becomes promotion for the gambling industry…that furthers perhaps the greatest myth of all….and that is that, ‘most people use poker machines responsibly’!

    That point has never been proven or disproven categorically, since studies are so sectional and isolated…and the gambling industry refuses point blank to introduce identifiable spending and usage records for every pokies gambler, that might settle the question once and for all. Yet we accept that claim of ‘responsible gambling’ on mere heresay? As if it were known to be true? Knowing that people lie about their rate of gambling so often, we just let that myth ride because we get the answer we want to hear?

    Let’s face it…a daily intake of 2-5 cigarettes is unlikely to harm a person either…but how many smokers smoke just 2-5 a day? I suggest that it could be around the same number of people who spend $2-5 a day on pokies….not bloody many!

    So on a quest for softening up the next generation to ‘want to gamble responsibly’, the gambling industry is attempting to sell its own value to the community, amidst its own created,thinly disguised spin… to reinforce a myth, very possibly. Laughable. What is more laughable is that the gambling industry, as usual, wants tax payers to pay for the bulk of its ‘solution’ no doubt! IS there no end to the sheer gall of this insidious industry?

  3. cyenne says:

    Ted,

    I oppose this proposal for the reasons I listed.

    1. It proposes teaching our youth how to gamble. Safely or otherwise, that’s normalisation.
    2. The “common myths” officially put about by Clubs Australia relate only to industry perception.
    3. The proposal is predicated on a Productivity Commission recommendation for the government, not schools. The same report recommended NO further school-based education programs.

    Besides, this is not an evidence-based harm-minimisation measure. The Productivity Commission also recommended the immediate implementation of $1 maximum bets. Tell me, do you support that too?

  4. fAMILYMAN says:

    Yup .let us all rejoice and me gladdened that the poker machine “industry will soon ( if they get their way) roll the poker machines into the schools. What does quiet as a mouse Julia and Jenny think about that. They could put their Labor how to vote stickers on the side of the machines.

  5. Trueblue says:

    Well I know when I was ten years old I was thinking of pokies, “not” what the! I am sure we can rely on the gambling industry and the so called regulators to put in thier little presentation that you don’t win full stop. I am sure they will talk about the suicides and prostitution for pokies that go on as well as the home break ups and the crime that is associated with it no doubt!!! Bet you a dollar they give out pokie tokens after wards!

    Do I trust this proposal in the gambling industries hands; as much as I trust the mandatory pre commitment trial if the industry has a say in the design and trial of it.

    Get real!!!

  6. ted says:

    Tom,

    1. For most people gambling is a normal activity. Just like drinking alcohol for most people is a normal activity. It’s quite clear that youth will engage in drinking and gambling once they are no longer minors. It’s far better to equip them with the knowledge to allow them to do so safely than to pretend that by not mentioning gambling or alcohol at school that they won’t be aware of it, I mean be realistic here.

    2. The industry are not proposing they develop the education program. They are advocating that governments do this. Are you against the type of school-based education proposed by Dr. Derevensky?

    3. The PC are not experts in the field of gambling research, they are esentially economists and policy wonks. Their report is basically a summary of the public submissions that were made to the inquiry. They didn’t even do a proper literature review on any of the topics they covered.

    The PC report is patchy at best consisting of some recommendations that are well supported by research, some that lack sufficent evidence and others that fly in the face of the evidence.

    There are far more authoritative sources on gambling harm minimisation than the PC that have recommended school-based education programs.

  7. cyenne says:

    Ted,

    That’s twice now you’ve implied that I oppose education programs for gambling. Feel free to point out to me where I say that this is my position.

    I do oppose this specific proposal not because of its source, but because of its content. Many others who are far more closely aligned with education in Australia than I hold the same position.

    Interesting though that the only person I’ve come across so far that supports this proposal is a Clubs NSW employee.

  8. ted says:

    Tom,

    To clear things up do you support the trial of school-based gambling education programs desinged by the relevant independent experts?

    Ted

  9. cyenne says:

    Do I support something I haven’t seen? That’s a strange question.

    Show me a proposed curriculum that has input and acceptance not only from independent experts but also the education community, and I’ll answer that question.

  10. Libby Mitchell says:

    @ Ted: You wrote “For most people gambling is a normal activity.” From that I take it that you include pokies gambling in your claim?

    I dispute your statement hotly re pokies gamblers. Even the PC admitted that its findings re ‘normal’ regarding pokies spending was likely to be wrong.

    We do not publically KNOW EXACTLY the rate of ANY spending per class of pokies customers. We only have anecdotal studies and reports that are ‘suss’ most likely, re any ‘normal’ pokies spending.

    The gambling industry is also preventing any more exacting proof from occurring! The costly Clubs “It’s a license to punt’ campaign proved how much it meant to the industry to NOT disclose ‘normal’ or any other rate of pokies gambling!

    The gambling industry has long been keen to use very questionable ‘research’ as back up for making such a claim that ‘most pokies gamblers gamble normally’, that is then widely broadcast to sway public thinking.

    Researchers merely personally questioned some at risk and full gambling addicts who have often since said… “I was lying when surveyed”.

    To get the results they wanted I guess, researchers usually surveyed gamblers in treatment or in venues. They got a figure of ‘problem gamblers’, based upon what was admitted; compared that to the population and there was a simple proportioning and effective ‘minusing’ of this declared group, that then just presumed that all other gamblers were ‘normal gamblers’. MUCH was made of a lot of CRAP evidence and we know it. I DO know it was flawed, as I was one of the people questioned and others have also admitted to lying in the survey the same way! What we do NOT know is how MUCH crap was flung by each person surveyed! I personally halved my declared rate but ABS stats indicate that most people divided it by 3 or 4….So we do NOT know ANY ‘normal’ rate of gambling.

    That ‘evidence-based’ research is KNOWN to be consistently flawed even to the client-admitted amount of time spent using pokies…let alone the ‘declared’ amount of weekly pokies-spending losses! The ABS Household Expenditure Surveys of the early 2000’s PROVED that a BIG discrepancy existed between what people ADMITTED to losing on pokies and what WAS actually lost. Are you suggesting Ted, that our census bureau statistics should be called invalid….in favour of findings of hotch potch ‘research studies’, to peddle your point that ‘most people gamble normally’?

    Get real, Ted. People lie from shame about their gambling as the ABS PROVED they did…and as we also KNOW they do, when families speak about their REAL LIFE family LOSS experiences…as well as from the ‘later-corrected’ reports of addicts.

    SO what is a ‘normal’ gambler Ted? One who declares that he only spends $10-20 a week maybe?

    Or is it someone that we have not yet picked up on the radar? A closet gambling addict who has not paid his contractor, his kids’ overdue school fees, or who is still trying to juggle his credit card debt by refinancing?

    THAT ‘closet gambler’ group that is possibly the MAIN group of pokies gamblers, in raw numbers terms at least, is still much hidden. Surely it is not normal?

    So what ‘normal gambler’ are you talking about exactly Ted? The ones you see in Clubs every day looking so happy and content? So relaxed and happy about their pokies spending?

    I am especially offended at your claim since your industry will not register and provide spending records for ALL pokies gamblers and we are not fully told the contents of ‘loyalty records’ that mean little, since they do not cover ALL pokies gamblers, anyway. So our ignorance of what is NORMAL pokies spending continues, MUCH because of the gambling industry desire to hide information!

    YOUR presumption has NEVER been proven to be true so your claim is NOT evidence-based at all.

  11. Libby Mitchell says:

    Teaching a child how to gamble responsibly is like teaching children how to smoke responsibly!

    BOTH activities are ‘recreations’…but both are essentially unnecessary, wasteful, potentially harmful and possibly deadly. Sitting for hours at a pokie screen alone, is not ‘normal’ activitiy.

    NEITHER is a safe pastime for all people and neither is unsafe for all, either. The only reason I do not include alcohol is because the jury is still out on the issue….and the bible says some is OK lol!

    But NO other dangerous product is taught in our schools, coming from the direction that it is ‘essentially normal’ activity! Even alcohol is always taught as being a very dangerous substance…and that any alcohol kills some brain cells etc. Pokies just kill our bank balances OK…but that is NOT the same as ‘going to a ball game’ etc…

  12. ted says:

    Tom,

    Suggest you look at the programs already in operation in Queensland. The vast number of programs in operation internationally.

    Ted

  13. Familyman says:

    Ted

    what’s the matter! You got what you want and that is the destruction of families and the continuation of misery. Gillard and Macklin were scared off and you and your ilk can go on your merry way doing what you do best which is bludging off the misfortune and misery of others rather than getting a real job. I think you’re looking for a way out by getting others to agree with you so you can sleep at night but no one who has any decency about them could possible let you off the hook that my friend you will have to do all on your ownsome. Remember Ted you sleep in a bed and eat meals and live your life all half paid for by families whose kids go to hungry or to homes because thier dad or mum blew them in your addictive machines. Please never for get it . That is your Inheritance you give to your family. Karma.what goes around comes around.

  14. Cathy says:

    Ted,

    a few responses to your earlier points.

    1. It depends on what knowledge you are equipping them with. Just remember, as with alcohol, ‘gambling’ is not a homogenous product and people must be made aware of the critical differences and this is much more than about ‘the odds’ and other mundane ‘details’ my friend.

    2. OK, so the industry is leaving it to governments to sort out. However, that makes no real difference because many are also critical of state and territory governments because of their chronic inability to do anything much beyond window dressing the problem. So really, why would they be any more trustworthy than the industry when putting together such a program? If it did come to pass then while they are at it, perhaps they should teach children about what real business ethics are as this is something that is sadly lacking at least in this industry.

    3. If the PC report were just a summary of public submissions then the clubs and their affiliates perhaps should have got more attention seeing as they swamped the inquiry with about 200 submissions. Despite what you say about the PC, they are far more clued up and have more commonsense about this gambling issue than some others I have come across. Interesting that you should bring up about the PC being essentially economists because this just gives weight to their criticisms about the clubs claims in relation to community benefits. As you know, they suggested the tax concessions to clubs (particularly in NSW) be significantly reduced. I guess this is where Barry O’ Farrell comes in handy.

    4. The PC’s recommendations would have done a proper job of reining in these poker machines. I have some idea which recommendations you are referring to on your scale of worthiness. Funny how you people sway between being dismissive of the PC report and at other times use it when you think it is to your advantage. Read what the key evidential gap is on P3.31 of the report. You really need to be honest with yourselves about this.

    5. The PC went about the whole thing in a practical way and what they said I had no trouble understanding. How the industry thinks, is what I don’t get.

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