rubbery figures and desperate spin

What a week it’s been for the pokies. First we heard that poker machine reform was dying, that Julia Gillard was preparing to cut Andrew Wilkie and his demands loose. Then we heard the reforms were dead and buried. Then they weren’t. Then they were. There were backflips and betrayals, accusations and allegations, demands and denials. It’s been bedlam!

Somewhere in all that media frenzy came the news that “adman” Neil Lawrence and “spin doctor” Sue Cato were joining forces to launch a counter-campaign, calling bullshit on the clubs industry line and supporting the need for real poker machine reform. This got a small amount of coverage. Don’t you just love the priorities of the mainstream media?

Well, today that counter-campaign kicks off. The Stop The Loss Coalition is launching their campaign in Sydney, and have fired off an initial salvo by releasing new research that says, in effect, that the clubs have been lying all along. That the multi-billion-dollar price tag for any kind of reform is wildly exaggerated.

Clubs Australia must have got wind of this, because they commissioned their own research (as they often do). And this morning they issued a media release of their own, claiming that their research shows that “the vast majority of Australians believe that MPC should be buried.”

Let’s take a look at them both.

Let’s kick off with the Clubs Australia research. They engaged the services of pollsters Textor Crosby to run a survey, which contained only one question:

You may be aware that the Federal Labor Government recently increased its numbers in the Parliament due to the Labor Speaker stepping down and being replaced by a former Coalition member. This means that Andrew Wilkie’s stated position to withdraw support from the minority government if they do not tackle problem gambling would not necessarily bring down the government. With this change in mind, what do you think the Labor Government should do with poker machine reform? Should they…

– Carry on with the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment of poker machines regardless

– Introduce a scheme to tackle problem gambling, but renegotiate an alternative approach so it has less effects on clubs by, for example, making it a voluntary system

– Abandon poker machine reform altogether

– Don’t know / No opinion / None of these

That’s a heck of a question! Somewhat loaded and slanted in a particular direction, if you ask me… but then again, I’m not a pollster.

The responses showed 19.3% support for continuing to support mandatory pre-commitment, and 55.1% support for supporting gambling reform with “less effect on clubs”. This, apparently, means that mandatory pre-commitment is dead.

The survey had 800 respondents.

They were ALL from NSW and Queensland. The two biggest club states in the country.

And they were ALL from marginal ALP and Independent seats… the same areas Clubs Australia has been drowning in posters and pamphlets and propaganda for months.

Now, call me crazy… but how does a single-question survey, targeted at specific regions, with fewer than a thousand respondents, tell the mood of the country?

This is, surely, nothing more than a sign of how desperate the industry has become. If you want to see the results, you can find them here. All two pages of it.

And this brings me to the Australia Institute. Their report, “Rubbery Figures: An examination of the claimed and likely cost of poker machine reform in Australia” was commissioned by the Stop The Loss Coalition. It is a report, not a survey. It outlines:

What the gambling industry claims about the cost of poker machine reforms

An overview of the poker machine industry in Australia

How to exaggerate the cost of poker machine reform

How the gambling industry should estimate the cost of poker machine reform

The likely cost of poker machine reform to the owners of poker machines

The report draws heavily from research conducted by the Productivity Commission; research that Clubs Australia admits is the benchmark of gambling research in Australia. It also refers to the Joint Select Committee’s findings that were released in May 2010.

And the finding of the report is that the price tag placed on poker machine reform by the industry, of up to $5 billion, is “fanciful”. The likely cost, the report concludes, would be less than $350 million… or less than 10% of the industry claims.

The report goes into great detail in explaining not only how the gambling industry have concocted their figures, but also how they should be calculated. I could repeat it all for you here but I recommend you read it for yourself; the report can be found here, on the Stop The Loss Coalition website.

This research puts the lie to the claims being bandied about by the industry. It shows that poker machine reform will create thousands of jobs, and the more expensive they are, the more jobs will be created. It shows that the industry have not only overstated their case, but in many cases have contradicted themselves and got the maths wrong.

Most importantly, it explains itself. This is something that the gambling industry, from the clubs to the pubs to the casinos, have avoided doing since day one. Maybe that’s because they’ve got something to hide… such as the truth.


1 Response

  1. Steve says:

    I have sworn off playing poker machines as a result of the attitude of Clubs Australia. As a general observation, there seems to be a big drop in players at my local club, too. Perhaps the regulars are all down at the coast, but it will be interesting if the players don’t return after the summer break.

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