Wednesday 6th March, 2013. It started out like any other day, but by nightfall Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu had quit the state’s top job and all anyone could talk about was where the Victorian Liberals were going to go from here.
Yet Wednesday was significant for the Victorian Government for another reason, one that has understandably slipped by unnoticed. As of the 6th of March 2013, 12 months after they were formulated by Gambling Minister Michael O’Brien, the Coalition’s new poker machine signage laws came into effect.
Remember O’Brien spruiking his “plain packaging for pokies” laws early last year? If you believed his take on things, this was a change to the law that would “reduce the level of overt gambling advertising” because his government “favoured less promotion of gambling”.
There’s a good chance you’ve noticed the new signs going up around town; they’re pretty hard to miss. I’ve visited a number of venues and there are some photos later on in this article, but first let’s take a look at what has actually changed.
Poker machines venues could only display signs containing either the Tabaret symbol plus the word “TABARET”, or the Tatts Pokies corporate logo. No other text or images was allowed.
The area covered by the symbol/logo was not allowed to exceed more than 2 square metres.
Venues were restricted to only one sign; if the venue had more than one street frontage (for example, it was on a corner block) it could have a maximum of two signs. Double-sided signs counted as one sign.
There was more… but that was the guts of it. O’Brien’s changes were:
Poker machines venues could only display signs containing the word “pokies” once. The word had to be in white text on a on a single colour background, in Helvetica, Arial or a similar font. No other text or images was allowed.
The area covered by the sign was not allowed to exceed more than 2 square metres.
Restrictions on the number of signs (one or two) remain unchanged.
And that’s it. O’Brien’s heralded “plain packaging for pokies” laws boil down to this:
He’s made it illegal for venues to advertise Tabaret or Tatts Pokies, which is a bit nonsensical as neither exists anymore (not since the gaming duopoly ended in August 2012).
He’s legalised advertising of poker machines (as “pokies”) outside venues for the first time in a decade. The Bracks government banned poker machine signs completely in 2003, before relenting in 2005 and allowing corporate logos to be used (Tatts and Tabaret).
And he’s allowed venues to make their signs as large and as striking as they like, within the stipulations of the law.
As Bruce Guthrie recently wrote in The National Times: “Do we really need more urban blight? The signs won’t be visible from the moon but they won’t enhance the look of our cities.”
(this was in reference to Shadow Gambling Minister Martin Pakula’s comment that “the only man-made structures visible from space will be the Great Wall of China and pokies signs.”)
Guthrie was right. There is sufficient flexibility in these new laws that venues can interpret and apply them in a range of different ways. What we are ending up with is a proliferation of large, eye-catching in-your-face signs that leave no doubt that Melbourne pubs and clubs are all about gambling.
I live in the City of Knox. Yesterday I went for a drive, and in five and a half hours I visited every poker machine venue in Knox, and every poker machine venue in the neighbouring City of Maroondah. I also popped in to visit a couple of venues in the City of Monash. That’s 23 venues, at an average of roughly 15 minutes per venue. That in itself says something about how widespread poker machine gambling is in our outer suburbs; they’re everywhere.
At every venue, I inspected their external signage, and took photos. Here’s what I found.
Of the 23 venues I visited, there were only five that I thought were working within the “spirit” (rather than the “letter”) of the law. These are the best of the bunch.
Ferntree Gully Bowling Club
None of these five have gone for big, or garish, or in-your-face. Yes, the Stamford’s signage is pretty big, but not in the context of the overall sign. All of these venues have integrated the new pokies signage in an understated fashion. Sadly, they’re the exception… and some of them are illegal. I’ll come back to that later.
There was also only five venues that I thought were borderline… could have been better, but could so easily have been so much worse.
The Coach and Horses
This pub belongs to Collingwood FC. The pokies signage isn’t overly large, but it IS designed to match Collingwood’s black-and-white playing strip.
Dorset Gardens Hotel
Quite a large sign but it fits reasonably well into the existing sign. Red was chosen for the background as a deliberate contrast to the rest of the sign, but it doesn’t stand out as much as it could.
These pokies signs are quite muted and, while clearly visible, are nowhere near as large as they could be.
Maroondah Sports Club
Quite visible, but the colour scheme of the pokies sign blends into the main sign to a degree.
I must admit I expected something more garish from Zagames, but they surprised me. Still quite visible.
As I pretty much expected, just over half of the venues I visited have embraced their new-found freedom and have put their signs well and truly out there.
Club Hotel Ferntree Gully
Daiseys Club Hotel
Eastwood Golf Club
Ferntree Gully Hotel (aka The Middle)
Mulgrave Country Club
Vegas Room At Waverley Gardens
Wantirna Hill Club
The stupid thing about all this is that some venues are still getting it wrong, although I seriously doubt the Victorian Government and the VCGLR care enough to do anything about it. No fewer than five of the venues listed above have signage that is still illegal according to the new regulations.
Croydon Hotel – while their sign is one of the best, it includes a number of other words (bistro, sports bar, etc) on the same sign (as defined by the background colour). This is illegal.
Wantirna Club – another of the best signs, but it also features other words and images on the same sign. Also, the word “pokies” is NOT white text on a coloured background, as stipulated in the law.
The Coach and Horses – their club-colours sign is surrounded by lights, a direct contravention of the existing stipulation that signs should not contain “decorative ridges or illumination”.
Club Kilsyth – this pokies sign has a two-colour background, whereas the law stipulates a single colour only. Also, the TAB logo is included on the pokies sign, which is prohibited.
Vegas Room at Waverley Gardens – never mind that this pokies sign is included in the shopping centre signage and juts out onto Police Road… it also includes the TAB logo which is illegal.
It’s pretty clear that the Victorian Coalition’s new signage laws for poker machines is triggering an explosion in advertising by venues across the state. It flies in the face of their claims that they are progressive and forward-thinking when it comes to harm-minimisation with poker machines; the opposite would seem to be the case. I hope Baillieu recognises that the laws that came into effect on the day he resigned, have done more to change the face of Victoria than anything else his government did since gaining power in 2010… and not in a good way.
The more astute of you will have noticed that, while I said I visited 23 venues, I’ve only included photos for 22. The reason is simple.
Knox Tavern seems to have forgotten all about the new laws. As far as they’re concerned, their Tabaret is still open for business.
I expect they’ll be getting a “please explain” letter pretty soon.