silent treatment? we should be so lucky!

I’ve read a lot of Clubs Australia media releases over the past couple of years. As a result, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the rules they follow when they write this rubbish. Truth is generally optional; in their world you don’t have to be able to supply proof, you just need to shout loudly and often.

Today’s offering is a prime example.

The title states: “WILKIE GIVES CLUB THE SILENT TREATMENT ON OFFER TO TRIAL $1 MAX BET”. It was picked up by The Australian (“Wilkie ‘ignored’ $1 trial offer”) and a few other news services. And it’s a load of rubbish. You know, I really wish Clubs Australia would give US the silent treatment.

Here’s the detail of the media release (or you can click here for the original) :

Tasmanian Independent MP Andrew Wilkie ignored an offer 6 months ago to trial the $1 maximum bet technology on poker machines he is now demanding the Federal Government introduce.

The Grafton District Services Club wrote to Andrew Wilkie in September last year, offering its 149 poker machines as a site for a trial of low intensity / $1 max bet poker machines.

Incredibly, Andrew Wilkie ignored the Club’s offer. Clubs Australia has similarly written to Mr Wilkie on a number of occasions over the past 12 months without reply.

Clubs Australia Executive Director Anthony Ball said Andrew Wilkie must explain why he is now threatening to vote down the Government’s gambling reforms when he didn’t even want a $1 max bet trial just 6 months ago.

“The behaviour of Andrew Wilkie is bizarre to say the least. Today Andrew Wilkie says he will vote against the Government’s gambling reforms unless it includes technology limiting gamblers to $1 bets and $500 jackpots,” he said.

“Yet when a large NSW club offered itself as a trial site for his plan, he just ignored them.

“I expected Andrew Wilkie to seize the opportunity, or at the least use the offer as a starting point for dialogue with the industry.

“Instead Andrew Wilkie ignored the letter and told no one about it. The likes of Nick Xenophon, Tim Costello and the Greens have all in recent weeks backed his call for a trial of $1 max bets. It’s clear none have been told that Andrew Wilkie has been sitting on an offer for 6 months now.

“Far from being a gambling reformer, Andrew Wilkie is now proving himself to be road block to reform.

“Significant headway has been made on establishing a trial of mandatory pre-commitment. The Government has also announced its support for voluntary pre-commitment on all poker machines, increased funding for problem gambling counsellors and a serious crackdown on online gambling.

“I hope Andrew Wilkie isn’t threatening to prevent gambling reform just out of revenge or a desire to remain in the political spotlight.

“I remind Mr Wilkie of advice he once offered me via the media. Its time he got on board with gambling reform or got out of the way”.

Now, for the sake of the argument I’m going to assume that the Grafton District Services Club (GDSC) really did make such an offer in a letter to Wilkie. The Australian says they’ve obtained a copy of the letter, so I’ll treat that as independent verification.

Point One: the GDSC did NOT offer itself up “as a site for a trial of low intensity / $1 max bet poker machines”. What they did, according to the letter The Australian obtained, was challenge Wilkie to “use the club as a guinea pig for the new technology if it could be installed for less than $200,000”.

Think about that. $200,000 to convert 149 poker machines comes in at a little over $1,340 per machine. Yet the industry’s own modelling (which they insist is correct) would put the price of conversion for the GDSC at around $2.4 million.

Even with the assumption that all of the GDSC’s poker machines are relatively new (which they’re not), that price tag would still be around $745,000… again, using the industry’s own financial modelling.

This wasn’t an offer, it was a challenge. Nothing more, nothing less.

Point Two: why the hell are Clubs Australia talking about trialling $1 bets? No one is suggesting that this should be trialled. Not Wilkie, not Xenophon, not the Greens, not Costello… no one.

The only trial that has even been proposed has been for mandatory pre-commitment. In fact, the Productivity Commission found that there was already sufficient evidence to prove that $1 bets would not only be effective in reducing the harm and incidence of problem gambling on poker machines, but could be implemented immediately… without a trial.

So when Clubs boss Anthony Ball says “The likes of Nick Xenophon, Tim Costello and the Greens have all in recent weeks backed (Wilkie’s) call for a trial of $1 max bets”, he’s lying. I can’t put it any more plainly than that.

Point Three: the general manager of the GDSC is Arthur Lysaught. He’s the one who wrote the letter “challenging” Wilkie to use his club for a trial of $1 bets. The Australian contacted him and he was only too happy to confirm this. He also described Wilkie as “the greatest sook God ever allowed to walk the earth”.

The thing is, Lysaught is no stranger to talking to the papers. He’s been interviewed for his opinion on poker machine reforms a number of times over the past couple of years. And in October 2011, he had this to say:

“There is a lot of misinformation out there at the moment but to convert our poker machines to low-intensity would cost the club $2.2 million to get 30-40 percent less revenue”.

Lysaught made this statement, specifically about low-intensity machines (which is the fancy name for $1 maximum bets), just one month after he reportedly wrote to Wilkie, offering to trial the exact same technology.

Makes you wonder how sincere his “offer” was.

Point Four: As I said earlier, there has never been any suggestion of conducting a trial of $1 maximum bets. But if such a trial were to take place, it could never be in a single venue. Think about it. The current ACT-wide trial proposal is being slammed because people can theoretically drive to Queanbeyan to avoid the restrictions. How much less effective would a trial be, if it were confined to a single venue?

The whole idea is ludicrous. Yet Ball talks it up, making it sound like the best invention since betting. “I expected Andrew Wilkie to seize the opportunity,” he said, “or at the least use the offer as a starting point for dialogue with the industry.” Pull the other one Anthony, it plays pokies music.

Point Five: this media release isn’t about $1 maximum bets, or trials, or anything that actually means something. It’s an attempt to discredit Andrew Wilkie; nothing more, nothing less. That’s the tactic Clubs Australia have fallen back on, now that Wilkie has seen through the sham of the government’s draft legislation. This is the second public attack on Andrew Wilkie from Clubs Australia in less than a week, after spokesman Jeremy Bath described him on the weekend as “just having an enormous dummy spit.”

In the media release, Ball says:

“Far from being a gambling reformer, Andrew Wilkie is now proving himself to be road block to reform.”

And then follows up with:

“I hope Andrew Wilkie isn’t threatening to prevent gambling reform just out of revenge or a desire to remain in the political spotlight.”

Oh, that bad Andrew Wilkie! Oh, those noble and strong folk at Clubs Australia, fighting for reform! Have we truly come to this? Do Clubs Australia seriously expect us to believe that they are champions of real poker machine reform?

Look, let’s get one thing straight. The government’s draft bill for poker machine reform is seriously compromised. It does NOT mention mandatory pre-commitment once in over 150 pages. It only commits to the implementation of VOLUNTARY pre-commitment, and (as one of my readers recently pointed out) this was already agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) back in May 2011.

In short, this bill promises to deliver exactly the kind of reform that the industry has been saying they support. The kind of reform that has been proven repeatedly to be ineffective, and which will cost as least as much to implement as full mandatory pre-commitment.

Clubs Australia are not champions of reform. They are masters of spin. It’s time they were called to account.

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1 Response

  1. Mary says:

    Great revealing article. It’s now on my ‘favourites’
    Wonder how much it will cost in staff, time and money to register and print cards for Canberra pokies folks. And, ‘trials’ usually result in a ‘return’ of some kind to those who take part. Is it likely that any ‘return’ will be sent to those who register their visits to canberra gaming venues.

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