stop the lies!

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote anything about the ClubsAustralia campaign against the proposed poker machine reforms. You know, the “It’s un-Australian” campaign? The “Licence to Punt” campaign? The campaign that ClubsAustralia said they were winding back after the disastrous (and unintentionally hilarious) Bruce & Mike video was released? Yes, that one.

Well, time has told the truth of that; they haven’t wound things back. In fact, they’ve publicly stated that they’ll spend whatever it takes to fight these reforms. What they have done is focus all of their attention on the clubs of New South Wales; not surprising, given that ClubsAustralia is little more than a figurehead for ClubsNSW, who are setting the agenda for this campaign… and not to mention that NSW is the clubs heartland of this country. If anyone is going to pay attention to their ridiculous campaign, it’ll be in NSW.

Lately, the clubs campaign has shifted into another gear: the last few weeks have seen the first pro-club, anti-reform rallies take place in NSW. There have been marches and there have been gatherings; there have been pre-recorded messages of support from Alan Jones (gee, how inspiring) and strongly-expressed contempt for any Labor MPs who were brave enough to attend. And that’s just a nice way of saying that the crowds, made up mostly of club employees, jeered, booed and heckled to their hearts content every time someone tried to explain what the reforms were actually about.

Most of all, there have been lies, and lies, and more lies. This is a campaign founded on misinformation, misdirection, and outright fabrication. They don’t want to know the truth; they just want to maintain the status quo. Knowing the facts would negate just about every one of their arguments, so they refute everything and shout down every opposing voice.

What are these lies of which I speak? Some have been around since day one of the campaign, and some are more recent inventions. Here’s a few.

If the Federal Government gets its way, every Australian will have to apply for a licence just so they can have a $5 punt.

This is the original lie that the entire “un-Australian” campaign is built on: the dreaded “licence to punt”. There is so much wrong with this one short statement, it’s laughable.

For starters, there’s no mention of poker machines; the proposed reforms apply only to poker machines, not any other form of gambling. Having a “punt” on any other form of gambling will be unaffected.

There will be no “licence”; there will be a pre-commitment card. There’s a huge difference.

No one will have to “apply” for anything; that implies that your application could be rejected. If you want a pre-commitment card, you register for one. Simple as that.

And most importantly, under the proposed reforms, you will NOT need a pre-commitment card to play poker machines. This is the point that ClubsAustralia keep very, very quiet about. The proposed reforms split Australia’s poker machines into two groups: high-intensity machines and low-intensity machines. At present, every poker machine in Australia is a high-intensity machine. Low-intensity machines will have $1 maximum bets and lower payouts.

High-intensity machines will require a pre-commitment card to play. Low-intensity machines will NOT require a card.

Let me repeat that for clarity: low-intensity poker machines will NOT require a pre-commitment card to play. So if you’re in the 80% of poker machine players who bets $1 a game or less, you won’t need a pre-commitment card.

(that 80% figure, by the way, comes from ClubsAustralia)

It would be more accurate to say “If the Federal Government gets its way, every Australian who wants to play high-spend high-intensity poker machines will have to register for a pre-commitment card… but every Australian who just wants to have a $5 punt on anything else can do so without a card”. Much better.

The proposed reforms will cost $3 billion to implement, will shut down clubs around the country and will put tens of thousands of people out of work.

Wow. That’s a really big call, considering that these reforms are still at the draft stage. No decision has been made with regards to which company (or companies) will be responsible for implementing the required changes. Those companies that have expressed their interest have all given indicative quotes as to how much the technology would cost; the most expensive solution I’m aware of (which comes from poker machine manufacturer Aristocrat… here, have a grain of salt) comes in at $1 billion nationally. Yet the final solution has yet to be confirmed.

And don’t forget that most poker machines will be converted to low-intensity machines. Why? Not just because they’ll be more readily accessible to casual gamblers… no, the fact is that “downgrading” a poker machine to a low-intensity machine requires little more than a software change. It will be far cheaper for clubs and pubs to convert to low-intensity machines than it will be to install pre-commitment on their high-intensity machines. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what that means.

Despite all this, ClubsAustralia continue to scream about the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs that will be lost. They wave their pet KPMG report in the air and use it to justify their wild, extravagant claims. KPMG, by the way, are a corporate partner of ClubsNSW… and to the best of my knowledge, no one outside of the clubs industry has seen what this report contains. It could be pages of the phone book for all we know.

If the information in this fabled KPMG report is so damning, then why haven’t ClubsAustralia made it public?

Voluntary pre-commitment is better and more effective than mandatory pre-commitment.

A little background on this one. Australia’s clubs, pubs and state governments are apparently united on the idea that voluntary pre-commitment is the way to go. Mind you, they’re also the ones who make the most money out of poker machines so you have to question their motives.

The kind of voluntary pre-commitment they’re talking about is the kind where every poker machine can accept a pre-commitment card, but you can still play without one. If you choose to use a pre-commitment card, you will be notified when you’ve reached your limit… but you will be able to continue playing.

Think about that. You won’t need a card to play. If you do choose to use a card, you can ignore it when you’ve reached your limit. Uh huh, sounds effective to me.

Remember that under this concept, there would be no low-intensity machines… every Australian poker machine would remain a high-intensity machine.

And remember also that EVERY poker machine would need to be modified to accept the voluntary pre-commitment card. Hang on, aren’t the clubs screaming about the cost of pre-commitment technology? Yes they are… yet here they are proposing a solution that would require that same technology to be installed on EVERY SINGLE POKER MACHINE in the country!

I’m not making this up. From a recent ClubsNSW media release: Mr Newell said a more effective solution would be to introduce a voluntary pre-commitment system that will empower problem gamblers without making social punters register for a license.

Mr Newell, in case you don’t know, is ClubsAustralia & ClubsNSW Chairman Peter Newell (OAM).

One final point on this. As I’ve said, the proposed reforms suggest a mix of high-intensity pre-commitment poker machines, and low-intensity no-commitment poker machines. “Social punters” would be able to play the low-intensity machines without any need to “register for a licence”. Deciding to play high-intensity machines, involving pre-commitment, would be a voluntary choice on the part of the gambler.

The proposed reforms, therefore, satisfy Newell’s requirements. What then is he objecting to?

These reforms won’t work; problem gamblers will just gamble on something else.

Can I let you in on a secret? ClubsAustralia know this secret, although they’re not telling… so let me share it with you.

These reforms are not aimed at problem gamblers.

I kid you not. The proposed poker machine reforms are not aimed at problem gamblers; they’re aimed at poker machine addicts. There’s a massive difference.

A problem gambler is addicted to gambling. They will bet on anything, any time, anywhere.

A poker machine addict is a problem gambler who is only addicted to poker machines. That is the reality of the situation. It is why these reforms target poker machines; they are the most addictive and destructive form of gambling there is, and the vast majority of poker machine addicts do NOT have problems with other forms of gambling.

Putting safeguards in place to help minimise the harm that poker machine addicts can cause to themselves and others, as well as preventing the development of poker machine addictive behaviours in future gamblers, is what these reforms are all about. And the Clubs industry knows it.

Why don’t these reforms include other forms of gambling? Why pick on poker machines? What about the TAB, or Keno, or roulette, or online gambling, or sports gambling?
This is just the thin end of the wedge. What’s next? They’ll ban betting on horses, they’ll ban Keno, they’ll ban sports gambling!

I’ve lumped these two arguments together because they are both widely used to criticise the reforms, yet they are so inherently contradictory. It’s either “these reforms are crap, they don’t cover other forms of gambling!” or “these reforms are crap, other forms of gambling will be next!” These arguments effectively cancel each other out.

Every time I hear or read what a pro-pokies, anti-reform person has to say, and they fall back on the “What’s next?” argument, I tune out. It’s a standard deflection tactic. These reforms, for a number of very good reasons, are about poker machines. Nothing else.

This is all about allowing and empowering problem gamblers to play the pokies.

I’ve saved this one for last. One of the most bewildering assertions that is constantly made by Newell and his cohorts at ClubsAustralia is that these reforms are aimed at allowing problem gamblers to play poker machines safely. They reject this, saying that problem gamblers should not be gambling at all.

They’re half right. Poker machine addicts should not be playing the pokies at all. As for the rest? What a steaming load of rubbish. The idea of a pre-commitment card, as I said earlier, is aimed at reducing the harm poker machine addicts can cause, and slowing or stopping the development of problematic gambling behaviour. It’s a safeguard, a seatbelt for poker machines. This is as ludicrous an argument as saying that seatbelts encourage people to drive dangerously… which, incidentally, was one of the criticisms widely made when seatbelts were first made compulsory 40 years ago. Funny how that one turned out.

What a litany of lies and deception. ClubsAustralia have made their campaign into a mission to “save their clubs”, and have completely forgotten about the quarter of a million Australians who suffer from moderate or severe poker machine addiction, not to mention the millions of Australians who are impacted as a result. That’s right; almost half of this country’s 600,000 regular poker machine players show signs of gambling addiction… something else ClubsAustralia won’t tell you.

To paraphrase Tony Abbott, another avowed opponent of the reforms (albeit for his own highly biased set of reasons): it’s time to Stop The Lies. Two thirds of Australian voters have already indicated time and time again that they support these proposed reforms; the lies clearly aren’t working. It’s time to let the truth be told.

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10 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    The greatest lie that Clubs ignore is the fact that most people do not want pokies to be in their communities if pokies are not made safer. Clubs are ignoring their responsibilities to other local traders as well as to families in their communities, since they know that their dangerously addictive gambling machines pull way too much money away from other business pockets.

    That is perhaps part of the greatest lie of all that Clubs promote. Clubs suggest that they are valuable in the community. They may have been historically….but are Clubs still so very ‘useful’ if they create social havoc for most people, to create satisfaction for just some?

    At what cost must we continue to approve Clubs in our communities, if Clubs insist upon continuing their hazardous, destructive ways? Clubs need to change their business models to create more responsible ways of earning money for achievement of their own interests.

    If the false Clubs’ mantra is ignored, it will be because most people see through their quest to continue with their irresponsible greed now. Not a few other locally competing traders would be relieved that Mr Wilkie has chosen to make moves to stem the social drain from pokies, by trying to level the trading ‘playing field’. These reforms are NOT so much about problem gamblers…as about ALL other community members who are harmed by pokies….and Clubs!

  2. Sue Pinkerton says:

    Excellent piece by 60 Minutes in the US (see, http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7375124n ).

    The US expansion of gaming machines began some 10 years AFTER it occurred in Australia. Only now are they begining to discover what negative impacts these machines have. Something Australian researchers have known about since the late 1990’s.

  3. Braveheart says:

    I’m pleased to hear that low intensity machines will have a maximum bet of $1.00. For some reason I had not realised that. It makes a lot of sense and will certainly lessen the losses of problem gamblers.

    What would need to change on current low intensity poker machines to manage this? Would the changes be made in some kind of overarching programming or would physical (mechanical) alterations need to be made to the existing machines?

    Most of my losses occurred on low density machines. I would most often commence betting at the $1.00 or $2.00 mark in the worst of my gambling. Very occasionally I would use the high intensity machines but not often because the likelihood of serious losses was much greater.

    This realisation of the difference between high and low intensity machines makes things a little clearer for me now and exposes the hollowness of the ant-precommitment campaigns.

    The real cut to pokie machines profits will come from the restrictions of the low intensity machines if I understand the principles correctly. An analogy wold be that the Government might regulate against the presence of mercury in paint or in vaccines because it threatens the health of the public.

    With the proposed changes to pokie machines technology e government regulations will limit the capacity to bet large amounts on pokie machines because of health and well being risks to the community.

    Have I got that right now? 🙂

    Perhaps the pokie industry reform campaign should re-badged. It is not pre-commitment that will have the most impact but the restrictions placed on the low intensity machines.

  4. cyenne says:

    Braveheart, the thing is that there are currently NO low-intensity poker machines in Australia. They’re all high-intensity; even on a one-cent machine, you can easily bet several dollars per game if you play all the lines and use the multipliers.

    My understanding is that for most machines, a software change would do the trick. Reducing the number of multipliers (for the low-denomination machines), as well as possibly the number of lines that could be played (for the high-denomination machines) would make this happen. It’s not hard to do; Victoria recently legislated a maximum bet limit of $5 for poker machines. Dropping that to $1 wouldn’t take much.

    I agree that the reform campaign should be re-badged. It’s not mandatory pre-commitment across the board; it’s a two-tier system, with pre-commitment for high-intensity machines, and unrestricted access to low-intensity machines.

  5. Braveheart says:

    So there would be unrestricted access to low intensity machines but these low intensity machines would be restricted to $1.00 per bet limit?

    Are you absolutely sure about this? It makes a huge difference.

    It sounds as though there would not be much cost in making these changes to lower denomination machines.

    The lower denomination are would be 1c, 2c and 5c machines? What about the 10c machines?

    Where could I verify this, Tom? I can’t believe this has not been emphasized in the campaign. The pre-commitment part of the argument is a bit of red herring compared with the possible restictions on lower intensity machines.

    Would appreciate the confirmation. Thanks 🙂

  6. cyenne says:

    Take a look at the Joint Select Committee’s Report on Gambling reform.
    http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/gamblingreform_ctte/precommitment_scheme/report/b03.htm
    Specifically, recommendation 12 (mandatory pre-commitment for high-intensity machines), recommendation 36 (no pre-commitment for low-intensity machines) and recommendation 37 (low-intensity machines to be rolled out with the same timeframe as pre-commitment for high-intensity machines).
    🙂

  7. Braveheart says:

    Thanks Tom. I just had a quick look and couldn’t see anything about low intensity machines or prescribed maximum bets. Where did you get that from?

    Also I am a little confused between Wilkie’s recommendations for reform and the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for reform. Do you know where I can see both – or has the Gillard reform proposal integrated both into one platform? I don’t have time right now but on the week end will try to get Gillard’s overall reform proposals.

    I haven’t wanted to get involved in such detail but now I need to and would appreciate you advice about this.

    Many thanks 🙂

  8. Braveheart says:

    Tom, I found the definition of low intensity machines in the Senate Enquiry report but cannot see whether they have been included in the reform package along with the lower maximum bet possibility.

    To be honest, without such prescribed limits to lower intensity machines, I don’t see as much value in pre-commitment. The lower intensity machines are much more dangerous to ordinary folk. As you said, you can bet up up to $5.00 a time on these machines.

  9. cyenne says:

    Braveheart, recommendation 36 states:

    Recommendation 36

    8.37 The committee recommends that low intensity machines, configured to reliably limit player losses to an average loss of around $120 per hour, do not need to be part of the mandatory pre-commitment system. Specifically the committee recommends these machines feature a $1 maximum bet limit, a $500 maximum prize and a $20 maximum load up. The use of these machines should be monitored by the national regulatory authority to identify any unintended consequences and the extent to which they contribute to reducing problem gambling prevalence rates.

    The recommendations are quite explicit. The Clubs industry are aware of this as they tried to discredit it by calling such low-intensity poker machines “fruit machines” (like the ones in the UK) which was just another lie.

    These recommendations are the foundation of the reform package. The high/low-intensity proposal has been discussed publicly by Wilkie, Xenophon, Livingstone and many others, and they all refer to the $1 maximum bet for low-intensity machines.

  10. Braveheart says:

    Thanks Tom. That is really clear.

    Sometimes Senate advisory committees make recommendations which are not taken up by Government.

    The lack of publicity about the restrictions on low intensity machines raised this question for me. Personally I think that the restriction on lower intensity machines are more powerful than pre-commitment but that is simply based on my own experience and observation.

    Of course, a person on low income cannot afford to lose anything to pokie machine gambling.

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