the new clubs campaign won’t work, will fail

So Clubs Australia, along with their sidekick the AHA, have moved into the second phase of their campaign against the proposed poker machine reforms. Looks like the catch-phrase department has been busy; following on from the widely-ridiculed “It’s Un-Australian” campaign, they have now kicked off the “Won’t Work, Will Hurt” campaign.

This is a targeted campaign; this time they’re getting political, and they’re getting personal. They’ve identified 31 key electorates along the eastern seaboard, and they’re blanketing those areas with pamphlets aimed directly at local Federal MPs, urging residents to contact them and tell them to oppose the reforms.

For example, this pamphlet was passed on to me from Geelong… it’s been customised for the Federal electorate of Corio, and is aimed at MP Richard Marles. Click on the images to see the pamphlet in detail.

The idea behind this campaign is that supposedly, mandatory pre-commitment won’t work, but will hurt communities. The pamphlets attempt to explain why. Lots of pictures of kids, lots of talking about “us” and “our” and “we”, lots of questionable figures, lots of misdirection.

One thing has remained the same from the “Un-Australian” campaign, though. It’s yet another campaign based on outright lies.

Let’s take a look. According to the pamphlet, “The Gillard Government is proposing new laws which require all poker machine players to obtain a licence before they play.”

This is simply not true. It is a lie. I can’t say that clearly enough. The proposed reforms do NOT require all poker machine players to obtain a licence. For the clubs & pubs lobby to claim this, as they have done repeatedly over the past 12 months, is deceptive and dishonest.

The pamphlet goes on to explain how problem gamblers will be the first to get a card, will set high limits, and will not be restricted from other forms of gambling. Oh those naughty problem gamblers, making life hard for everyone. As a former poker machine addict, I am constantly offended when the clubs and pubs, in their capacity as gambling venues, tell me what a problem gambler will and won’t do.

They don’t have a fucking clue.

For starters, don’t talk about other forms of gambling. These reforms are about poker machines, which rip $12 billion out of the pockets of Australians every year; no other form of gambling comes close. The vast majority of problem gamblers in this country are poker machine addicts who have no trouble with any other form of gambling. And most poker machine addicts hate their addiction, hate the machines and are crying out for something that can make a difference.

Back to the pamphlets. There are lots of figures… how much money will be lost, how many jobs will be cut, and so on. These figures are fiction. They are based on a worst case scenario that does not include low-loss machines.

There is expert testimony, specifically from Dr Alex Blaszczynski… an academic who can thank the gambling industry for funding a lot of his research, and who will always advise further research in place of action.

There is the same old rehash about how local sports and charities will suffer, how clubs will close down, how jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer. Do you know how much of their poker machine revenue clubs give back to the community? Less than 5%. In fact it’s usually closer to 1% or 2%, but I’m being generous. Less money spent on poker machines means more money spent elsewhere; that means more jobs, more industries, more spending. And local sport and community groups will only suffer if the clubs continue to give them the bare minimum that they are forced to by law. When registered clubs spend more on advertising than they give back to the community, it’s time for change.

The list of problems with this campaign, these pamphlets, goes on… but there are some subtle issues as well. The colour scheme, for example. The abortive “Un-Australian” campaign decked itself out in green and gold (so patriotic!), and this new campaign has kept that colour scheme.

There is also an implied lack of respect for the Prime Minister. Take a look at the pamphlet; there is mention of the “Gillard Government”, but every direct mention of the Prime Minister refers to her simply as “Gillard”. Surely our country’s elected leader should expect to be addressed by her title (at least) ? Especially in a politically-motivated lobbyist campaign? It is clear that the gambling lobby have no respect for anyone who stands in their way.

I believe the clubs are playing a dangerous game with this campaign. There is so much in these pamphlets that can be proven to be false, and they’re being distributed to 1.5 million households with the aim of applying political pressure… yet first and foremost, it is the clubs and pubs that stand to benefit financially should these reforms be blocked.

I would urge anyone who receives one of these pamphlets to think very carefully about contacting the ACCC and making a formal complaint with regards to false and misleading representation. I am not at all convinced that what the gambling lobby are doing with this campaign is entirely legal.

It certainly doesn’t have much basis in truth.

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14 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    “They don’t have a fucking clue.”…about problem gamblers OR the mood of the public Tom!

    I believe that if the Australian public were asked…”What would you prefer? For pokies to remain as they operate now, with no effective consumer protections OR should all regular pokies gamblers be licensed, to more effectively prevent gambling consumers from over-spending?”…the majority answer would be “bring in a licence for pokies gamblers!

    The Clubs campaign has deliberately sought to make ‘licence’ a dirty word…as that is exactly what they fear most. It is the most logical consumer and public safety course course that all regular pokies gamblers should be made to register to use poker machines [to be given effective warning material before going down that path of using poker machines], to all pay a gambling levy that better protects taxpayers and future governments and so that all regular pokies users would receive their legally required ‘transaction record of gambling spending’ that would deter many would-be addicts.

    Instead of us denying the ‘licence’ angle altogether and thus reinforcing its negative aspects…perhaps we should be meeting Clubs head on? By outlining exactly what a pokies licence could achieve…compared to less effective consumer safety measures…we might meet the approval of the public more forcefully?

    The lies that the Clubs campaign contains are bad enough…but the lies that it implies are worse. To imply that a pokies gambling ‘licence’ is ‘bad’ is just not truthful either! Licensing of weekend fishermen, drivers, pilots, pawn-brokers and shooters all have protected consumers as well as others more effectively, than if we had no licences at all for people who engage in these hazardous pursuits!

    Maybe it is time to turn this whole thing around? If bringing in a pokies gambling licence is going to kill that industry…then maybe we should ask ourselves…”Why did licensing not kill the car industry”? It certainly prevented more innocent citizens from being killed!

    Unless we face the fact that our objections to gambling licensing, though based upon some vague notion of ‘rights protection’…need review, the Clubs campaign may be accepted by a powerless public, for want of real alternatives that the public knows should be raised now.

    I would go in harder…not softer now!

    The government should run a “advantages and disadvantages” campaign for pokies gambling licences…and then survey enough people to make the figures stick….and get support for more intense action!

    Give the clubs buggery on their own rotten, lie-filled turf! We could then come back with … “Well you did not like Mr Wilkie’s gentler introduction to pokies reforms…that would have given you [clubs] a real chance to adapt?…Well cop this you rogues and thieves…We are NOW calling for the pokies gambling licence that you SAY will not work BUT the majority Australian public supports!”

    Yes it might be a risk Tom…but the public has used its brains so far on this clubs campaign…and maybe we need to find out more forcefully what the public now thinks?

  2. darkdirk says:

    Great piece. It’s such a self-serving campaign. A few thoughts (not completely uninformed: I used to work in gambling research, though quite some time ago):
    – Although I’m also disturbed at the complete lack of respect shown to the office of the PM, it’s not new. The last two PMs were also referred to as “Howard” and “Rudd” by their opponents.
    – I’m amused by the Clubs and AHA’s statements that “it won’t work” vs “it will cost us millions and stacks of jobs”. The two statements contradict each other. The reality is, something close to 50% of poker machine revenue comes from the 1% of Australians who are problem gamblers (who are a much bigger percentage of gaming room patrons (maybe 20 or 30%? Sorry, don’t have the numbers at hand)
    – however, I think it’s fine to admit that effective action will cost jobs and revenue. It will! Clubs, pubs, and governments get an unhealthy proportion of revenue from problem gamblers (probably one of the reasons they are so loth to address it) and any plan to reduce problem gambling needs to recognise it, somehow, deal with it.
    – also, another lie here is that the effectiveness of precommitment systems is unproven. In fact there are numerous international examples of very effective precommitment schemes (sorry, no refs but it’s true! Look it up)

  3. cyenne says:

    Darkdirk, good points. It is indeed worth noting that there will be an impact on the industry; it’s unavoidable given the huge amount of money pouring in from poker machine addicts.

    What I would like to see is Clubs Australia working with their clubs to focus on diversifying their revenue streams. There are so many ways registered clubs can make the money they need, and most of them are altruistic in nature. Meals services and aged care are two services that are run/supplied by some clubs, that not only bring in revenue for the clubs but provide a valuable service to the community. There are many others.

  4. Rod says:

    Cyenne

    Can you get one of the clubs annual reports from the Corio area to show how much goes back to the community as a proportion of revenue. The reports should be punlic.

    The $33 million they state returned to the Corio area community groups from clubs seems very high, did they provide a source and working for their figures.

    Even at 5% return that works out to $660 million in take from pokies for Corio, at 2%, $1.3 billion.

  5. cyenne says:

    Rod, I’ll take a look. A couple of points though:

    They’re not saying they return $33 million to the Corio community; they’re saying the reforms will cost Corio’s gambling industry $16.8 million to introduce, and cause $16.2 million of lost revenue. Combine those, and there’s the $33 million. Not a word about how much actually goes back to the community.

    And the City of Greater Geelong, the LGA that Corio is part of, is the 5th biggest poker-machine-spending LGA in Victoria.

    Will take a look.

  6. Libby Mitchell says:

    From a societal / economic stance, one value to society of industrial endeavor is to provide fulfilling jobs! It is logical that the jobs lost in one field will be increased in another field if the first industry reduces and consumer spending is later redirected. So long as enough jobs exist the public handles it well usually.

    When we know that the casino gambling industry employs only 1-2 people per $million taken, yet retail and hospitality would employ between 4-10 people for that same money taken…it is not rocket science to see that the gambling industry reduces net jobs in communities.

    When casino gambling employees are known to have the highest recorded gambling addiction rates of any adult employee group; when so many casino employees are in high-risk / high-stress employment positions that depend much on unknowns eg customer tips [in most jurisdictions] and high-demand yet fairly low-paid, limited career employment positions etc…is it hard for the public to respect such jobs as being ‘fulfilling’? Seems it could be if recent surveys are pointers.

    The question is, regarding gambling venue jobs is…DO we [the public] really CARE about losing these gambling venue jobs that rely upon exploitative harm and consumer safety abuses, to exist? I do not believe that the public cares much at all when all is said and done…especially as it is now dawning upon more people how many jobs are being LOST in the WIDER community because of pokies!

    SO long as we can get the message across to the public that pokies gambling reduces jobs overall…then I believe that the public will make the correct decision on pokies…and that could well be to call for their complete BANNING if the consumer safety situation is not VERY markedly improved…very soon!

    In one recent news article I counted, of 70 reader comments…15 [equal highest number along with Wilkie-supporters generally, making a total of 42 ‘for’ the reforms] people suggested full banning of the machines! That is more than 20% of people now may support full banning and the casino industry should take close note of that development.

    Currently there are two plebiscites listed for federal parliamentary consideration, carbon tax and republic issues…It would be good to add a 3rd one on pokies! It is time to give those clubs hell and to stare them down! Since plebiscites are expensive and only give a guide to public thought…there would be a huge cost saving in combining these plebiscites. At least then we would all know how the public more clearly wants its government to proceed. THAT is democracy!

  7. Douglas says:

    Has there ever been a right-wing campaign that was NOT based on lies?

  8. cyenne,
    Why don’t you make that complaint to the ACCC yourself, you seem well-placed to be the spearhead of the fightback via forums such as that?

  9. cyenne says:

    Hillbilly,

    I intend to. However, I don’t live in a “targeted” electorate, and so I have not had one of those pamphlets delivered directly to me. Complaints will carry far more weight coming from people who have actually received the pamphlets. 🙂

  10. darkdirk says:

    Regarding Victoria at least, because the clubs are community service organisations they can spend money on themselves and I can count as community benefit expenditure. Not on the gaming room of course, but the dining room, the bar, the car park…
    It’s possible this has changed in recent years, but it was certainly the case in the early ’00s

  11. Cathy says:

    I don’t know how far anyone will get with the ACCC. This might already be known but ClubsAustralia have released a media statement (10.9.11) saying that Nick Xenophon’s claims were dismissed. They were gloating that through freedom of information they found that a letter was sent to Nick less than 1 month later saying they would not investigate. Maybe this part of their campaign is different, I don’t know. I sure would like there to be a way to stop them from spreading all this nonsense.

  12. cyenne says:

    Cathy, my understanding is that the ACCC declined to investigate Nick Xenophon’s complaint against the Un-Australian campaign not because it was all above board, but because it did not fall within their jurisdiction. Of course Clubs Australia didn’t say it that way.

    This new campaign may be different, as it involves the distribution of advertising material directly into the letter-boxes of 1.5 million households. The ACCC may again decide not to investigate any complaints, but there’s no harm in trying.

  13. Cathy says:

    Thanks Tom,

    I’m sure this probably was the case. It is just I came across this recent media release and thought here they are at it once again. Anyway, I wasn’t quite sure about what happened with Nick and the ACCC. I just love what Anthony Ball said down the bottom of that piece. He stated “Problem gambling is a disease. It’s an addiction that prevents rational thought. Only the most naïve or ignorant person would suggest that a problem gambler is capable of setting and sticking to a realistic betting limit over a period of time.”

    You can say these things all you like Mr. Ball but you are not going stop us.

  14. Libby Mitchell says:

    Cathy? Tom? One more thing worries me about the ACCC…I have seen SO often an ACCC claim that a pokies-related issue is not in their jurisdiction…to the point that I now ask…”What then IS the ACCC jurisdiction” If it is not the correct place to raise pokies related consumer issues then where the hell is?”

    SO far I have had just one issue relating to pokies placed in the ACCC “Complaints” list…the ‘transaction records and consumer legal rights’ issue…and then have heard nothing since about any further progress of that complaint.

    SO does the ACCC simply hand-ball or bury any hard issue, according to whim? I wonder!

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