there’s none so blind…

It’s an old saying: “There’s none so blind as those who will not see.” You may have a mountain of facts at your disposal, be armed with compelling and persuasive arguments… but if someone doesn’t want to believe what you’re saying, then you’re wasting your breath.

I come up against this constantly on a relatively small scale, talking about poker machines, gambling addiction, the industry and so on. There are those who believe poker machine addicts are simply irresponsible or lazy; reprobates who need to take some personal responsibility. There are those who refuse to see beyond the supposed benefits of poker machines; they ignore the very real harms that pokies can cause. And there are those who see any attempt to impose restrictions, whether on poker machines or anything else, as a violation of basic human rights… while ignoring the rights of those who suffer as a consequence.

Yes, I’m used to this; it’s nothing new. The clubs industry, in particular, are very, very good at this form of denial. But the current “It’s un-Australian” campaign that ClubsAustralia and the AHA are running takes things to a whole new level.

You know how it goes: according to the campaign, the government is bringing in a “licence to punt”. You’ll need a card for a $5 flutter, they cry. Who voted for less freedom? Who voted for less privacy? Who voted to increase the cost of my beer (yes, they actually say that) ? All pokie players will need a licence, they wail. This is treating everyone like criminals, or problem gamblers (note the way they equate the two?). The government will be tracking what you spend, looking over your shoulder, restricting your access to your money. It goes on, and on, and on.

And it’s a load of rubbish.

No wonder Senator Nick Xenophon has brought the campaign and their ads to the attention of the ACCC. They lie, consistently and repeatedly, despite the truth being public knowledge. It’s a truth they refuse to recognise.

Let’s see. There will be NO “licence to punt”. A pre-commitment card will ONLY apply to poker machines, not any other form of gambling. And it’s not a licence, any more than a loyalty card (such as the ones most clubs already have) is a licence.

You WON’T need a card for a “$5 flutter” on the pokies. The proposed reforms have two types of poker machines: low-intensity machines with lower bet limits and payouts that can be played WITHOUT A CARD, and high-intensity machines with higher bet limits and payouts that require a pre-commitment card. You want to play $5 on the pokies? No problem, unless you want to spend it all with one press of the button… and that kind of behaviour certainly isn’t recreational.

Less freedom? How? Recreational gamblers can still play the pokies without a card. Less privacy? Again, how? The proposed reforms explicitly state that there will be NO central database and NO player tracking. Increased beer prices? Well, considering club beer is subsidised by poker machine revenue (and claimed as a “community benefit” by the clubs), maybe full-price beer isn’t such a bad idea. It’d taste better too, without the trace of desperation that comes from relying on problem gamblers for profit.

Treating everyone like criminals or problem gamblers? Hardly, and again I’d like to point out that it is the clubs that equate the two. A standard model of reform that applies across the board simply treats everyone equally. Any suggestion that only problem gamblers should undertake pre-commitment will only lead to further stigmatization of gambling addicts.

These are the facts of the proposed reforms, and while they are public knowledge, ClubsAustralia and the AHA continue to ignore them… preferring instead to continue bleating about a “licence to punt”. They’re relying on the emotional content of their campaign to get them over the line.

And sadly, there are some for whom this is the case. These days, every cause has a Facebook page; the “It’s un-Australian” campaign is no different. It’s not a very exciting page, but it does act as a sort of forum for like-minded souls to gather and moan about the reforms… how they’re anti-clubs, how they want to kill the industry, how often Nick Xenophon’s dad goes to the casino, how “supposed reformed addicts” should blame their “addictive personalities” rather than poker machines… no, I’m not kidding. For a page whose administrator is perfectly willing to delete comments that could be considered inflammatory or personal attacks, it’s somewhat surprising how many comments are NOT deleted. Mind you, they come from anti-reform individuals, so maybe it’s not all that surprising after all.

I joined the “It’s un-Australian” page with the intention of engaging in debate. I was up front about this; I posted a comment stating that I was there to talk, not to troll or bait people. And from the word go, I was polite and spoke only on topic, even when I was accused of lying, of being uninformed, and told (several times) to leave. For example:

Things got off to a bad start when I noticed a comment about the election of Andrew Wilkie, that essentially complained about how “a majority of Australians” didn’t vote for him. Even ClubsAustralia president Peter Newell makes similar statements, comparing Wilkie’s primary vote to the membership of the Panthers club. It’s a stupid statement to make, if you have any understanding of our democratic process, and so I wrote a lengthy reply explaining this.

It was deleted. I questioned this action and was told that it had been deleted because the original context of the thread was gone. Hmm, I thought, but I let it go. A few days later, the page administrator chimed in and reiterated that “the majority of Australians” had not voted for Wilkie. Excellent, I thought; if the administrator can post on this thread, surely I can as well. So I re-wrote my earlier comment.

Deleted within 20 minutes. Wow. I wrote another comment questioning this action; that one was deleted in less than ten minutes. No explanation was ever given.

Shaking my head, I moved on. The more I wrote about the nature of the proposed reforms, the more stridently my views were ridiculed and my assertions denied. I went so far as to provide links to independent articles verifying what I said; I spoke of the Productivity Commission report into gambling; I laid out my background, and stressed that I was not anti-gambling and that I didn’t want to shut down the clubs industry.

All ignored or rejected. I was told that if I was pro-reforms, then I was anti-gambling and therefore anti-clubs. I was told that I would undoubtably enjoy the “challenge” of circumventing mandatory pre-commitment; a nice thing to say to a reformed problem gambler! All the research supporting pre-commitment was denied or rejected. Even widely-reported statistics such as the $12 billion spent on pokies in Australia every year were thrown out, refuted, ignored. I was talking to a wall, and a hostile wall at that.

In the end, I left. Someone once told me that sometimes it’s better simply to leave the debate, and while I wouldn’t dignify this by calling it a debate, that’s what I ended up doing. Everything I said was rejected because it didn’t suit what they believed, and they refused to entertain the possibility that I might be right.

There’s none so blind…


2 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    Tom…Pre-Commit, Registration AND receiving a spending record is ALL covered under our existing new consumer laws and add up to being ESSENTIAL for ALL pokies users, in order to meet our new laws. Especially the mandatory provision of spending records to ALL pokies users.

    Please understand Mr Cottle? Clubs are running their pokies ILLEGALLY if the new consumer laws are checked? If some machines are used with no provision for a receipt then they will also be ‘illegally operated’.

    Clubs are full of hot air….and cannot handle any objection that has ‘legs’ so they call upon emotive waffle….

  2. cyenne says:

    Understood about the requirements under the consumer laws Libby, I’m not contesting that. However, my understanding is that the purpose of these reforms is not so much to comply with these laws, but to enforce mandatory pre-commitment and minimise the incidence of problem gambling caused by poker machines.

    In a perfect world, we would see sweeping, all-encompassing reform that would address every issue; but the reality is that politics is very much in play here, not to mention the fact that this may be our only chance to effect any kind of change. I believe that some reform is better than none, so long as that which is implemented can actually have an impact.

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