trials and tribulations

I guess it was only a matter of time. I’ve been making a real effort to keep my happy face on this year, but lately that’s been an interesting experience. The recent poker machine reform backflip/compromise/betrayal (take your pick) has sorely tested this fixed grin, but I’ve kept smiling nevertheless.

There’s a saying about lemons and lemonade; that’s how I work. I’ve resolutely looked for the positive aspects of the government’s compromise position on poker machine reform, because I firmly believe it’s important to look forward rather than back. We need to look at how to work with what we’ve got, instead of wailing about what’s been left behind.

I had a chat with Paul Bevan, of ABC Newcastle, yesterday. He called me a “glass half full” type, and I have to say that’s pretty close to the mark. Half full of lemonade, even.

But the grin is slipping. I’m on record as saying that the pre-commitment trial which is being proposed for the ACT is the key to the success of the ongoing reform process. That is, in my opinion, undeniable.

And I’ve blogged before (just two months ago, in fact) about how easy it would be for Clubs Australia to pervert a pre-commitment trial. I even stated that “whether or not a trial includes $1 pokies as well as pre-commitment machines, and no matter where it happens, it can never be a fair trial. The process has been hopelessly compromised. Clubs Australia have made sure of that.”

I stand by that statement. Clubs Australia have done everything possible to damage pre-commitment in the minds of the public, and they are not above telling club members how to behave.

Still, with the formalisation of a trial in the ACT in Julia Gillard’s proposal, and the confirmation that any trial would be not only overseen by an independent body, but would be assessed by the Productivity Commission, I do believe there are grounds for hope. And, at the risk of repeating myself, it’s clear that a trial must be transparent and comprehensive in order to succeed.

So you’d expect the industry would support a trial. After all, they’ve been calling for one for months now. Clubs Australia has criticised the government for not pursuing one (incorrectly, as it turns out… Tasmania was approached ages ago, but said no) and made a very big deal about it just before Christmas in this heavily-weighted media release.

And it’s clear that for an ACT mandatory pre-commitment trial to be successful, poker machine players must be encouraged to take part. Having venues available only a short drive away that aren’t participating in the trial would make a mockery of the process. Queanbeyan, for example, and Yass, are two towns full of poker machines that are geographically close to the ACT.

Well, the government formally approached Clubs ACT about a trial. Financial compensation was offered, ranging from $38 million to $80 million depending on which report you read. And the response?

We’ll think about it.

Right. I’m not smiling any more.

Here’s the media release from Clubs ACT where they confirm that they’ve received an “offer” of a trial, and that they’ll consider it. No mention of neighbouring NSW towns.

Here’s the media release from Clubs Australia where they announce that they’re “encouraged” by the prospect of an ACT trial. No mention of neighbouring NSW towns.

No official media release from Clubs NSW about the involvement of neighbouring towns in the trial. But spokesman Jeremy Bath stated that they had outlined a number of conditions that would have to be met before Queanbeyan clubs would consider joining the trial: who would pay, what financial compensation was on offer, and if the result would have an influence on the Government’s position.

Monaro MP John Barilaro flatly rejected NSW Government participation in an ACT trial.

And The Australian reported that “It is understood the powerful Clubs NSW lobby group will reject the push to expand the trial.”

Given that Clubs NSW and Clubs Australia are basically the same entity, this all smacks of absolute bullshit.

The Clubs industry can not, MUST not be allowed to call the shots. Limited financial compensation I can swallow, although it burns going down, given how many billions of dollars these clubs have already harvested from the community.

But as for the rest of it? Enough is enough. The clubs have been calling for a trial, and they’re going to get one. They don’t have the right to say how it will work, or whether or not they’ll take part, or how wide-ranging it will be.

They’ve been riding the high horse now for an eternity. It’s time they climbed down and shut the fuck up.

It’s time our government, having compromised this far, shows that they will compromise no further. Set the parameters of the trial and legislate it. Make it law, and make the industry comply. You’ve given the industry what they wanted; now make them deal with it. You’re the government, bloody well act like it.

And if our noble clubs baulk at the prospect of losing control of the trial, control they have no right to lay claim to in the first place?

Treat that as automatic validation of the immediate need for mandatory pre-commitment without delay. If they’re not going to toe the line, then they can go to hell.

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8 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    I can see where you are coming from Tom, re cooperating with the national govt. to achieve our goals.

    My biggest difficulty is in knowing that the reforms as tabled now are a cop out, with Clubs already planning HOW to f…k up the trial, no doubt!

    Victorian pokies venues had to offer spending receipts from 2005 until current, if these were requested. They hated that idea…so the venues we tested all made it such a drama that no wonder nobody ever asked for a handwritten pokies spending receipt!

    To get a receipt for a poker machine spend, the consumer has first to get a machine ‘read’ before using it…then at the end of the use of that machine, must get it ‘read’ again. That rot has to be repeated for each single machine used in a session. In one venue it took me 90 minutes to get one machine read! In other venues it took around 30 minutes. Staff did every other job first…eg filled hoppers, served drinks, issued cups of money and left us standing, waiting etc…on purpose.

    Of course no person would bother to go through that mad performance for each machine used….so another ‘consumer right to information’ went down the drain and then later because nobody used it…The system was said to have failed. Of course it did. Thanks to the gambling venues.

    It was then assumed that nobody would use a spending record, especially a running total of spending over say 1 month, 6 months etc. That was utter crap.

    If each consumer GOT a spending record automatically they would at least see it and most gamblers [especially pre-addicts] would act on the warnings etc…but WHO exactly would spend all night waiting to get a machine ‘read’ before and after using it?…It is a sad, disgraceful farce yet right now the “request a receipt’ system is still held up as the way our gambling venues meet our new Australian Consumer Laws.

    Clubs can screw ANY good idea if given the chance…and they WILL screw any pre-commitment scheme and then, having done it, they will say “See everyone hates it”!

  2. Paul Bendat says:

    Ms Mitchell is misleading so far as it relates to all Victorian loyalty schemes who have to send out annual statements. See Division 5 of Chapter 3 of the Gambling Regulation Act.

    Gamblers can already track their spending on Victorian machines. Just press the ‘i’ button.

    The effectiveness of these measures can be gauged by the fact that Victoria has the worst prevalence of problem gambling of any state.

    Finally, the trial you are so passionate about supporting is now revealed by the media as being no better thought out than the Gillard quick fix East Timor solution to the boat people issue.

  3. Kersebleptes says:

    Have you told Mr Windsor, Mr Oakeshott & Mr Crooke? Considering that it was THEIR votes, and no decision of the Govt, that sank Wilkie’s plan it would seem the more sensible thing to do. Convince them, and you get what you want. Why don’t you consider getting angry at Wilkie who, judging by his own statements, just put his feet up and did bugger-all lobbying of his fellow Independents whose votes were crucial? Criticising Labor & the PM at this juncture is just childish.

    By the way: The more leakage of pokie players there is to outside of the ACT during the trial, the MORE evidence there is that a nationwide scheme would be successful.

    Not that many people will drive to Macau to get around it, you know…

  4. cyenne says:

    Not sure if you’re replying to me or the comments, Kersebleptes. I thought I was being critical of the industry rather than the government.

    But you’re right, an increase in player numbers and revenue in surrounding venues would be proof that pre-commitment needs to be mandatory.

  5. Libby Mitchell says:

    With all due respect Paul Bendat, I suggest that your claims here are misleading, rather than mine.

    An investigation of the Gambling Regulation Act indicates that SOME pokies gamblers in SOME venues in Victoria are able to, IF they wish, join pokies gambling customer loyalty schemes…after which once per YEAR they will get a spending statement. Loyalty cards are used if wished, per venue.

    That is a far cry from my recommendation that ALL pokies gamblers in ALL venues, state-wide, should receive a spending statement AUTOMATICALLY…and certainly once per MONTH at most…NOT once per YEAR. A card per venue system could be adopted but would be clumsy.

    The Victorian regulations refer to an “optional” system on a per-venue basis.

    My recommendation refers to a “Mandatory” system for all pokies venues on a statewide basis.

    Firstly Paul we know that “optional” anything for pokies gamblers mostly or always does not work. That is why we support “Mandatory pre-commitment”.

    We acknowledge that gamblers need
    mandatory” safety tools.

    We also acknowledge that pokies gamblers benefit from early intervention and from receiving gambling risks information. That is the problem now faced by counselors. They come in to the picture too late to provide effective warning information, for efficient redirection.

    We also know that pokies gamblers have much difficulty knowing their rate or total of gambling spending. They usually cannot recall from week to week their rate of loss.

    We must also acknowledge that pokies gambling consumers clearly lose control of their spending so clearly they need more assistance to control it, for optimum good health. Their families need to know if spending is out of control, but now families do not get early enough warning about pokies spending. Besides, gambling cash is easily lost or hidden in ATM bank records especially.

    Consumers generally, need a record of their spending for 2 main reasons. One is to warn to slow up on future spending, based upon seeing the record of past spending. An annual spending statement would not provide early warning to an at risk pokies gambler.

    Maybe our regulations that do not meet the best practice goals of our consumer laws are at fault here, if gambling spending is excessive?

  6. Sue Pinkerton says:

    Paul,

    Gamblers may already be able to track their spending on Victorian machines by pressing the ‘i’ button, but it only gives information on what the gambler has won/lost on that particular machine since the the credit balance was last at zero.

    If the gambler let the credits run down to zero before adding more cash for example, then the count starts again because the machine cannot assume it is the same person using the machine.

    The industry would be horrified if information on how much has been won/lost on a machine over a day, week, month or year should appear each time the ‘i’ button was pressed, so they’ve configured the win/loss information so it only covers the period between when the machine is at zero credits, money is put in and it next reads zero credits. I know this because I tried it out when I was last in Melbourne.

    Further, the ‘i’ button does not give a record of what the gambler has spent if they’ve used multiple machines over the day/night, nor what they’ve won/lost if they have visited multiple venues in a day.

    Given that, it is no wonder it hasn’t worked.

    I everyone had access to a record of what they had spent across multiple machines and multiple venues in a single day, AND the chance to set a maximum, nett daily loss limit, it might be a different story.

  7. Sue Pinkerton says:

    PS. It takes regular gamblers about three or four tries of the ‘i’ button to work out the information is also useless for working out anything about what return to player percentage the machine is set to and useless for working out what they’ve actually lost over a night.

    It’s why we’ve been pushing for years for smart cards that track spending of individuals and includes a system that allows individuals to be able to access a record of what they’ve spent or to have monthly statements sent out.

  8. Libby Mitchell says:

    Sue thanks for that insight re the ‘i’ button. I did not know that fact that the machine resets every time zero points is reached. It is a crucial point of criticism of such a supposed ‘safety’ feature.

    What worries me more is that people appear to misunderstand the role of a spending record for consumer safety, if they inflate the importance of any transient ‘machine-generated’ spending record, as being meaningful long term to gambling consumers and their families.

    The generation of any ‘full tally’ spending information ‘on screen’ to be publicly visible raises other issues…since it would be too easy for somebody else to see the details and would then raise privacy concerns. I am surprised that the government who is so careful of protecting privacy for gambling consumers, has allowed its use.

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