By now, it should come as no surprise to anyone that industry-driven opposition to the Federal government’s proposed poker machine reforms is strongest in New South Wales, followed closely by Queensland. These are, after all, the clubs heartlands of Australia, and many clubs are integral parts of their local communities in a way not seen in any other state.
One of the tactics employed in the clubs campaign is the gentle “encouragement” of local papers to get involved. Barely a week goes by when there isn’t one or more articles in papers such as the Central Coast Express Advocate, or the Milton Ulladulla Times, or even the Tenterfield Star, featuring local club managers telling how their clubs will close, how the reforms won’t work, how it’s a political stunt…
You get the picture.
Analysis of local papers across the country shows that reporting of the reforms and their impact is overwhelmingly weighted against the reforms in NSW. There is slightly more balance in Queensland, but the overall bias is the same. Local papers are driving hard to paint these reforms in the worst possible light.
So it’s kind of nice when they get it wrong.
The North West Star is the local paper for Mt Isa in Queensland. Hitting their website today was a story about Simplay, a voluntary pre-commitment scheme that is in use in three Queensland clubs, including Mt Isa’s Irish Club. The general manager of the Irish Club, Bernard Gillic, was quoted at length in the article, explaining how pre-commitment technology wasn’t the “total solution” for gambling addicts. He went to great lengths to describe how problem gamblers come to them and say that they want to stop; that his club then refers them to Centacare where they have their photos taken, fill out the paperwork and exclude themselves from all the pubs and clubs in the area.
He describes this as being a much better solution. I’ll get back to that.
Gillic also said that about 40% of his customers use the voluntary Simplay system. The article closes with a few well-worn (and patently incorrect) observations: mandatory pre-commitment will involve a national database, with privacy implications; the concept of needing a licence to play pokies (and in fact, he even mentioned “buying” a licence); and of course, “the government shouldn’t have the right to tell me whether I can gamble or not, or how to gamble”.
Mostly stock-standard fare for a local paper; no mention of $1 pokies, or that mandatory pre-commitment will only apply to high-intensity machines, but there is the twist that the Irish Club is one of the few that has some form of voluntary pre-commitment scheme (integrated with their membership cards, of course). And the assertion that relying on problem gamblers to admit to their problems and voluntarily exclude themselves from venues (via Centacare) is a much better option than the government’s proposed reforms, is given pride of place.
I wonder what Centacare think of this? Well, as luck would have it, the North West Star also published an article about them on its website today. Titled “Help for problem gamblers under-utilised“, the article quotes local Centacare Gambling Help Client Services manager Catherine Devine as saying:
“Very few problem gamblers are on our books.”
“…it’s very difficult for people to acknowledge that there is a problem.”
“Often people will want to self-exclude when times are tough… but then when they get some more money they will go back to the gambling.”
Wow. Sounds like this self-exclusion option is working really well.
So let me get this straight. A club manager claims that his venue’s voluntary pre-commitment scheme, coupled with voluntary self-exclusion, are better strategies than low-intensity poker machines and mandatory pre-commitment for high-intensity poker machines.
But the voluntary scheme, part of the venue’s membership card, has only a 40% uptake; and the self-exclusion approach is “terribly under-utilised”. No mention of how many of those 40% have gambling problems. And no mention of the fact that voluntary self-exclusion would still be available once the proposed reforms have been implemented.
Thanks, North West Star. You’ve made things perfectly clear… although, I suspect, not in the way you intended.