May 2019 Gambling News! - Alliance for Gambling Reform

May 2019 Gambling News!

Gambling News: Victorian RSL campaign, sports gambling launch, NSW election wash up, lived experience stories, Big Banks moving on gambling harm and plenty more.

In this bumper Autumn edition of Gambling News, we’re covering the latest developments in the campaign to get the Victorian RSL out of pokies, our sports gambling federal election launch, gambling reforms from the big banks, the wash up from the NSW election and a summary of local pokies fights in Victoria. Plus we’ve once again got a strong lived experience perspective on gambling harm. Enjoy it all.

Published May 3, 2019

  1. Public debate rages about pokies and the Victorian RSL
  2. Alliance launches sports gambling campaign for Federal election

  3. Shayne Rodgers, Real Spinners and other lived experience perspectives

  4. Around the grounds of action in NSW post-election
  5. Still waiting for the strengthened venue Code of Conduct in Victoria

  6. Banks starting to move on gambling reform
  7. Wins for Geelong and Moreland and other upcoming Victorian local fights

  8. Best of the gambling media

1. Pressure build for the Victorian RSL to ditch its pokies

Since we last updated you, there have been several interesting developments in the campaign by younger veterans to get the Victorian RSL out of the pokies business.

The Age broke the story of the push back in March and journalist Royce Millar produced this follow-up feature on April 21, ahead of this interesting ABC 7.30 package on the same night. The Alliance responded with this press release and then we were subsequently surprised to read this page 1 story in The Age on Monday detailing how a number of RSL branches owned shares in Tabcorp.

Tabcorp is currently paid about $30 million a year to manage the RSL’s 2800-strong fleet of poker machines spread across 52 venues, and it controversially contributes about $500,000 a year in sponsorship back to the RSL head office, helping to pay the salaries of the senior officials.

There are around 250 RSL sub-branches in Victoria but only 52 have pokies, generating more than $200 million a year in losses from the machines.

The three main young veteran reformers - Lucas Moon, Dan Cairnes and Dave Petersen - have been active in the public discussion, pointing out that 14 of the RSL’s Victorian pokies sub-branches were losing money and the overall financial returns were poor, particularly on the issue of funding investment in veterans welfare.

Here are links to some of media coverage and interviews:

Dan Cairnes interviewed on ABC News radio about RSL
ABC News Radio, 23 April, 2019

Young veteran Lucas Moon interviewed by Jon Faine
ABC Melbourne, 23 April, 2019

Younger veterans tackle the old guard pushing pokies inside Victorian RSL
ABC TV's 7.30, 22 April, 2019

RSL urged to get out of pokies by younger veterans
ABC online, 22 April 201

RSL involvement in pokies a terrible investment
The Age, 22 April, 2019

It is startling to compare RSL Victoria profit margins with those posted by Aristocrat Leisure, Australia’s biggest pokies manufacturer.

The RSL Victoria pokies sub-branches return less than $10 million on total revenues of $260 million (gaming and hospitality), whereas Aristocrat’s Australian and New Zealand pokies business generated sales of $455 million in 2017-18 for a gross profit of $207 million - a profit margin of 45.5%.

When you then consider that the Victorian Government is helping itself to more than $50 million in tax revenue from the Victorian RSL and Tabcorp charges it $28 a day for each machine it manages, it looks like veterans are getting very little of the upside from the highly profitable gambling industry.

Throw in the Tabcorp shares scandal - including the $500,000 annual sponsorship payment which Tabcorp makes to the Victorian RSL head office - and this all deserves further scrutiny.

The Alliance believes there needs to be a Royal Commission into the Australian gambling industry and the $24 billion it extracts from Australian gamblers. These sorts of arrangements involving the Victorian RSL - Victoria's second biggest pokies operator after Woolworths - are exactly the sort of thing a Royal Commission could dig into.

For instance, why is it that committee members at pokies RSLs get paid, whereas the pokies-free venues are run by genuine volunteers?

We have been puzzled why RSL sub-branches have been pushing so hard with new pokies applications over the the past two years - see p2 of this press release for details - and then discovered that RSL honorariums are often guided by poker machine numbers. The more pokies you have, the more revenue you generate and more fees are paid to sub-branch committee members. Is that a conflict of interest to promote pokies?

Don’t believe the story that RSL committee members are volunteers - those serving at the pokies RSLs were collectively paid almost $1 million last year.

The Victorian RSL needs to modernise and an exit from pokies would help achieve that.

It took a public scandal in NSW to trigger reforms which saw a new younger President elected in Malcolm Turnbull’s son in law, Captain James Brown. He is actively pursuing governance reform whilst being more vocal on issues such as veteran suicide rates.

However, the RSL in NSW doesn’t own a single poker machine licence, they have been hived off into separate registered clubs which many argue exploit the good name of the RSL.

Whilst NSW has perpetual pokies licences, the Victorian RSL is being asked to pay the Victorian Government more than $70 million to renew their licences from 2022 and also have a fleet of machines which would cost about $50 million to replace if you were buying them off Aristocrat.

Why not just sell the machines, sell the existing licences and walk away? This is a debate which will continue all the way through until August 2022 as that is when the long terms new licences must be paid for.

Meanwhile, an interesting skirmish took place on Wednesday night when a group of  veterans more sympathetic to poker machines - backed by the RSL head office - took control of the progressive Tramways East Melbourne branch which had attracted close to 100 younger veterans as members.

The Alliance attended the meeting and was shocked by the apparent branch stacking to win the numbers and the tactics deployed by some of the pro-pokies supporters.

Listen to interviews on 774 ABC Melbourne with two of the young veteran reformers before the meeting:

Lucas Moon discusses RSL branch stacking on ABC Melbourne

Dave Petersen interview on ABC Melbourne

And then after the dramatic meeting on Wednesday night, RSL Victoria CEO Mike Annett went on Jon Faine’s ABC Melbourne program to respond to allegations about branch stacking. Importantly, he also flagged a review of the pokies division.

Let’s hope the incumbent board gets with the program and embraces reform, rather than facing an ongoing push from younger veterans to modernise the RSL.

2. Alliance launches sports gambling campaign for Federal election

As most of you would know, on Wednesday this week The Alliance launched our federal election sports gambling campaign pushing for a reduction in gambling advertising.

The problem is urgent as Sportsbet’s parent company Paddy Power Betfair last night gloated to UK investors that it increased losses extracted from Australian gamblers by 20% to $179 million in the March quarter alone.

Limited restrictions on TV advertising starting on April 1 last year and the new state-based point of consumption taxes have clearly had very little impact.

Sports gambling advertising has exploded in Australia. It’s more than just annoying being deluged on radio, television and online, it’s also harming our kids.

We’ve already had more than 60 responses to this survey and would love you to tell us what you think.

Watch this video featuring kids from a local football club in City of Whittlesea, check out the dedicated website - Stop Gambling With Our Future - and while you’re there, fill in the petition to lend your support to make sure the next Federal Government takes decisive action to reduce sports gambling advertising.

We don’t allow any advertising of tobacco, so why can’t we treat sports gambling advertising exactly the same way?’’

3. Shane Rodgers, Real Spinner and IC-- speaking up about a lived experience of gambling harm

Across the country, people who've experienced the impact of gambling first-hand are educating the public and championing reforms on their own terms, and in a variety of powerful ways. Whether through involvement with great community education initiatives like ReSPIN and Consumer Voices, by telling politicians about the human costs of their continued inaction on gambling reform, through sharing their stories of harm and recovery like IC (profiled below), Masterchefs Lotfy Fulton and those in the VRGFs Inside Gambling magazine, or with drama groups like Three Sides of a Coin and the Real Spinners.

Others work tirelessly behind the scenes, in peer support and group facilitation, supporting each other and championing the cause in their communities. All are making a difference and the combined efforts of people across the country are having a huge impact.

In this edition of Gambling News, we’re profiling and promoting some of the great work these people are doing.

First up, we highly recommend the podcast Not a Dollar More, where Shayne Rodgers interviews others with lived experience and people working in the field on topics ranging from Relapses, triggers and urges and Young men and gambling  to Inspiring stories of hope and recovery.The Age had this excellent feature on how it all came together.

The Alliance is passionate about giving a voice to those with a lived experience of gambling harm. The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation has also done a great job in this regard in its latest newsletter.

We also recommend The Real Spinners,  an SA-based drama group using theatre to create change. The material is based on their experiences with gambling addiction, which they describe as follows: “Our hope is that we can educate the community at large about the dangers of gambling through the therapeutic power or drama and story-telling.” Their next performance in on May 9th in Adelaide, click here for details.

IC explains how he picked himself up and became a champion for change

Staying with the lived experience perspective, what follows is the personal story of one of the Champions for Change who explains how he got involved. We’re calling him IC.

IC became involved with the Alliance for Gambling Reform two years ago to reach out to people and influence change. His vision is for an Australian population free from gambling harm and the empowerment of the individuals who suffer gambling harm to turn their lives around.

A lifetime resident of Melbourne’s western suburbs, IC has both experienced and witnessed immense harm over the past 38 years, 33 while gambling and 5 whilst in recovery.

Initially IC would gamble at the TAB and later on Tattslotto and Scratchies, but in 1991 IC turned to poker machines which is where his life quickly declined in many ways.

IC has worked as a statistical and data analyst for 31 years and estimates that he lost over $1 million during his 33 years of gambling and accumulated more than $100,000 in credit card debt.

IC was homeless for two and a half years after his wife asked him to leave the family home due to his lies and deception due to gambling and the unexplained absence of money.

IC lost contact with his three children, he had already estranged himself from his family and

friends and thus he was alone. IC developed mental illness due to his gambling which put his job on the line, within a four year period IC attempted to take his life on three occasions.

In 2014 after his third suicide attempt IC seriously realised he had reached his lowest possible point and sought help from Gamblers Help, quickly becoming a mentor to others suffering gambling harm.

Since 2014 IC has become a public speaker on the harm of gambling and in this role interacts with hundreds of individuals which have similar stories to his. He has undertaken more than thirty engagements and reached more than 2000 people.

In 2016 IC became a Champion for Change and joined the Alliance for Gambling Reform, in this role he has addressed number of Victorian councils in relation to decisions being considered in relation to gambling.

In 2018 IC became a facilitator for a peer support group where again he met several people who were suffering great harm from their gambling. In 2019 he facilitates two peer support groups with the potential of facilitating four peer support groups by mid-year. IC’s strength has been his willingness to help others out of gambling harm and his research and provision of statistical data to reflect the harm gambling causes.

IC knows that more research is needed into gambling harm in communities and the relationship between gambling, mental health, suicide, crime rates and incarceration.

IC looks forward to future opportunities to reach a wider audience and to assist in the gathering of correlative information.

His experiences, connectivity to others, willingness to reach out to others and research and statistical talent make him a powerful and compelling advocate for change.

He hopes that the 2018 Victorian Royal Commission into mental health will identify the correlation with gambling harm.

Through the work he does with peer support groups and in the community, he knows the prevalence of gambling harm is far greater than reported in research to date.

Progress in the gambling reform movement often feels slow, but IC know that a combination of persistence, community education and political advocacy involving real stories of harm will change hearts and minds and lead to the necessary reforms.

If you’re personally impacted and working to influence change in this space, please get in touch and tell us about your work. If you’d like to hear more about what others are doing and explore how you could get involved, please send an email to pepi@agr.org.au

4. Wrap up of the NSW election

By Kate da Costa
NSW campaigner

It’s fair to say that the struggle for gambling reform, particularly regarding poker machines, is no easier after the March NSW state election. The Coalition has a slender 2 seat majority in the lower house and needs 5 cross-bench votes in the upper house to get contentious legislation through.

As was detailed in the last edition of Gambling News, the Greens unveiled a strong pokies reform policy. They consolidated their three lower house seats, in spite of push polling efforts by the pokies industry through the Australian Hotels Association.

In the Upper House, the cross-bench has expanded. There are two One Nation, two Shooters Farmers and Fishers, and a now lonely Christian Democrat, Fred Nile. The other ‘side’ has three Greens, the ex Green and strong anti-pokies campaigner Justin Field and two Animal Justice Party MLCs.

Elsewhere in the state, the small ripples of reform are building. The Alliance is very pleased to have supported the establishment of the Fairfield Community Action Group on Gambling Harm (FCAGGH), which is a network of CEOs of community service organisations operating principally in the Fairfield area, still the most impacted by poker machines in the state. FCAGGH held a well attended professional development Forum on April 4 with over 90 participants where Alliance director Tim Costello was the keynote speaker.

Sessions included information on the scale and nature of poker machine harm, pathways for CALD counselling (very important in such a culturally diverse area such as Fairfield) and ideas for action that organisations can take. Testimony from three people – one via an interpreter from the Arab Council’s counselling service – was powerful evidence for the audience of the human toll from the statistics, namely that more than $500 million a year is lost to poker machines each year in this one council area.

Alliance speaking at ALGWA conference

In other NSW developments, our NSW campaigner Kate da Costa will be speaking at the Australian Local Government Women’s Association annual conference, which is running from May 15-17 in Sydney. This conference rotates across the country.

In a stark reminder of how different NSW is from the rest of the country in terms of the normalisation of pokies, ALGWA had booked the conference into the Rooty Hill RSL (recently rebadged as Wests HQ in a fit of PR whitewashing). Several Victorian delegates expressed concern to the organisers about meeting in a such a notorious mini-casino. Fortunately, the organisers reacted promptly and relocated all sessions to the adjacent hotel and offered The Alliance a speaking spot. We understand that in NSW in particular, event managers rarely think about the consequences of their venue bookings – for instance, the NSW Local Government Association conference in October is at the Warwick Farm racecourse. But we were pleased that the ALGWA organisers did their best to rectify the issue when it was brought to their attention.

Pokie applications

The biggest local media issue in NSW has been around the Fairfield Hotel’s application for more poker machines. This was lodged back in late 2017, before legislative changes capped EGM numbers in the worst affected local government area in the world. As part of the application, in normal NSW fashion, the venue operators offered grants to a number of community organisations as ‘benefits’: White Ribbon rapidly revoked their participation in early 2018 when it became public. Fairfield Hospital’s Childrens’ Ward paediatricians have taken much longer to see the light. We understand that the Hospital has reconsidered its acceptance of a promise of funds through a yet to be established trust fund operated by the applicants (you can’t make this stuff up). But we don’t know, because the NSW licencing system is so opaque that the Alliance, despite making a submission in 2018 opposing the application, has never been informed of any changes, nor informed of any reasons for the delays in assessing the application.

And we still have two long-running applications for new clubs in Sydney’s far south-western suburb of Camden. Each is seeking to use the loophole provided in the legislation that allows a new club in a greenfields development to open their doors with 150 poker machines. Again, despite making a submission against the application, the Alliance is in the dark as to its progress. NSW really needs to lift its game on process.

NSW Labor and its pokies clubs policy

During the state election, the ALP – having indicated they would not sign an MOU with ClubsNSW as the Coalition did in October 2018 – quietly released their Clubs Policy. It was largely business as usual with some minor tinkering such as some reforms to increase live music at pokie clubs and the introduction of a third part self-exclusion scheme for clubs and pubs.

The rest of the policy may as well be from the notorious Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Coalition and Clubs NSW.

The Alliance views with particular concern the ALP idea to extend new club provisions to brownfields sites, when those new club provisions include a loophole allowing a start-up figure of 150 poker machines, with no avenue of appeal.

Links to the MOUs and ALP Policy can be found by scrolling to the end of our NSW campaign page.

NSW changes to machinery of government

From July 1, NSW departments and ministries will be very different and this will impact regulation and administration of the enormous NSW gambling industry, which manages to inflict the largest per capita losses on the citizenry of any jurisdiction in the world.

But don’t expect anyone to be called the Minister for Gambling to help shine a light and be accountable and responsible for the circa $10 billion lost to gambling in NSW each year.

Instead, there is a new Department of Customer Services, with two Ministers.

Liquor & Gaming is moving to Customer Service, with Victor Dominello (Lib, Ryde) as Minister. Dominello has a reputation for delivering on digital government, so we can only hope he improves the communications of Liquor & Gaming (the recent website redesign might be thought by cynics to have been done to make finding information even more difficult), and insists that the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority improve their processes for managing submissions in relation to poker machine applications.

Racing also moves to the Customer Service department, but under the Minister for Better Innovation, Kevin Anderson (Nat, Tamworth). The clubs and pubs were very happy when they thought Anderson would be their Minister, which is an indication of where his priorities lie.

The Secretary of this super-department will be Glenn King (currently Customer Service Commissioner) and we believe the Deputy Secretary responsible for Liquor and Gaming will be Rose Webb.

Sport will be within the super-Department of Family and Community Services and Justice, with John Sidoti (Lib, Drummoyne) as Minister for Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors and Veterans.

We’ll have to wait and see how the responsibility for making sure inappropriate donations from racing and sporting organisations are handled, and of course, who investigates allegations of corruption in those areas.

5. Still waiting for Victoria to strengthen venue code of conduct

In Victoria, pokies venues must abide by a Responsible Gambling Code of Conduct which sets minimum standards they should comply with to reduce harm. The present code is too weak but reviewing it was a Labor election commitment and Minister Marlene Kairouz is undertaking this review now.

We flagged this issue in the March edition of Gambling News and several Victorian councils have subsequently engaged with the Minister in a direct and public way.

For instance, have a look at the strong motion passed by City of Greater Dandenong at its March 25 council meeting (see the council motions page on our website).

Last year we saw media reports of atrocious behaviour at venues in NSW and Queensland run by the Woolworths-controlled ALH Group, which is the largest pokies operator in Victoria.  This included staff spying on patrons, collecting their personal information and plying them with free drinks in a cynical approach to keep them gambling longer and maximising losses.

ALH claims to have stepped up its efforts to reduce gambling harm but this wasn’t apparent in the figures released by Woolworths to the ASX this week, showing a 3.2% increase in revenue at its hotels division to $402 million for the March quarter. They’ve even started expanding again, adding 3 more hotels to the portfolio so far this year, lifting the total to 327.

As is often the case in gambling reform, the New Zealanders are showing the Australians how it is done. A venue manager in New Zealand was last month charged with failing to intervene when significant harm was being inflicted on a gambler.

The Greater Dandenong motion spells out the sorts of measures The Alliance for Gambling Reform believes the Victorian Government must strengthen the Code, including:

  • All pokies venue staff are prohibited from engaging in activities aimed at increasing the amount of money people lose.

  • Introduce mandatory breaks and maximum daily limits on gambling time.

  • The Code should also forbid the provision of free drinks (excluding water) to gamblers and instead encourage them to take a break by going to other parts of the venue for food and drink.
  • The Code should prohibit the giving of gifts, inducements or any other item of value to people who are gambling.

Will the Minister come through with a strengthened code of conduct that protects patrons and holds dodgy venues to account? Watch this space…

6. Banks starting to move on gambling reform in Australia

Australia’s biggest financial services company, The Commonwealth Bank, has been rolling out its new measures to try and assist customers manage the risks of gambling harm.

Pleasingly, the flyers sent out prominently with bank statements in recent weeks have been sending customers to this page on the CBA website.

CBA has established a dedicated gambling support unit and is ready to block payments to any gambling providers as requested by customers.

The Alliance understands that the Big Four banks have been doing quite a bit of work behind the scenes to better protect customers, after the harrowing evidence of gambling harm told to the Hayne Royal Commission by Sydney roof tiler David Harris. See some of the coverage at the time on ABC online.

We are expecting to learn more about the big bank gambling harm prevention programs in the coming weeks.

Finally, do read this piece pointing out how Paypal can be exploited by the gambling industry:

How Paypal facilitates out of control gambling
USAonlinecasino, 16 April, 2019

7. Wins for Geelong and Moreland other upcoming Victorian Local Fights

City of Greater Geelong and the community have been commended for their efforts in winning the fight against an application for 43 additional poker machines at the Polish Community Association. Geelong have been faced with the most applications of any municipality in Victoria in the past few years, and this is their first victory! It was definitely the one to win with this application being the largest increase and in a vulnerable community. To read the VCGLR decision click here.

The other terrific win in recent weeks was recorded by City of Moreland, which prevailed in VCAT over the Glenroy RSL which was forced to remove 10 of its 50 poker machines this week.

Moreland originally took the Glenroy RSL to the Supreme Court after VCAT approved 10 extra machines, but then managed to have a new hearing ordered, where it prevailed in what amounted to a 4 year struggle. See all the details in this Alliance press release,

Elsewhere, other upcoming Victorian local fights include:

  • Players Hotel in City of Greater Dandenong applying for an additional 25 pokies to add to their existing 25. As this is a complicated application, please read this useful fact sheet.

  • Monbulk Bowling Club in Shire of Yarra Ranges has applied for 10 additional machines. They currently have 30. To read more about these licensing applications please click here.

  • A planning application for a new venue with 70 poker machines in Truganina in the City of Wyndham is coming up. Watch this space or contact Rose O’Leary from the VLGA on rose@vlga.org.au for more information.

8. Around the grounds of gambling media coverage

There has been plenty of lively material to add to our web page linking to interesting media on gambling issues since our March edition gambling news. Here are a few of the items we recommend you sample.

How former gambler Matt Zarb-Cousin cost UK bookies billions
Birmingham Live, 24 April, 2019

Dan Cairnes interviewed on ABC News radio about RSL
ABC News Radio, 23 April, 2019

Gambling on the Federal election out of control
ABC radio's PM program, 23 April, 2019

Young veteran Lucas Moon interviewed by Jon Faine
ABC Melbourne, 23 April, 2019

Younger veterans tackle the old guard pushing pokies inside Victorian RSL
ABC TV's 7.30, 22 April, 2019

RSL urged to get out of pokies by younger veterans
ABC online, 22 April, 2019

RSL involvement in pokies a terrible investment
The Age, 22 April, 2019

Not a dollar more podcast helps those battling with gambling
SMH, 18 April, 2019

Pokies deal on the table in Brimbank
Star Weekly, 16 April, 2019

Fairfield comes together to battle gambling addiction
Fairfield Champion, 16 April, 2019

Ladbrokes plumbs new depths after maximum bet slashed in UK
Daily Mail, 8 April, 2019

UK crackdown on betting shops dodging new maximum bet rules
Gambling.com, 4 April, 2019

UK gambling companies cynically dodge cut in maximum bet
Daily Mail, 3 April, 2019

Labour slams UK gambling industry for new over the counter betting products
The Independent, 3 April, 2019

Mark Aiston speaks out about gambling addiction
The Advertiser, 1 April, 2019

How Brunswick Hockey Club shunned 10k in pokies cash
ABC Melbourne, 1 April, 2019

Gambling addict Paul Merson exploited by Sky Betting & Gaming
The Guardian, 30 March, 2019

Pokies billionaire offers mayors community funding
The Age, 29 March, 2019

Strong Age editorial condemning pokies influence over Dan Andrews
The Age, 28 March, 2019

Woolworths rolls out billionaire Mathieson for charm offensive with councils
The Age, 28 March, 2019

Greater Dandenong cranks up the pressure for gambling reform
Star Journal, 28 March, 2019

Joe O'Brien interviews Tim Costello on guns and gambling donations
ABC News 24, 27 March, 2019

Dan Andrews shuns advice on pokies cash limits
The Age, 27 March, 2019

First NZ charges for venue manager who failed to protect a gambler
Stuff, 27 March, 2019

How the AHA poured millions into the Victorian election campaign
The Age, 26 March, 2019

Pokies industry cranks up lobbying through Brimbank clubs
Star Weekly, 26 March, 2019

Interview with Tim Costello on Jon Faine about AHA political donations
ABC Melbourne, 26 March, 2019

Interview with Stephen Mayne about Townsville RSL exiting pokies
ABC FNQ, 25 March, 2019

Brisbane Lions player opens up about gambling addition
Brisbane Times, 21 March, 2019

That’s all for now. We’ll be back with another edition of Gambling News before the end of May.


Do ya best,
Stephen Mayne
Editor of Gambling News
Feedback to stephen@agr.org.au,  0412 106 241 or DM tweet to @maynereport