gamblingnews_20122018 - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Gambling News - December 2018

Darebin trail-blazing, Essendon’s Melton push, Victorian election, Federal consumer protections, Woolies backs down and more RSL set-backs

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Today’s final addition of “Gambling News” for 2018 looks at the strongest council gambling policy in Australia, the Melton pokies push by Essendon FC, the wash-up from the Victorian election, two perspectives from Champions for Change with a lived experience of gambling harm and a comprehensive wrap of gambling media coverage. Soak it all up and then do have a safe and restful holiday break.

1. Darebin blazes the trail with Australia’s strongest gambling policy

2. February 4 D-Day for Essendon and Melton


3. Anna Bardsley reflects on her Melton experience


4. Victorian election wrap - promising first speech from new Labor MP


5. Federal developments: National Consumer Protection Framework launched


6. Victorian RSL pokies empire suffers another set-back in Altona


7. NSW Champion for Change on his lived experience with family gambling harm


8. Best of the gambling media

1. Darebin blazes the trail with Australia’s strong gambling policy

City of Darebin in Melbourne’s inner north has blazed the trail with Australia’s strongest gambling reform policy which was unanimously approved at a council meeting earlier this month.

As Mayor Susan Rennie explained in interviews with Jon Faine on ABC Melbourne and Neil Mitchell on 3AW, after a 4 year transition period, sporting clubs which operate poker machines won’t be given access to council facilities, be they buildings or ovals.

The Darebin community suffers $82 million a year in pokies losses from 12 venues with 744 machines.

The community response to the new policy has been overwhelmingly positive, although the Northcote Park Football Club is on the offensive given that it operates the Northern Jackpot Pokies venue in neighbouring Moreland where gamblers lost $4.2 million in 2017-18.

Councils from across Australia should embrace the Darebin model as a means of encouraging not-for-profit sporting clubs to find alternative business models to relying on predatory and addictive poker machines for funding. The community harm is just too great.

Here are some links to help you all follow the action from this bold Darebin move:

Video of council debate approving the policy (18-33 mins)

City of Darebin EGM policy (17 pages)

City of Darebin EGM action plan (9 pages)

Jon Faine interviews Darebin mayor Susan Rennie

Neil Mitchell interviews mayor Susan Rennie

Preston Leader coverage of the new policy

The Age’s coverage of the new policy

2. Melton pokies saga with Essendon to be decided on February 4

There has been considerable media coverage over the past week about the Essendon Football Club’s controversial Melton pokies den, the Melton Country Club.

The Alliance summed up all the key issues in this media release shortly before the Melton councillors met on December 10.

The new 29-year-lease at a council-owned facility was then approved 8-0 by councillors with no debate but Cr Steve Abboushi, who was absent due to family commitments, then lodged a rescission motion which means the issue will be addressed again at the next council meeting on Monday, February 4, 2019.

Essendon remained in the bunker on this issue until forced to address it at the club AGM held on December 17, which The Alliance attended, distributing this flyer to members as they entered the meeting.

President Lindsay Tanner and CEO Xavier Campbell were both quoted at length in this piece published by The Age after the meeting.Their defence is very weak as other AFL clubs such as Collingwood, Melbourne, Geelong and the Western Bulldogs move to divest.

The Age has made the running on the issue over the past 10 days, publishing these five stories:

Lindsay Tanner finally speaks about the pokies
The Age, 18 December, 2018

Melton pokies lease rescinded - Bombers must wait until February 4
The Age, 13 December, 2018

Kennett defends Hawks pokies empire
The Age, 12 December, 2018

Essendon lock in 3 decade pokies lease in Melton
The Age, 11 December, 2018

Melton councillors facing a ‘difficult call’ over pokies
The Age, 10 December, 2018

The issue was also picked up by 3AW, AFL.com.au and the local Melton paper which splashed with the story on page 1:

Local coverage of the Essendon-Melton pokies issue
Melton Star Weekly, 16 December, 2018

Charles Livingstone interviewed by Nick McCallum on Collingwood exit
3AW, 11 December, 2018

Bombers wins pokies extension as Magpies bow out
AFL.com, 11 December, 2018

It is worth having a listen to some of the audio from the 2 hour and 26 minute Melton council meeting, which started with CEO Kelvin Tori reading out 4 Alliance for Gambling Reform written questions and then answering them for the first 12 minutes.

There was very little councillor contribution because from 23-29 minutes into the audio file we had an officer summarising the lease proposal (we have pointed out a number of critical omissions from the report), followed by 8 minutes of councillor questions from 29-37 minutes into the audio file.

When we finally got to the actual debate, it just sailed through unanimously with no councillors explaining their position.

This was later cited as one of the reasons why Cr Steve Abboushi lodged a rescission motion so there could be some debate, plus an opportunity for The Alliance to be heard, similar to the way Essendon executives were invited to a councillor briefing session a week before the decision was taken. A meeting has now been formally requested.

The social media response to Essendon’s Melton push, plus Collingwood’s announcement that it has settled on the sale of its 2 pokies venues, was certainly very strong.

Click on these 4 links to see the strength of feeling amongst football fans and the wider community:

Collingwood tweet announcing pokies exit

Essendon fans slam their club - The Age

Fans pile into Essendon responding to AFL.com.au story

Pokiecon Facebook page

3. Anna Bardsley reflects on her Melton experience

It is vital that the voices of people with a lived experience of gambling harm are heard by politicians and others in the public debate. Anna Bardsley has recovered from a pokies addiction and is now a champion advocate for reform. She travelled to the Melton council meeting and submitted two written questions. These are her reflections on what happened which she also subsequently sent to the Melton councillors.

As a former pokies addict, I know first hand what the pokies can do. The highs and lows, the wins and losses, spending more time and money than you planned, turning into someone you’re not because you have to hide the fact that you can’t stop. It wasn’t until I was in recovery that I learnt that the machines are not harmless, that they’re designed by addiction experts to entrap us.

The visitor’s gallery was full for the Melton council meeting. The Melton RSL, which had written this letter of support for the approval of the 29-year lease, had a strong presence, some in Melton RSL t-shirts, others well dressed and wearing their medals. Also in the gallery were staff from the venue, and Essendon Football Club officials in suits.

I was nervous about speaking to the chamber. There was no obvious place for the public to stand and be heard. No microphone, no podium.

Then it was Public Question Time at the start of the meeting and my name was called first; I stood to acknowledge that I was present and prepared myself to speak. But instead, the CEO, Kelvin Tori, began reading my questions to the meeting. I realised that I was not going to be permitted to actually speak. I stood, feeling powerless and voiceless.

In any community it is not easy for ordinary people to speak in a chamber such as this, to speak in front of the regalia of power, in a disadvantaged community such as Melton, it’s even harder. How can the City of Melton Council think this is community engagement?

No follow up questions were permitted. There was no discussion, no dissenting. Here are a couple of additional questions that I might have asked if I had been permitted to speak.

Considering the significant pokies losses in Melton, and therefore significant gambling harm to your community, how can you justify aligning yourself with the Essendon Football Club on this issue? What are your first priorities? To look after your people or protect the interests of a large and powerful institution from outside the community?

Have you considered the costs of this deal? Gambling harm affects more than the person who is gambling. For every gambler, there are ten others who feel the effects. Domestic violence, suicide and mental health are significant issues that co-exist with gambling.

Local Councils have a special and pivotal role in caring for their local community. Melton needs a hospital, more health services. Encouraging more gambling venues will only increase the load on council services. Is it worth it? Who matters more?

Is it not your duty of care to actively seek out information about both sides of this issue before you make decisions? What about a special committee whose job it is to find out what is involved?

It seems the city of Melton have several issues. One is their duty of care to the marginalised disadvantaged community they are supposed to represent. Another would be to make their process of consultation with Melton residents easier and more open.

And if you are serious about engaging with your community on this and other issues, take a serious look at your processes. Let go of the ridiculous controlling way you have of asking for questions at council meetings. What are you afraid of? That your people will ask questions you don’t have answers for? Be transparent and open the public question time to real time questions, asked by the people themselves.

Melton council is behind the times, Essendon Football Club is behind the times. There are numerous Victorian councils which acknowledge the harm of pokies and actively work to protect their local people from further harm from gambling.

Allowing, and even encouraging, these machines to continue to operate in a Melton council building is costing the council. Costing businesses in the area. The money that is poured into these addictive machines could be being spent in other local businesses, which would create more local jobs.

Councillors of the City of Melton, I ask that you meet with some of us who know first hand the harm that gambling causes. There are not only a few of us, there are tens of thousands, and the harm is deep and real. We take responsibility for what we have done, but we ask that others do the same. Where is the attitude of Responsible Service of Gambling by those who own the clubs and machines? Where is your responsibility for using council owned property for pokies?

The Melton RSL is obviously an active and engaged group of people and how much better would it be to give them the use of this property, without pokies, and invite other community groups. It would be a great benefit to the City of Melton. It would be an innovative project and a positive influence on the community.

4. Victorian election: Will Fowles sets the tone for the new Parliament

The Victorian Parliament sat for one day yesterday so swear in the new members and kick-start the second term of the Andrews Government after a decisive victory which delivered it a large working majority.

After 14 retirements and 21 defeats, there was also a number of inaugural speeches yesterday from a handful of the 35 new MPs.

We were most encouraged to hear the impressive new Labor member for Burwood, Will Fowles, make the following comments (see p65 of the Hansard) about the need for pokies reform during the current Parliament.

I am blessed to have lived through this period of prosperity and social progress. But there have been mistakes too. Like The Whitlams, ‘I wish, I wish I knew the right words to blow up the pokies and drag them away’. In Brimbank, where unemployment is the second highest in the state, over $380 000 is lost every day on poker machines. In wealthy Boroondara, which intersects my electorate, it is $56,000. These insidious devices strike into the heart of the very communities we should be protecting and nurturing, not exploiting. It is time for an honest conversation about removing the reliance on regressive measures like gaming machine revenue, removing barriers to jobs growth and contemplating whether intergenerational wealth transfer ought to be part of the state’s revenue base. We must work always towards a system that is fairer. A government that does not enable fair economic progress is a government doomed to fail. We have done better in Victoria at sharing our dividends and have evaded the growth of the Trumpist lunatic fringe, but insidious growth of inequity will always, if allowed to go unchecked, provide a climate in which those voices can thrive.

The last edition of “Gambling News” covered the early stages of the Victorian election and it was disappointing that the two major parties refused to either debate the gambling issue or embrace major reforms.

However, Tim Costello did write to all candidates in the election and we had some very strong feedback against the pokies, including from many Labor and Liberal candidates.

The early signs are good that this new Parliament will have a stronger interest in gambling reform than the last after we engaged extensively with candidates and MPs from across the political spectrum, including by appearing at various early voting centres with our mobile billboard.

We generated seat specific data on pokies losses, as was explained in this media release which contributed to local stories such as this piece in the Hume Leader.

The election also swept away some individual MPs who were opponents of reform in the last Parliament, such as Nationals MP Luke O’Sullivan, the brother of Australian Hotels Association Victorian CEO, Paddy O’Sullivan.

Speaking of Paddy O’Sullivan, he gave this interesting interview with ABC Melbourne’s Raf Epstein during the campaign, confirming that the AHA had made political donations to individual candidates and parties which supported the pokies industry.

We’ll get to see the detail of this in the new year, although it will be after the traditional February 1 campaign finance data dump, which will only apply to the 2017-18 financial year.

5. Federal developments: National Consumer Protection Framework launched

Alliance executive director Tony Mohr and Alliance director Mark Zirnsak, were both in Sydney recently for the launch by Federal families minister Paul Fletcher of the National Consumer Protection Framework for online gambling.

Nick Toscano from The Age summarised much of the detail and the Minister also explained it to David Koch on Seven’s Sunrise program.

The Alliance welcomed the agreement between the Federal Government and the 8 state and territory governments, although we will be watching to ensure there isn’t slippage at the implementation stage on key measures such as a single click self-exclusion program for all online gambling.

Banning bookmakers from supplying credit is also very important and this has opened a debate about whether Australian banks should also allow credit cards to be used for gambling, something the UK Labor Party has promised to out-law.

The requirement for regular activity statements to gamblers outlining losses is another important development in the agreement, along with banning inducement for people to open a new account with online gambling companies.

Here is the Minister’s media statement and click here to read the full agreement outlining the 10 principles. Finally, listen to Tony Mohr explain The Alliance view on the framework on ABC News Radio:

Tony Mohr interviewed about National Consumer Protection Framework
ABC Newsradio, 30 November, 2018

6. Woolies triumph and another set back for the RSL pokies empire in Victoria

We had a comprehensive wrap of the various local battles in the last edition of Gambling News but there has been some interesting updates in recent days.

The best news came when Woolworths withdrew their Supreme Court appeal against the VCAT decision to reject a proposal to install 40 poker machines at the Commercial Hotel in South Morang after a two year battle. See this City of Whittlesea press statement explaining the detail.

We were also delighted with the refusal (see here and here) by the VCGLR of the application by the Altona RSL for an additional 22 poker machines.

This was a huge effort by City of Hobsons Bay and the community with assistance from The Alliance and the VLGA.

The Dandenong RSL was also recently refused for an additional 11 machines so they will hopefully soon get the message that communities do not need to add to the $1 billion-plus which is already lost on the pokies at RSL-branded venues across Australia.

Unfortunately, on December 10 the VCGLR commissioners approved an additional 30 machines at the Geelong RSL, despite objections from City of Greater Geelong, but there were some strong conditions applied to the permit. This is  a good example of council’s securing an improved outcome in terms of minimising harm by turning up at the Commission, even when additional machines are approved.

In other RSL action, City of Darebin was in VCAT for five days last month contesting an application from the Darebin RSL. It has bought 80 post-2022 entitlements (see full list of entitlement owners)  but is currently operating with 65 and Darebin is vigorously contesting the 15 additional machines. The hearing has been extended for a final day which has now been delayed until February next year.

7. NSW champion for changes explains the harm of pokies addiction

The Alliance is building its Champions for Change program where those harmed by gambling tell their stories to politicians and media to help build the case for reform. Today, Gambling News brings the story of someone we’ll call “Ross” who lives in the Federal seat of Eden Monaro:

Pokies stole the best years of my brother’s life. Whenever our family celebrated birthdays at local clubs, we realised that he was always in the building, but never in the room. He would go missing and could be found sitting in front a pokie machine, relentlessly losing money. One year he even went missing from his own birthday party. Eventually, weighed down by massive debt, he moved back home at the age of 40, broke, despondent and suicidal.

Even worse, he wasn’t alone. When he couldn’t afford a taxi home, I would drive back to the club to pick him up at 3am, always seeing the same blank faces, glued to the same blinking machines. Hard working people with loved ones back home, all being cheated by machines deliberately designed to addict. In Australia, we believe in a fair go for everyone. Yet we’ve somehow allowed the invasion of these machines into our pubs and clubs, created for no other purpose than to cheat our brains into thinking we can beat them.

My brother was also addicted to cigarettes until he gave them up. He gave up smoking but not pokies. Why? Because our community ended tobacco advertising, funded education campaigns, made smoking more expensive, attached a stigma to smoking and pushed it to the fringes of pubs and clubs. We did this because cigarettes are designed to addict and they provide no benefit to users. Because they damage your physical health and the physical health of loved ones.

So why are pokies different? They’re not, because pokies are designed to addict and they provide no benefit to users. Because they damage your mental health and the mental health of loved ones. They should be treated the same way as cigarettes, acknowledged for the damage they do to all of us.

We won the battle to save my brother from addictive, destructive cigarettes. Now I want to win the battle to save my brother from addictive, destructive pokies. That’s why I’m a Champion for Change with the Alliance for Gambling Reform. This is a battle I’m not prepared to lose.

# Please email the Champions for Change Community Builder, Pepi Belfort pepi@agr.org.au to register your interest in the program or call 0488 151 645 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 from around the world. Here are a few of the items we recommend you sample.

Adelaide publican scams 50k from his own pokies
The Advertiser, 18 December, 2018

Lindsay Tanner finally speaks about the pokies
The Age, 18 December, 2018

Cricket Australia calls in Tim Costello for an ethics lesson
The Age, 14 December, 2018

Ballina Council makes a move on the pokies
The Echo, 14 December, 2018

Melton pokies lease rescinded - Bomber must wait until February 4
The Age, 13 December, 2018

Kennett defends Hawks pokies empire
The Age, 12 December, 2018

Charles Livingstone interviewed by Nick McCallum on Collingwood exit
3AW, 11 December, 2018

Essendon lock in 3 decade pokies lease in Melton
The Age, 11 December, 2018

Bombers wins pokies extension as Magpies bow out
AFL.com, 11 December, 2018

Swimmers and Olympians slam lottery push to fund elite sport
SwimSwam, 11 December, 2018

Why sports betting ads are dangerous and need to be curbed
BBC, 6 December, 2018

Pokies losses concern Kingston councillors
Bayside News, 5 December, 2018

UK govt looks into limiting credit card use on gambling
BBC, 5 December, 2018

Hume mayor Carly Moore calls for pokies reform as Broadmeadows electorate drops $48m
Hume Leader, 3 December, 2018

Tom Elliott interviews Geoff Lake on ANZ credit card move
3AW, 28 November, 2018

Pokies reforms pass ACT Assembly
The Canberra Times, 28 November, 2018

Gambling industry pours big donations into Australian political parties
Casino Guardian, 27 November, 2018

Lib-Lab Senators water down recommendations on loot boxes
Stevivor, 27 November, 2018

Farrell family doubles profits from lucrative Tasmanian monopolies
ABC, 23 November, 2018

Woolworths battered at AGM over pokies practices
Sydney Morning Herald, 21 November, 2018

Central Sydney overwhelmed by pokies pubs
Daily Mail Australia, 20 November, 2018

Woolworths withdraw Supreme Court appeal over Whittlesea pokies push
Whittlesea Leader, 20 November, 2018

Pokies blamed for Australia's world record gambling losses
Casino Guardian, 20 November, 2018

AHA Victorian boss admits to making more Woolworths-backed political donations
ABC Melbourne, 19 November, 2018

Spikey exchanges at the Seven West Media AGM
The Guardian, 16 November, 2016

Tony Abbott holds fundraiser at notorious Dee Why RSL pokies den
AFR, 16 November, 2018

Sports micro-betting dangerous for those suffering from a gambling addiction
The Conversation, 15 November, 2018

NSW lock out laws under the pump (pokies gambling is exempt)
Sunday Telegraph, 11 November, 2018

Lord Chadlington on the UK gambling campaign
The House Magazine, 9 November, 2018

UK regulator reads the riot act to gambling industry
The Times, 8 November, 2018

Life Matters debate about the dangers of sports gambling
Radio National, 7 November, 2018

How the newspapers barely reported another Melbourne Cup horse death
Crikey, 7 November, 2018

Animal welfare issues emerge again as another horse dies
News.com.au, 6 November, 2018

Cliffofmoher death sparks renewed debate about horse racing
The Age, 6 November, 2018

Steve Austin interviews Stephen Mayne on Queensland casinos issue
ABC Queensland, 6 November, 2018

Bridie Tanner interviews Stephen Mayne on our world record gambling losses
FBI Radio, 6 November, 2018

That’s all for now. We’ll be back with another Gambling News update early in 2019.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to become a financial supporter of The Alliance as we strive to reduce world record levels of gambling harm in Australia, click here.

Until next time, have a happy and safe holiday period.

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