In this bumper edition of Gambling News, we cover Woolies and the pokies, the AFL’s Beteasy contract, RSL Victoria pokies reform, ALGA’s backing of a Royal Commission into gambling, Macquarie Bank’s pioneering credit card ban, developments in NSW and much more.
- Woolworths quits the pokies...mostly
- Will the AFL do the right thing and dump Beteasy?
- Councillors back a gambling Royal Commission
- Macquarie blazes the trail on credit card ban
- RSL Victoria under pressure to move away from gaming
- NSW update: record losses, budget, breaches & research grants
- Farewell Stephen Mayne, welcome aboard Rebecca Thorpe
- Around the grounds of gambling media
1. Embarrassed Woolworths separates from pokies empire
It has been a big few weeks for gambling developments and there is nothing bigger than the news on Thursday last week that Woolworths has decided to substantially exit the toxic pokies industry by demerging its gambling and liquor operations into a separate company.
The Alliance put out this statement welcoming the news and while the demerger won’t make the 12,000 Woolworths machines go away, it further de-legitimises the industry to have big name corporates like Coles and Woolworths exiting, although Woolworths is proposing to retain a 15% stake in the new company.
The Alliance is calling for other pokies operators such as the ALP, the Catholic Church, the CFMEU and the Victorian RSL to follow the lead of the big supermarket companies and AFL clubs like Collingwood and Melbourne, which have also exited.
There was an avalanche of media coverage on the move and Woolworths was clearly embarrassed by its ongoing association with addictive poker machines, going so far as to deliberately under-state the enormous size of its gambling operation.
With more than 12,000 machines, Woolworths is bigger than both Crown Resorts and Star Entertainment in terms of machine pokies numbers, but CEO Brad Banducci was spinning away telling blatant untruths as Joe Aston has reported (pay) in today’s Rear Window column in The AFR.
Do watch this interview that Mr Banducci did with ABC TV’s Elysse Morgan for a classic example of the gambling industry trying to downplay the size and scale of the damage it causes. The claims that Woolworths only takes $700 million a year gamblers is just wrong. The truth is closer to $1.5 billion and they’ve now admitted they got to the artificially low figure by excluding all state government tax paid.
Finally, thanks to everyone who shared the news after our email last Thursday. The comments on Facebook were strong and interesting, with many unhappy that Woolworths is retaining a minority stake in the separated business and that the machines will still be operating.
This is true, but the announcement is still a major step forward. We’ll have more to say on this in the coming weeks as the separation takes shape.
2. Will the AFL do the right thing and dump Beteasy?
The Woolworths move puts the AFL under increasing pressure to withdraw from all gambling sponsorship deals, particularly its notorious $10 million per annum arrangement with Betsasy, which is about to expire.
It was the 10 match suspension meted out to Collingwood player Jaidyn Stephenson for gambling on his own performances that brought the matter to a head, generating an avalanche of media coverage, much of it focused on the hypocrisy of the AFL.
Supporters of The Alliance have taken up the issue with great gusto, sending hundreds of emails to AFL Chairman Richard Goyder urging him and his fellow Commissioners not to do another gambling sponsorship deal.
If you are yet to email Mr Goyder, click here to take immediate action.
As our spokesperson Tim Costello wrote in this comment piece for The New Daily, the AFL is rich enough to get by without dirty gambling money and it should instead emulate its social leadership shown in areas like gender equality, same sex marriage and the promotion of Indigenous players.
3. Councillors back a gambling Royal Commission
With the major parties still too scared to take on the brutal gambling industry at the state and federal level, local government remains one of the most effective forces driving for long overdue reform.
And so it was at last month’s annual National General Assembly of the Australian Local Government Association in Canberra where delegates backed City of Yarra’s call for a Royal Commission into the gambling industry.
Motion 85 - City of Yarra
That the National General Assembly calls on the Federal Government to:
- Establish a Royal Commission into the gambling industry and the $24 billion in annual gambling losses nationally, the highest in the world in per capita terms; and
- Embrace national harm minimisation policies to reduce gambling harm in Australia such as:
- Following the lead of the UK Labour Party in supporting a ban on credit card usage with online gambling companies;
- Introducing further restrictions on gambling advertising, emulating the approach taken with the tobacco industry;
III. Establishing a national ombudsman scheme to process consumer complaints and resolve customer disputes with online gambling companies; and
- Introducing a ban on federally-registered political parties from owning gambling licences issued by Australian governments, including for the operation of poker machine venues.
After passionate speeches in support from the likes of Yarra mayor Danae Bosler, Stuart James from City of Monash, Darebin mayor Susan Rennie, Moreland mayor Natalie Abboud and Albury deputy mayor Dr Amanda Cohn the resolution passed 141 votes to 53.
It was terrific to see two other gambling motions also get up at ALGA as follows:
- Brimbank City
That this National General Assembly, recognising the impact of gambling harm on local communities around Australia, calls on the Federal Government to introduce more stringent classification of video games that include loot boxes or similar items, to reduce the harm that arises from the convergence of gaming and gambling, and the consequent normalisation of gambling.
That this National General Assembly also calls on the Federal Government to close existing loopholes which enable gambling advertisements to be broadcast on television and radio during children’s viewing and listening hours.
87. Wyndham City
That the National General Assembly calls on the Federal Government to work with State and Territory Governments to develop new and/or updated systems to collect and publish online gambling expenditure data at a municipal level.
The actions in these motions would be practical ways to expose the harm caused by the rapacious gambling industry and make progress toward protection of our communities. Well done to the councils who put them up and argued so well for their adoption.
During the ALGA Assembly there was passion to protect local residents from gambling harm on display, with many councillors from across the country taking time to talk with Alliance staff and pose with our signs backing community over pokies and calling for reform. Thanks to all the leaders in local government who are taking the fight up to the industry and standing up for the health and wellbeing of your communities.
4. Macquarie blazes the trail on credit card ban
Just two weeks after Australia’s local government sector voted in Canberra to recommend to the Federal Government that they start “Following the lead of the UK Labour Party in supporting a ban on credit card usage with online gambling companies”, along comes Macquarie Group with this trail-blazing announcement that its customers would no longer be able to use credit cards to gamble online.
The Alliance was thrilled with this development (see our media statement) and Tim Costello did numerous media interviews praising Macquarie and calling on the Big Four banks to follow suit.
It is outrageous that credit card deposits with online bookmakers are treated as cash advances with up-front fees of 1-2% and immediate interest rates of almost 20%.
It is now illegal for the bookmakers themselves to offer credit for gambling so we don’t see why Australian banks should be doing it either.
The likes of American Express and Citibank already ban the use of their credit cards for gambling so this practice needs to quickly spread across the major Australian banks, which were very quick to all exit the pay-day lending space a few years ago.
At least pay-day lending is arguably used to pay bills and for putting food on the table, whereas there is no benefit to be had from borrowing from the banks to put money into a gambling account.
We say well done Macquarie and bring on a similar move from the other major banks, alongside the likes of Suncorp, Bendigo, and Adelaide Bank.
5. RSL Victoria under pressure to move away from pokies
A group of younger veterans in Victoria has run a powerful campaign in recent weeks to get RSL Victoria to divest its poker machines and improve its governance.
Lucas Moon, Dan Cairnes and Dave Peterson captured the attention of the branch network with a series of media appearances and email updates ahead of the RSL State Conference last Thursday in Melbourne.
They pulled no punches at State Conference arguing that pokies have been bad business for the RSL, which has taken its eye off the main game of veteran welfare and advocacy.
The full back catalogue of email missives is well worth a read for some of the insight and revelations revealed by the Reform Team and here are links to some of the media that has rolled out in recent weeks.
6. NSW update: poor pokies data, budget, breaches and grants
By Kate Da Costa
NSW releases gambling loss data on a 6-monthly basis and the last batch was dropped just after our latest newsletter. Check out this media release for a wrap on the numbers, which showed that a record $6.82 billion was lost on the pokies in 2018.
In a welcome change, the shocking data generated quite a bit of news. The Sunday Telegraph ran a great (paywalled) story on the top 20 clubs in NSW, and the 11,000 pokies they operate. Regional papers in particular were pointing out the terrible impact on their local communities (Mudgee, Dubbo), and Alliance staff gave interviews to the ABC Northern Rivers, and Illawarra. We’ll continue to lobby for venue-by-venue data, similar to Victoria.
While we’re at it, publication of ClubGrants actual grants would be a good step forward for NSW transparency, given clubs claim tax discounts based on their grants. We should all know who they gave their profits to.
The NSW Budget, brought down on June 18, showed that NSW still relies on increasing revenue from gambling taxes - an unhealthy addiction for any government and one that doesn’t give them any incentive to reverse the trend of increasing losses by the inhabitants of NSW. Headline figures are that club and hotel poker machine revenues will continue to rise, with taxes from pub pokies set to break the $1billion level in 2022, lotteries are seeing a surge and the point of consumption tax income is buried in the racing revenue figures, where in other states it’s reported separately.
As we said in our media release on the day, “The budget documents mention drought 59 times, the police 22 times, and tolls 11 times. The words harm, prevention and addiction occur zero times.” It’s not a budget aimed at reducing harm from gambling.
Several venues have been referred to ILGA over disciplinary matters, the most shocking being the enormous Mounties club in Mount Pritchard, which was fined $6000 for allowing a child to push the buttons on one of its machines for almost two minutes.
Unbelievably, this chain of clubs with more than $100 million a year in pokies revenue is appealing a $6000 fine, as we explained in this email blast on Friday, which has generated hundreds of emails to NSW Gambling Minister Victor Dominello.
In other NSW enforcement action, Dee Why RSL is being pursued for irresponsible conduct in relation to the tragic death of Gary Van Duinen in 2018, and a couple of Woolies pubs are being pursued as a result of whistleblower testimony about hotels providing free liquor to gamblers. We’re keeping a close eye on both matters, because it seems a bit odd that Woolies could identify 22 venues with issues, but NSW Liquor and Gaming only managed to substantiate allegations in 2 pubs on the Northern Rivers. NSW MP Justin Field certainly thinks there’s more to the story.
Submissions close on July 17 for comments on the Casino Control Regulations and the Gaming Machine Regulations. The Alliance will be making the case to strengthen the regs and set up pathways to make them enforceable and ensure that penalties really bite.
In slightly more positive news, the Office of Responsible Gambling has rolled out its second round of research grants, these directed to research, prevention and innovation projects. While projects are designed by the researchers (and the Alliance is consulting on an ORG funded project now running in Fairfield to develop a CALD appropriate screening tool to use in community contexts), the guiding document is the heavily industry-influenced ORG Strategic Plan 2018-2021.
The Alliance will work to ensure that the next Strategic Plan is not so soft on the industry, aims to prevent harm, and stops using the industry framing that any harm that’s caused is based on an individual’s behaviour. It’s really caused by deliberately addictive machines.
Some of the 2019 projects include:
Western Sydney University $100,500: Early identification of gambling comorbidity in a hospital setting. This project aims to identify people with substance use and psychiatric problems who are at risk of problematic gambling due to impulsive/impaired decision making. Given treatment is not always sought when needed, the hospital setting may prove to be a good opportunity for early identification and responding to gambling risk.
Central Queensland University $191,000: Development a randomised-control-trial of safe gambling guidelines for gaming machine play. This project will develop evidence-based guidelines based on safe gambling practices that best predict non-harmful gambling among players most vulnerable to gambling-related harm.
University of Sydney Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic $277,500: Randomised control trial comparing face-to-face with online problem gambling treatment. Recent research found clients who received an online self-directed treatment for problem gambling displayed significant reductions in symptoms. The project will compare outcomes and cost-effectiveness of this newer online treatment with various face-to-face counselling treatments in terms of both short-term and long-term reductions in problem gambling symptoms.
Central Queensland University $185,900: Smartphone betting on sports, e-sports and daily-fantasy-sports among young people. In NSW, the use of smartphones to bet on sports, e-sports and daily-fantasy-sports is growing rapidly. This study will investigate how mobile technologies affect betting behaviour, gambling problems and harm among young people.
Central Queensland University $99,900: Exploring the changing landscape of gambling in adolescence. Technological change has introduced new formative gambling experiences to young people. A cohort study of young adults will explore how the changing environment of gambling; including the advent of social casino games, esports betting, skins gambling, loot boxes and daily fantasy sports (DFS); might influence gambling involvement and gambling harm.
University of Technology $99,315: Animation series educating young people on responsible gambling. This project delivers a suite of animations aimed to increase awareness and understanding of young people, enabling them to make informed choices around gambling participation and the associated risks and harms. The project's co-design process involves students in the target demographic to design animations that will be relevant and effective.
Deakin University $250,000: Responsible gambling for preventing and reducing harm through digital education. This project will deliver two online courses, providing digital education and research on responsible gambling, preventing and reducing harm. The courses will provide a social learning approach for the community (CALD, young people, Indigenous, lower socio-economic and vulnerable groups) and a resource for school teachers and support centres throughout NSW.
Finally, historian James Boyce produced a fascinating essay for The Monthly in May about the gambling industry’s influence, particularly over the research and academic community in Australia. It is well worth a read. More research into the machines themselves would certainly be a worthwhile endeavour.
7. Farewell Stephen Mayne, welcome aboard Rebecca Thorpe
By Tony Mohr
Alliance Executive Director
Stephen is too modest to blow his own trumpet, but as the Executive Director and on behalf of the board and staff I’d like to thank Stephen for bringing his energy ideas and commitment to the campaigns of the Alliance over the past two years.
Stephen has brought his considerable skills in journalism, communications, corporate campaigning and local government and we’re richer for it.
As he explains on his own website, Stephen finished up at The Alliance on Friday, July 5, and is planning a return to journalism and shareholder activism, but we’re delighted that he’ll be strongly incorporating gambling reform into this mix.
Stephen was a vocal advocate for gambling reform well before the Alliance kicked off in 2015, and he has no intention of going silent after leaving employment with the Alliance!
We are very excited to welcome Rebecca Thorpe into the role of Communications Director. Rebecca has extensive experience in journalism, has withstood the intensity of being media liaison for the Victorian Government during Black Saturday, and has led many successful communication campaigns for non-profit organisations, including securing the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. Rebecca is passionate about elevating those hurt by the gambling industry to change the debate. Feel free to drop Rebecca line at [email protected].
8. Best of the gambling media
Here are links to some of the more interesting gambling stories from around the world since our last edition of Gambling News on May 16:
Michael West digs into the big NSW pokie clubs
Michaelwest.com, 6 July, 2019
Bruce Mathieson wants to buy even more Endeavour Group shares
The Age, 6 July, 2019
Kiwis open the door to virtual racing and TAB pokies
Newsroom, 5 July, 2019
Ainsworth and Aristocrat slug it out in court
SMH, 5 July, 2019
Mounties to appeal $6000 fine over child sitting at a pokie
News.com.au, 4 July, 2019
An American progressive view on Australian gambling
LA Progressive, 5 July, 2019
Mathieson claims pubs to be boosted by demerger
SMH, 4 July, 2019
Bruce Mathieson gloats about super pokies profits going forward
SMH, 4 July, 2019
Mathieson says embarrassment drove Woolies out
SMH, 4 July, 2019
Stephen Mayne Woolies interview on Studio Ten
Channel Ten, 4 July, 2019
Dave Peterson interviewed about RSL and pokies on ABC News Radio
ABC News Radio, 4 July, 2019
Dave Peterson interview with Fran Kelly about RSL and pokies
ABC Radio National, 4 July, 2019
Mounties fined over child in poker machine room
Channel 9, 3 July, 2019
Brad Banducci claims Woolies only takes $700m a year from gamblers
ABC TV, The Business, 3 July, 2019
Stephen Mayne talks to Patricia Karvelas about Woolies
RN Drive , 3 July, 2019
Liz Knight comment piece on Woolies divestment
Age/SMH, 3 July, 2019
Woolies divests ahead of big RSL Victoria state conference debate
The Guardian, 3 July, 2019
Wilkie: “Woolies breaks addiction to poker machines”
Andrew Wilkie, 3 July 2019
Tim Costello interviewed about Macquarie move
2GB, 1 July, 2019
Tim Costello backs Macquarie credit card move
Probono news, 1 July, 2019
How gambling industry has power over the states
Radio National, 30 June, 2019
Editorial calling for AFL to exit gambling
Sunday Age, 30 June, 2019
Easton Wood backs AFL gambling crackdown on The Project
Ten, 27 June, 2019
Easton Wood leads the charge against AFL gambling
ABC, 27 June, 2019
Macquarie bans credit cards from gambling
AFR, 26 June, 2019
Stephenson bet could cost AFL millions
The Age, 22 June, 2019
AFL and Racing Victoria team up to make money monitoring gambling
The Age, 21 June, 2019
Tim Costello urges AFL to ditch Beteasy deal
The New Daily, 21 June, 2019
Tony Jones slams AFL over Beteasy hypocrisy
Nine, 20 June, 2019
Nathan Buckley criticises AFL for excessive gambling
ABC, 20 June, 2019
Tim Costello and Charles Livingstone on Nine News
Nine News Melbourne, 20 June, 2019
Tim Costello calls for AFL to ditch Beteasy
The Australian, 20 June, 2019
Greg Baum: AFL's betting problem is black and white
The Age, 20 June, 2019
ABC wrap of Woolies trangressions in NSW
ABC Online, 20 June, 2019
Woolworths proves again why it is our worst pokies operator
SMH, 19 June, 2019
Gold Coast councillors deliver a pokies free Helensvale Golf Club
Gold Coast Bulletin, 15 June, 2019
Washington DC sports gambling contract reeks of cronyism
Washington Post, 14 June, 2019
Poker machines, gambling addiction and the clubs and pubs that profit
Mudgee Guardian, 12 June, 2019
RSL Victoria turns down Collingwood RSL opportunity
The Age, 9 June, 2019
Patrick Dangerfield and Jan Beames interviews on 3AW
3AW, 8 June, 2019
Gambling epidemic amongst AFL players
Herald Sun, 8 June, 2019
What AFL players told gambling counseller Jan Beames
Herald Sun, 8 June, 2019
Mathieson's pokies over-reach a family affair
AFR, 7 June, 2019
Meg Webb challenges Tasmanian Minister on pokies harm
The Advocate, 6 June, 2019
Ladbrokes and neds flout Victorian online gambling laws
ABC online, 4 June, 2019
Lawrence Ho claims Australian gambling regulators are really tough
CNBC, 31 May, 2019
Lawrence Ho had no idea Packer was a seller until Wynn news broke
Bloomberg, 31 May, 2019
Stephen Mayne talking Packer on The World Today
ABC radio, 31 May, 2019
More pressure over Gold Coast pokies promise on second casino
Gold Coast Bulletin, 29 May, 2019
Joy Van Duinan lashes Dee Why RSL as regulators move in
Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May, 2019
Formal complaint lodged against Dee Why RSL
Manly Daily, 28 May, 2019
Social disaster of pokies losses hit Dubbo
Daily Liberal, 27 May, 2019
Stephen Mayne interview with Craig Reucassel about Woolworths
ABC Sydney, 24 May, 2019
Perpetual pressures Woolworths to ditch pokies
The Age, 24 May, 2019
Life Matters: How does gambling culture impact children?
Radio National, 23 May, 2019
Brimbank to crack down on pokies losses after topping state for losses
The Age, 22 May, 2019
Free bet crackdown as Victoria moves to toughen gambling laws
The Age, 21 May, 2019
That’s all for now.
Do ya best,