Gambling News: July 2018 - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Gambling News: July 2018

Gambling News: the disgrace of NSW, Essendon’s pokies push and much more

In this latest edition of Gambling News, we cover the pressure for reform in NSW after a tragic suicide, Essendon’s brazen pokies push in Melton, toxic RSL practices, bold policy by Northern Beaches Council, developments in the ACT and tomorrow’s “Pokies Play Whittlesea” launch by Tim Costello.

Click on one of the stories to jump to it:

  1. Raising the pressure on reform in NSW
  2. Some positive news from NSW as Northern Beaches leads the reform push
  3. The Alliance spreads the gambling reform message at ALGA
  4. Plenty of action in the ACT on poker machines
  5. Will Essendon do the right thing at the Melton Country Club
  6. Getting the AFL out of pokies
  7. Champions for Change Check-In
  8. Time for the RSL to slow down the pokies push
  9. Katherine Copsey joins The Alliance amidst strong support from Victorian councils.
  10. City of Whittlesea is also blazing the trail for pokies reform
  11. Links to interesting media articles


1. Raising the pressure for reform in NSW

The NSW Government is once again under pressure to tackle the state’s notorious do nothing approach when it comes to reducing world record levels of gambling harm from poker machines.

Fairfax columnist Peter FitzSimons summed up the feelings of many with this powerful column in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Alliance deputy chairman Allison Keogh also had this opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald last Thursday responding to the tragic story of Gary Van Duinen which the paper revealed on Monday.

The Dee Why RSL was reckless and ruthless in the way it dealt with Gary and deserved everything it got in this stinging SMH editorial last Thursday.

Also disappointing was the dismissive approach of former NSW Premier Bob Carr, who when approached by media, chose not to express any regret over his government’s decision to unleash pokies into NSW pubs in 1997. The tone of these letters to the editor in response hopefully sent Mr Carr an emphatic message that apologising for state-sponsored pokies abuse is no longer acceptable.

The late Wayne Goss and Joan Kirner were two former Labor Premiers who later expressed regret about the harm caused by their decision to introduce poker machines. Freed from the constraints of office and political compromise, Bob Carr should do likewise.

As this recent media release from The Alliance notes, gambling losses in NSW pokies pubs are still rising quickly and will deliver more tax revenue to the NSW government than their under-taxed club counterparts for the first time in 2018-19.

Overall pokies losses are now running at more than $7 billion a year in NSW alone – which is more than a quarter of the $25 billion lost nationally on all forms of gambling, which makes Australians the world’s biggest gamblers in per capita terms.

And the NSW pokies losses are projected to keep rising strongly because both sides of politics keep delivering everything the industry wants. Surely this will have to change after next year’s NSW election.

2. Some positive news from NSW as Northern Beaches leads the reform push

The tragic death of Gary Van Duinen has had a big impact on the community in the Northern Beaches and comes at time when Northern Beaches Council is finalising a ground breaking policy to tackle gambling harm.

The Alliance can reveal that the Dee Why RSL has been directly campaigning against the policy, even emailing local social workers urging them to write submissions opposing the move. Here is the text of what Dee Why RSL employee Sheila Malone ([email protected]) wrote:

Dear DYRSL Community Organisation,

I’m writing to advise you of recent developments regarding the Northern Beaches Council and their move to impose controls over gaming in the Local Government Area.

Recently the Northern Beaches Council put forward a draft gambling strategy containing measures that, if implemented, will create uncertainty and instability for clubs in the LGA and potentially reduce our ability to provide ClubGRANTS support to organisations such as yours.

Gaming is regulated by the State government, not local government, and Council’s proposed strategy is strongly opposed by the clubs in the area.

To assist us in this matter, we have attached a draft letter of support. The Dee Why RSL Board of Directors would be very grateful if you could please sign this letter and email to: ‘The Councillors’ [email protected], and/or to an individual councillor/s to show them how important ClubGRANTS is to your organisation.

We would also appreciate it if a copy of the email/letter could be provided back to our club.

All submissions MUST BE RECEIVED by Sunday 1 July 2018 – please support the club that supports you.

It is our hope that this matter can be resolved in an appropriate fashion. Should you require further information please contact me by email: [email protected]

Working the other side of the argument, The Alliance’s NSW Campaigner Kate da Costa has been collaborating with community groups in the area to encourage locals to make submissions in support of the adoption of a Gambling Harm Management Policy by council. Along with our digital campaigner, Hillary Montague, we ran a strong social media campaign which more than doubled our local supporter base and led to well over 80 submissions to Council backing the policy. We will continue to work with Northern Beaches councillors to see this policy through to ratification, which could happen as early as the  August 28 council meeting.

Local anti-pokie sentiment is very clear to the Council. Before amalgamation into the new Northern Beaches council, Warringah Council had indicated that it preferred not to have any poker machines in any redevelopment of District Park - a large golf course and sporting complex in North Manly. Tenders were recently called, and there were fears that Manly Sea Eagles, which has bought the Manly Bowling Club on the site, and moved poker machines in, would win the contract for redevelopment. After all, they're the same club that negotiated for Brookvale Oval to now be called Lottoland Oval. In very welcome news, Council has announced that they are negotiating with an 'outside' consortium, but a key part of the announcement was this great news for the Northern  Beaches: "Reducing poker machine reliance was a key consideration. The lead tender maximises value for ratepayers and does not include poker machines as part of their business model."

3. The Alliance spreads the gambling reform message at ALGA

The Australian Local Government Association’s annual National General Assembly in Canberra is the biggest council event of the year and The Alliance was well represented last month as almost 1000  delegates listened to speeches from Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull and debated motions on a range of topics.

Alliance director and City of Darebin councillor Susan Rennie gave a presentation on what councils can do to prevent gambling harm and promote reform. You can listen to the audio of her comments and also view the presentation slides.

The Alliance was also delighted by the number of councillors prepared to align with our message by holding up signs demonstrating their support for gambling reform. Here are few links to photos that we posted on Twitter during the ALGA National General Assembly:

MAV President Mary Lalios with LGNSW President Linda Scott

Moreland mayor John Kavanagh with former mayor Helen Davidson

Cr Mia Shaw from Wyndham

Cr Joseph Haweil from Hume

Crs Susan Rennie and Lina Messina from Darebin

Cr Angela Long from City of Greater Dandenong

4. Plenty of action in the ACT on poker machines

Whilst the ALGA conference was going on, there was an opportunity to observe the local ACT legislative assembly in action, plus visit some of Canberra’s 48 pokies venues, which give it the highest pokies density of any capital city in the world.

The Catholic Church through the Southern Cross Club, the Australian Labor Party, the CFMEU and the Canberra Raiders are the four biggest pokies operators in Canberra and each has made tens of millions of dollars in profit from their various venues.

Canberra remains particularly lucrative for the clubs because the ACT is the only Australian jurisdiction which has legalised multiple poker machine venues, but maintained the ban on pubs.

The Canberra Clubs also benefit from having a casino which still doesn’t have poker machines and the lowest taxes of any Australian jurisdiction, although NSW Clubs also get a sweetheart deal.

With a long-serving Labor Government which has the CFMEU as its most powerful factional influence, you can only begin to imagine the governance issues and potential conflicts of interest that arise when it comes to pokies taxes, pokies policies and development approvals around the 6 pokies venues controlled by the Labor Party and the CFMEU.

An Alliance staff member visited two of the 4 Labor Club venues in Canberra during ALGA, signing up as a member. However, just as occurred to an SBS journalist in Sydney recently, The Labor Club board met and last week rejected the membership application, sending an $11 refund cheque in the mail. This does not reflect well on the culture, accountability and inclusiveness of the biggest gambling enterprise owned by a registered political party anywhere in the world.

The Canberra Times has been doing some digging into a range of ACT governance and pokies issues in recent weeks and the following stories are all worth reading:

ACT looks at pokies clubs charitable fund after rorting of community contributions schemes

ACT pokies trading scheme deemed a fizzer as casino project stalls

Sweetheart land deal on CFMEU pokies land in Dickson

Super cheap land valuation for pokies club land next to Manuka Oval

The other major issue running in Canberra relates to the craven settlement which the local pokies regulator did with The Canberra Raiders, over the complaint lodged by academic Laurie Brown after her self-exclusion requests were largely ignored.

The original fine of $120,000 was dropped in the face of a Raiders appeal, and the result is now just a $60,000 contribution to an un-named charity.

This stinging editorial in The Canberra Times says it all, and it is also worth reading this ABC online wrap, plus the outraged response of Laurie Brown herself who suffered enormous harm at the hands of the Raiders.

It is also worth considering who sits on the board of the Canberra Raiders, as there are plenty of Canberra luminaries you would not usually associate with something like predatory poker machines, or aggressive legal challenges against regulators.

5. Will Essendon do the right thing at the Melton Country Club?

The Age revealed on the back page today that Essendon Football Club is pushing for a new lease to keep operating its Melton Country Club, which is owned by the Shire of Melton.

The issue of pokies venues on council-owned land is far too prevalent across Australia, but at least it gives councillors more influence to intervene when it comes to lease renewal. Yes, Clubs NSW, pokies is a matter for local government, particularly at the hundreds of venues located on council-owned land.

The Melton Country Club has 89 pokies and generates annual losses of about $5.5 million.

There is some interest in pokies reform at Melton. Cr Steve Abboushi posed for a photo with a sign at ALGA calling for Labor to sell their 1000-plus poker machines in Canberra and Sydney. Melton deputy mayor Ken Mayor was also happy to hold up a sign saying he values community over pokies.

Melton is one of the councils which publishes a lease register, so you can see details of the Essendon pokies lease here. Melton Country Club pays more rent than any other Shire of Melton tenant, and the history of the arrangement was outlined on page 490 of this agenda at the March council meeting. All councils should publish a lease register and examine just how much their pokies venues are paying in both rates and rent. City of Yarra is blazing the trail in this regard, last week voting unanimously to commission a report coming back to the August council meeting disclosing the valuations and rates payable by the 8 pokies venues in its municipality.

The current Melton Country Club lease expires in February  2022 but the upcoming July 23 council meeting is likely to propose a new long-term lease, where council’s annual return could rise to $280,000 a year. The time frame of the current lease broadly coincides with licence renewal for poker machines across Victoria, which opens up reform opportunities.

Melbourne Football Club recently chose to use the 2022 licence expiry to exit the pokies industry, as it will hand back the licences at its Bentleigh Club facility, converting it into a pokies free operation.

The same arrangement makes sense at the Melton Country Club. Essendon, including club legend Kevin Sheedy, has been briefing councillors talking up the case for a lease extension with no pokies reform whatsoever.

Melton has close to the strongest financials of any council in Victoria. The latest budget has rates and charges revenue of $114 million and total revenue of $263 million, because the fast growing community on Melbourne’s western fringe gets so much from developers.

A 2018-19 surplus of $93 million is predicted and they have cash of $141 million and only $16 million in debt. In other words, this is a council which does not need to make $280,000 a year from a pokies venue which is ripping $5.5 million a year from their community.

Essendon’s financials have been tested by the drugs scandal, but have bounced back strongly with a cash surplus of $8 million generated in 2017.

The Alliance believes Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner should be open to showing leadership and a social conscience. Essendon has plenty of wealthy directors including Andrew Muir from the Good Guys and former chair Paul Little is also worth close to $1 billion. If there was a financial issue, surely they could donate to help get Essendon cleanly out of the predatory pokies business.

The Melton Country Club has an RSL sub-branch at the venue. The Melton branch of the Labor Party also meets there.

One option would be for council to sell the facility but whatever happens, The Alliance will be strongly advocating in the weeks ahead for both Essendon and Shire of Melton to take a strong stand and stop relying on predatory poker machines to get by.

Melton is one of the fastest growing councils in Australia. It needs more community facilities, so why not just rip out the pokies, say farewell to Essendon and have council take charge as the manager of a genuine community facility that doesn’t rely on pokies.

Alliance spokesman Tim Costello is a keen Essendon supporter and will be interviewed on 774 ABC Melbourne this afternoon at 5.30pm. Listen live here if you get a chance.

6. Getting the AFL out of pokies

While Essendon is moving the wrong way on the pokies front, it has been encouraging to see how many of our supporters are passionate about getting the AFL clean of pokies! Every fortnight, we’ve been targeting a different team and seen thousands of signatures and hundreds of letters written to the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda, Carlton, Collingwood and Port Adelaide already. You can click here to see all the actions and send a message to your team!

We’ll be gunning for Essendon in the coming weeks to make sure they know that the community does not support AFL teams relying on pokies to fund their footy - keep an eye out!

It’s been great to see our Champions for Change getting involved too! Recently, they attended a Melbourne Storm game in Adelaide to raise awareness of Crown being a major sponsor. Last week, they even went along to a Port Adelaide game to hand out flyers and talk with supporters about the team’s reliance on pokies, sportsbetting and a Casino sponsorship! Great work team!

7. Champions for Change Check-In

Gambling News is going to feature regular contributions from our Champions for Change, who bring a lived experience perspective to our reform advocacy efforts. Up first, we’ve got Ian Brett:

G’day to all the AGR and Champs for Change members, supporters and volunteers.

I’m happy to be the first Champion for Change in Victoria to get the opportunity to share with you a couple of projects I’ve been working on since joining the Alliance for Gambling Reform.  

I recently had the opportunity to speak with my local State Labor MP for Ivanhoe, Anthony Carbines, after a long process of phone calls and emails. But my persistence paid off! Susan Rennie joined me for the meeting and  we spoke about how losses disguised as wins were blatantly misleading and we believed it could easily be changed as had been done in other States. We also brought up the issue of opening hours for pokies venues and how no good was going on in pubs and clubs after 3am.

Then we moved on to talking about cash machines in these venues, where the government has already started addressing the problem of how much money could be withdrawn in a 24 hour period, limiting it to $500. However, we argued $200 would be more in line with harm minimisation!

Anthony was very willing to listen and agreed to speak with the Gaming Minister and he left us very optimistic that he would take action and get back to me in a couple of weeks.

I also went along with Stephen Mayne to address the City of Maroondah budget submissions process and we were heartened by the welcome reception with the eastern suburbs council agreeing to become a leadership council as it tackles almost $70 million a year in pokies losses in its community.

Yours sincerely, Ian Brett”

8. Great Dandenong says no - time for the RSL to slow down the pokies push

Whilst Victoria does not host the same predatory pokies palaces like the Dee Why RSL in Sydney, we have noticed that the RSL has enjoyed a charmed run out of the VCGLR in Victoria over the past 15 years. When they ask for more machines, the answer is normally “Yes”.

Three Victorian councils – Moreland, Greater Dandenong and Darebin – are currently actively resisting RSL expansion plans in various jurisdictions.

The most recent happened when City of Greater Dandenong councillors emphatically rejected an application for 11 news machines by the Dandenong RSL.

The Greater Dandenong officer report starting on page 488 of this agenda is well worth a read for councils across Australia who are looking at how to put together an argument opposing an application.

9. Katherine Copsey joins The Alliance amidst strong support from Victorian councils.

We are delighted to announce that Katherine Copsey has joined The Alliance as co-ordinator of our Victorian councils campaign, succeeding Kelvin Thompson who was poached by City of Brimbank, a strong supporter of The Alliance, to be their advocacy manager.

Kat is a serving councillor at City of Port Phillip in Melbourne.

The Alliance has been delighted with the level of on-going support from Victorian councils during the recently completed budget season and welcomes Maribyrnong, Hobsons Bay, Glen Eira, Mornington Peninsula, Maroondah and Yarra into the fold as leadership councils, joining the likes of Banyule, Brimbank, Darebin, Greater Dandenong, Hume, Kingston, Knox, Melbourne, Monash, Moreland, Whittlesea and Wyndham.

We would love to see Shire of Melton exit the pokies business as Essendon’s landlord and also join The Alliance, but that is a work in progress.

Victorian local government is at the forefront of Australia’s gambling reform movement and are clearly hungry to see reforms secured through the coming Victorian election.

To that end, there will be a Councils Unite for Pokies Reform rally on the steps of State Parliament on Tuesday, July 24, which will mark precisely 4 months until the November 24 election. Go here for the details and RSVP link.

Speakers will include Moreland mayor John Kavanagh, Darebin mayor Kim le Cerf, Whittlesea mayor Kris Pavlidis, Yarra acting mayor Misha Coleman and a couple of others. This rally will occur the morning after Shire of Melton will probably be dealing with the Essendon lease renewal, so we’re hoping to have some good news to share.

10. City of Whittlesea is also blazing the trail for pokies reform

City of Whittlesea is one of the most harmed Victorian communities by poker machines and they are looking to do something about it.

Tomorrow they will be launching their ground-breaking Pokies Play Whittlesea campaign. Tim Costello will be along to officiate from 10am and details of the launch are here. There are still about 30 seats left in the Westfield theatre, so get in quickly while you can through this RSVP link.

11. Links to interesting media articles

Finally, we’ve been busily updating our page linking to interesting media on gambling issues from around the world.

Here are 20 stories we recommend for reading:

Peter FitzSimons on the disgraceful NSW pokies machine
Sydney Morning Herald, 9 July, 2018

Essendon extend pokies presence in Melton
The Age, 9 July 2018

Innovative UK banks allow customers to ban all payments to gambling companies
Thisismoney, 9 July, 2018

Sportsbet seeks urgent Federal Court injunction against Crownbet
Lawyerly, 9 July, 2018

How many jobs does the pokies industry create?
RMIT ABC Fact Check, 9 July, 2018

Murdoch carve out on NSW gambling laws riles campaigners
Australian Financial Review, 8 July, 2018

NSW Labor proposes self exclusion rights for family members
Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July, 2018

UK councils keep the pressure on for faster cut in the maximum bet
Daily Mail, 7 July, 2018

Finland casino blazes the trail with loss-limit
Las Vegas Review Journal, 7 July, 2018

Why a Dee Why RSL staffer quit in disgust
Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 2018

Losses on the rise in Frankston as council calls for ban on more pokies
Frankston Standard Leader, 7 July, 2018

Editorial: Crown Melbourne needs same rules, not state jewels
The Age, 6 July, 2018

US sports media leaping into the gambling game
The Washington Post, 5 July, 2018

Crown giving gamblers access to super dangerous pokies
ABC online, 2 July, 2018

Tim Costello and Corey White look at gambling
ABC TV's "Roadmap to Paradise", 27 June, 2018

UK families impacted by gambling suicides speak out
Daily Mail, 25 June, 2018

Concerns over deluge of World Cup gambling ads in Britain
BBC, 22 June, 2018

Woolworths CEO pressured over 12,000 pokies during live TV interview
ABC News Breakfast, 20 June, 2018

Editorial endorsing Libraries After Dark program in Victoria
The Age, 20 June, 2018

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

Thanks for your support.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne