Newsletter141017 - Alliance for Gambling Reform

October Newsletter

1.      Whilst men run the pokies industry, it’s often women who get hurt
2.      Women Against Pokies rally on October 31 at State Parliament
3.      City of Melbourne comes out with strong new gaming policy
4.      Pokies on trial – easy access to all the court material
5.      Attending the Crown AGM to get some transparency on pokies losses
6.      Tasmania and Victoria – compare and contrast
7.      Alliance director Susan Rennie runs for the Woolworths board
8.      Champions for Change Project set to launch  

1.      Whilst the men run the industry, it’s often women who get hurt

The poker machine industry is very much a male dominated affair. Clubs NSW has only had one female director (Labor endorsed City of Bayside councillor Christina Curry) in its 93 year history. Look at the current board of the Gaming Technology Association and you only see eight men.

Indeed, there are no female gambling billionaires in Australia – but James Packer, Bruce Mathieson and Len Ainsworth have together accumulated more than $10 billion in wealth, helped by an unfair predatory industry which exacerbates inequality in Australia.

Numerous pokies club boards across Australia are also all male affairs, such as the Noble Park Social Club in Greater Dandenong which recently had its application for more pokies rejected in a landmark decision which pointed to the connection between gambling harm and family violence.

Later this month, Treasurers from across Australia will get together to squabble over access to additional tax revenues generated by new online gaming consumption taxes. As if they don’t get enough already deluging harm on the community which loses $23 billion a year on gambling in order to prop up state budgets.

Once again, it will be a sea of money men participating in the Council on Federal Financial Relations meeting, namely:

  • Scott Morrison: Federal Treasurer
  • Tim Pallas: Victorian Treasurer
  • Mike Nahan: WA Treasurer
  • Peter Gutwein: Tasmanian Treasurer and former publican
  • Tom Koutsantonis: SA Treasurer
  • Curtis Pitt: Queensland Treasurer
  • Andrew Barr: ACT Chief Minister and Treasurer

However, at least the Northern Territory, which has a shoddy history of licensing dubious offshore gambling players, will be represented by Nicole Manison.

Sadly, it is all too often women who are suffering serious harm from the pokies, and too often, their voices aren’t heard.

Look no further than the recent Federal Court pokies trial which Shonica Guy brought against Crown and Aristocrat. Five of the six lay witnesses were female who wanted to tell their stories of harm and addiction, but the four male barristers representing Crown and Aristocrat used legal tactics to ensure they weren’t heard in open court. You can read their powerful written affidavits by clicking on links provided below.

2.      Women Against Pokies rally on October 31 at State Parliament

It’s time that women were properly heard on this issue. On October 31 at 10am you will be able to hear from one of the gagged pokies trial witnesses, Anna Bardsley, who will be speaking at The Alliance’s “Women Against Pokies” rally on the steps of State Parliament, along with the likes of MAV President Mary Lalios, Independent MP Suzanna Sheed and representatives from all the major parties. If you’d like to attend the rally, click here!

Whilst Victorian Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz may have wanted to go further on pokies reform than what is proposed in the current legislation  before State Parliament, it was the powerful men – primarily Premier Daniel Andrews, Treasurer Tim Pallas and Attorney General Martin Pakula - who determined otherwise. Insiders have told The Alliance they were heavily and effectively lobbied by the pokies industry.

We hope these powerful men will drop in to the rally or at least provide a slither of their time to hear from some of the women whose lives have been seriously impacted by poker machine addiction. We’ll be campaigning to get them there within the next week so keep an eye on your inbox!

The proposed Victorian legislation is very disappointing, locking in another $70 billion of pokies harm by 2042, with only minimal reform. And why the rush?

Victoria has a once in a generation opportunity to do something about the pokies and The Alliance has spelt out a range of amendments which the Parliament should adopt.

3.      City of Melbourne comes out with strong new gaming policy

The City of Melbourne is one of the 12 Alliance Leadership Group councils in Victoria, with Banyule the latest to step up into our top tier of membership. And speaking of leadership, the capital city council this week released a comprehensive new gaming policy and proposed planning scheme amendment which will be open for submissions and debate at next Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Read the full 157 page document here. Right at the very top in the “key issues” section, the report summarised the situation thus:

Gaming venues are legal in Victoria and can provide social and recreational opportunities. However,

substantial evidence suggests that gaming venues can have detrimental impacts on the individuals who gamble, their families, and the broader community, resulting in financial stress, relationship breakdown, family violence, health and wellbeing impacts, reduced work and study performance, and criminal activity. Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) are particularly associated with gambling related harms. According to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, whilst three per cent of the adult population are ‘problem gamblers’, over 90 per cent of problem gamblers report participation with EGMs.

Wonder if we’ll ever see a NSW council speaking plainly about the issue like that. If you’d like to make a submission about the report, all the information you need is available here.

Submitters can also request an opportunity to speak to their submission. It is third item on the agenda for the 5.30pm meeting, so debate will probably resume shortly after 6pm. The Alliance’s Stephen Mayne, a former City of Melbourne, will be attending and would love to have your company to watch the debate.

4.      Pokies on trial – easy access to all the court material

After a 12 day trial, Justice Debra Mortimer has retired to consider her verdict in the great poker machine trial of 2017 where Shonica Guy took on Crown and Aristocrat alleging the Dolphin Treasure poker machine was misleading and deceptive, in breach of Australian consumer law. A decision could be days or even many weeks away.

There is plenty of background on the case in this pre-trial Alliance press release  and through Maurice Blackburn’s website.

The Federal Court website now features a treasure trove of material from the trial and we encourage all of you to sift through some of these documents:

And if you need a refresher, here is a sample of some of the extensive media coverage about the trial:

Alliance interview with Geraldine Doogue - Radio National, October 7

Australia gambling: landmark slot machine case begins - BBC World

Poker machines on trial - The Saturday Paper

Can a court case succeed where politicians failed? - The Conversation

Pokies trial told machines designed unfairly and mislead - The Guardian

Shonica Guy leads David and Goliath struggle again gaming giants - Ten Eyewitness News

Misleading and deceptive pokies designed to cheat Shonica Guy - Seven News

Inside Australia’s pokies plague as landmark court case begins -


5. Attending the Crown AGM to get some transparency on pokies losses

Crown Melbourne is one of the biggest casinos in the world with annual player losses of $1.52 billion in 2016-17

Indeed, as the City of Melbourne gambling policy report points out, Crown Melbourne generates more than twice as much gambling revenue as the biggest casino in Las Vegas.

So why don’t we get told how much is lost each years on Crown’s 2600 poker machines? All those people – and that includes both us and the state government – who quote Victorian pokies losses as $2.61 billion a year are under-cooking it by at least $200 million and potentially as much as $600 million.

Crown Melbourne is Australia’s biggest pokies den and they have $10 maximum bets – unlike $5 in Victorian pubs and clubs – plus Australia’s most sophisticated loyalty scheme.

Alliance representatives will be attending the upcoming Crown Resorts AGM at Crown Melbourne on October 26 and asking a few pointed questions, such as challenging the needless secrecy over its enormous pokies revenue. Check out the notice of meeting and what the Crown board says about why James Packer, former AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou and adman Harold Mitchell should all be re-elected to the board.

Meanwhile, under Victoria’s Casino Control Act, the state regulator conducts an overall review of the licence and operations of Crown every 5 years and the current process is under way.

The Alliance made a submission calling for new regulations which would force James Packer to cut his controlling stake in the company over time.

This is based on a range of mis-steps and controversies in recent years, including Crown’s legal breaches in China, the sudden exit from Macau, proposed expansion through construction of the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and even the controlling shareholder’s fisticuffs on the streets of Sydney.

6.      Tasmania and Victoria – compare and contrast

There has been an avalanche of publicity in Tasmania of late as the pokies industry attempts to heavy the Labor Party to come out in favour of long term new commitments for pokies in pubs and clubs. Victoria and Tasmania are the only states which don’t have perpetual licences, which explains why the pokies debate is running hot in both states at the moment. Under the Tasmanian regime, they could be out of pubs and clubs by 2023, unless the Parliament decides to do another dodgy deal with the Sydney-based Farrell family, which joined the BRW Rich List courtesy of their Tasmanian pokies monopoly and the derisory levels of tax it pays to Tasmanians.

As James Boyce out-lined in his fabulous book – Losing streak: how Tasmania was gamed by the gambling industry – Australia’s only island state has a unique opportunity to wind back the pokies to just casinos in Hobart and Launceston.

Alliance director and spokesman Tim Costello visited Tasmania last week as a guest of Hobart City Mission and you can see some of the resulting coverage.

With the likes of independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie and MONA founder David Walsh pushing hard for decisive action ahead of next year’s Tasmanian election, the door is opening for meaningful reform.

The local industry is sounding increasingly shrill as they threaten to campaign for pokies entrenchment, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Australian community is over the gambling deluge and wants it seriously wound back.

Labor Leader Rebecca White is sensibly not committing to an election position yet and the pokies have already been central in the current Pembroke by-election campaign.

Former Tasmanian Labor Premier Paul Lennon is busily working as a paid lobbyist for Federal Group, but the optics of this are so ordinary that observers believe it is helping the campaign for removal.

Meanwhile, how impressive that a cross-party Parliament Committee was able to come up with this comprehensive 124 page report into Tasmanian gambling regulation.

We’re calling for the Victorian Parliament to do likewise. There’s no need for this unseemly rush to legislate in Spring Street when the current 10 year licences only expire a few weeks before the 2022 state election.

The pokies are already featuring in the current debate ahead of the November 18 Northcote by-election in Victoria and we’re hoping to have a commitment for a Tasmanian-style parliamentary inquiry into gambling regulation before the end of the year.

7.      Alliance director Susan Rennie runs for the Woolworths board

Australia’s biggest pokies operator, Woolworths, is holding its AGM in Melbourne on November 23 and mark that day in the calendar because Alliance director Susan Rennie has nominated for the board.

The official notice of meeting is expected to be released to the ASX any day now, but Susan explained the rationale behind her tilt in this Crikey piece on Tuesday.

The Alliance launched this petition recently calling for the Woolworths board to get out of the dreadful pokies business, which is now producing a record 11.7% of total group profit, as was outlined in this recent Alliance press release.

The biggest pokies pusher in Australia will also soon find out if it has over-reached in Melbourne after spending an estimated $500,000 on the longest every VCAT pokies case as it battled all and sundry trying to get approval to put pokies into the heritage Commercial Hotel in South Morang.

Susan Rennie was a party to those proceedings and is also a City of Darebin councillor who has long worked in the gambling space, and is now working at the VLGA.

If you know any Woolworths shareholders, encourage them to vote for Susan!

8.      Champions for Change Project set to launch

We are all excited to see the new Champions for Change project taking shape with the commencement of Diana O’Neil as coordinator. The project will give people with personal experience of gambling harm support to take a bigger role in demanding meaningful gambling reform.

It is kicking off in Adelaide on October 19th with an Information Session and there is plenty of interest building and opportunity to influence, especially as the SA State election is in March next year and is set to be a cliff hanger with Nick Xenophon returning to state politics.

Plans are also underway for the roll out of the project in Victoria, commencing with an Information Night later in the year, followed by a major push in NSW where we all know much work needs to be done. More to come…

That’s all for now.

Do ya best, The Alliance team.