Winter Newsletter - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Winter Newsletter

Click on an article to jump to it:

  1. A burst of publicity in NSW
  2. The $5 billion pledge in NSW
  3. Victorian pokies review
  4. Sports betting update
  5. Local battles update
  6. Harmed sports stars turned into gambling promoters
  7. Around the grounds of media

1. A burst of publicity in NSW

There's lots going on all over, but the last two weeks things have been huge for The Alliance in NSW. Here’s how it unfolded;

  • Alliance director and NSW spokesperson Allison Keogh wrote this top shelf submission to the review of the Local Impact Assessment when venues propose expanding their pokies;
  • 1,057 supporters signed this petition supporting our call for pokies reform and 117 wrote submissions, courtesy of Hillary Montague’s great organising.
  • Our new Communications Adviser Stephen Mayne wrote a media release on our submission and pitched it to Sean Nicholls at The Sydney Morning Herald.
  • This was enough, coupled with Fairfield City Council’s strong submission, to get a story up on the front page of The SMH with quotes from Allison, including that NSW must wind back the ‘state sponsored abuse’ through pokies.

After that splash on page 1 we had a big media day that included:

  • This ABC Sydney interview with our CEO Tony Mohr and presenter Robbie Buck.
  • This most excellent longform piece in which brings together lived experience with policy and politics, positioning people like Allison Keogh as they are – strong advocates for reform.
  • This powerful Ten News piece, again, running the story of pokies harm on our terms – again great work by Allison.
  • We even got a run with Tony Mohr on Triple M with the Chaser boys and then Allison was interviewed during the afternoon peak hour on 2GB, which is as good as it gets on commercial radio!
  • Tony Mohr also travelled into the NSW Parliament and joined Senator Nick Xenophon at a press conference – the results of which can be seen in this piece on SBS.
  • The following day saw The SMH produce this strong follow-up piece about Fairfield not receiving any pokies tax funding and they backed that up with this powerful editorial on Thursday calling out the political blackmail of Clubs NSW.
  • But it didn’t stop there. Stephen Mayne was interviewed for this great piece in probono Australia, which speaks pretty directly to the philanthropy sector and many corporates.
  • And then there was this great Allison Keogh interview on Channel Seven’s ‘The Daily Edition, reaching a demographic that’s pretty hard to get to, and again, positioning Allison not as a victim, but as a strong and authentic advocate for reform. This one ran nationally at 2.10pm on Monday last week.

While all that was running, Hillary got this phone action out to our supporters, with a dozen people calling Premier Berijiklian to say she’s got to do better.  And all the while Stephen has been feeding up the news coverage to sitting councillors and State MPs by email and twitter.

The opinion editor of The Sydney Morning Herald then called and Stephen worked closely with Ralph Bristow from the Gambling Impact Society on this great opinion piece which ran last Monday. ABC Sydney morning presenter Wendy Harmer then interviewed Ralph that same morning.

The quality of this coverage was as big a shift as the quantity – the framing was almost all on our terms, the one response from Clubs NSW came across as mean spirited and dismissive, and the decision to play a dead bat by the government made them look evasive at best.

NSW Greens MP Justin Field used the burst of publicity as an opportunity to release some new data on pokies losses which he had bought from the government, and this has led to local stories on regional losses.

We’re proud with this progress in NSW – which has been the most powerful burst of publicity we’ve ever achieved in Australia’s biggest state. Not since the Gillard-Wilkie agreements of 2011 have we seen this big a public debate about pokies harm and the need for reform.


2. The $5 billion pledge in NSW

During Allison’s interview on Channel Seven, she referenced a forthcoming campaign called “The $5 billion pledge” where NSW politicians at all levels are asked to commit to a $5 billion cap on annual poker machine losses.

The annual NSW losses are currently running at $5.7 billion, but are forecast to rise to almost $7 billion in 2020-21. What’s wrong with some modest reforms to cap losses at $5 billion? How much does this industry need to soak from the community each year?

This idea has already had a run in the local paper of NSW Gambling Minister Paul Toole, as you see here.

Mr Toole’s seat is based around Bathurst and the local newspaper story followed all the Bathurst Councillors being contacted with a request to sign the $5 billion pledge.

More than 200 incumbent councillors facing local government elections in NSW on September 9 have been sent similar emails and here are some of the councillors who have signed up to support the pledge so far:

  • Nancy Knudson: mayor of Dungog Shire
  • Cr Juanita Wilson: Tamworth Regional Council (see this excellent piece in her local paper)
  • Cr Greg Petty: Wollongong City Council
  • Cr Jill Merrin: Wollongong City Council


3. Victorian pokies review

Just as The Alliance board and staff were gathering for a half day strategy session in Melbourne on July 7, the Victorian Government announced its plans for the poker machine industry over the next 25 years.

We were disappointed with the proposed doubling of licence periods from 10 years to 20 years as it will lock in pokies for another 25 years until 2042.

Last week was the 25 year anniversary of pokies being introduced in Victoria and over that time they’ve soaked more than $50 billion from our community.

Now we’re facing another 25 years with the potential for more than $70 billion worth of additional harm.

Our initial reaction was strong as you can see in this press release.

We’ll be releasing a comprehensive paper next month setting out our policy position for Victoria and then engaging extensively to try and secure the best possible public health outcome.

Capping machine numbers at 30,000 across the state is a minor positive but other jurisdictions such as NSW and the ACT are actively managing their numbers down.

As the Herald Sun reported on page 1 of its July 8 print edition, we’re also concerned that doubling the cap on Victorian club chains from 420 to 840 raises the prospect of NRL-style super clubs, potentially driven by some of the big AFL clubs.

AFL clubs are currently soaking $120 million a year from their pokies and you can see a full list of who gets what here.

Kelvin Thomson did a couple of great ABC radio interviews on our concerns about the Victorian pokies proposal. Listen here.

4. Sports betting debate

In late June, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a New Jersey appeal against the US Federal ban on sports betting.

This has triggered a wave of media and discussion, as can be seen in this recent ESPN piece.

Australian professional sport is more gambling dominated than any other country, so the US debate actually gives us an opportunity to tell the world how not to do it, whilst encouraging our Federal politicians to get on with reform.

This recent Bloomberg story is a good example of international coverage which should embarrass Australian politicians over our gambling saturation.

Things have gone a bit quiet in Canberra over the legislation to restrict gambling advertising until 8.30pm, so we’d like to see it progressed when Parliament resumes next month.

The proposal was packaged up with the media reform but then the government pressed ahead with $127 million worth of licence fee cuts for radio and free to air television stations, plus a $30 million handout to Fox Sports, which was supposed to fund more coverage of women’s sport. This payment looks more like compensation for lost gambling revenue but there has been talk that Fox Sports continues to resist the proposed siren-to-siren ban, rather than the less effective proposal to ban gambling ads before 8.30pm.

The advertising ban doesn’t actually require legislation so we say get on with it now, especially seeing as the broadcasters are already enjoying the compensation that was proposed.

5. Local battles update – Noble Park, Zagames and Woolies

Alliance director Tom Cumming is battling a Zagames proposal to add 10 more machines to its enormous Berwick venue and received majority support from the City of Casey councillors last week. See the coverage in the local paper on how Tom rallied the local community.

There was more good news from the VCGLR last Friday when two commissioners rejected a proposal from the Noble Park Football Club to add 20 more pokies to its existing 50 machines.

As the commissioners noted, City of Greater Dandenong suffers the highest level of disadvantage of any Victorian community and the highest reported levels of family violence. 

Well done to the City of Greater Dandenong for rejecting the Noble Park Football Club application and winning comprehensively before the VCGLR. As mayor Jim Mementi said: “Enough is enough!”

It is worth reading the 33 page Noble Park decision in full – if only NSW gave its councils the ability to reject such applications and present before an independent regulator which is not mandated to facilitate endless pokies expansion.

Council resistance to pokies expansion is strengthening across Victoria. After 6 days of evidence so far, City of Whittlesea and other parties, including Alliance director Cr Susan Rennie, will be back before VCAT on August 16 for at least 3 more days of hearings over whether Woolworths and billionaire Bruce Mathieson should be allowed to introduce pokies into the heritage Commercial Hotel in South Morang.

This is shaping up as the longest VCAT battle over pokies in Victorian history, partly because a wide cross-section of community groups have lined up to oppose the application. See how The Whittlesea Leader covered proceedings after the first 6 days.

City of Moreland has also announced that it will go to the Supreme Court to fight a proposal for 10 additional machines at the Glenroy RSL. The Alliance is supportive of all these actions and encourages more councils to step up to the plate and resist applications to expand pokies numbers.

6. Sports stars hurt by gambling paid to promote industry

It was disappointing to see former Melbourne footballer David Schwarz provide a statement to VCAT promoting the Woolworths move to install 40 poker machines into the Commercial Hotel.

Schwarz started off on the Woolworths payroll giving speeches warning about the dangers of gambling but is now being used in tribunal hearings as an advocate for industry expansion.

A similar theme has emerged with former NRL star Nathan Hindmarsh, whose 2012 autobiography admitted to more than $200,000 in losses courtesy of a pokies addiction. Read this extract from The Courier Mail.

Fast forward 5 years and Hindmarsh is on the payroll of Clubs NSW, parroting the familiar lines about personal responsibility and only small numbers of gamblers getting hurt.

Truth be known, Australian-style pokies are designed to addict and the industry should stop paying high profile individuals who’ve been harmed to go around blaming themselves and apologising for the industry.

The British Football Association recently terminated its sponsorship arrangement with Ladbrokes after banned player Joey Barton issued this powerful statement about gambling saturation in British sport. Joey Barton hasn’t yet been hired by the gambling industry.

Western Bulldogs 2016 Premiership captain Easton Wood slammed excessive gambling advertising earlier this year and more players should follow his lead in opposition rather than the alternative path of becoming a paid spruiker for a toxic industry.

7. Around the grounds of media

Finally, here are 4 interesting links to stories or reports that are worth reading:

You can’t ask that - this remarkable documentary about gambling addiction was broadcast on ABC2 on July 14 and is definitely worth watching again on Iview.

Which party is most responsible for Australia’s world record gambling losses?
Crikey, June 16, 2017

Tamworth councillor Juanita Wilson calls on colleagues to take on the pokies
Northern Daily Leader, July 12, 2017

Alliance opposes Google move to grow online gambling
Ausdroid, July 12, 2017

Thanks for tuning in – there’s plenty going on so our next update will be out in the first half of August.

Kind regards, The Alliance team