Lies, damn lies and poker machines

With miners and tobacco companies running well-funded campaigns against perectly reasonable government policies, it’s hardly surprising that the licensed clubs industry is looking at similar measures to combat imposition of compulsory pre-commitment settings on poker machines for all players.  They’re already cranking up threats to influence the gullible:

Clubs in NSW must spend 1.5 per cent of poker machine revenue over $1 million on community programs, and they have warned that their sponsorship of local sports teams and charities will be slashed if mandatory poker machine restrictions are introduced. …

The marketing manager of Bankstown Sports Club, Chris Passanah,  … said the club’s charity funding would be slashed if the poker machine legislation was passed and revenue dropped. ”It will kill us – the mandatory nature and getting people to sign up to a form. We will have to pull back from the community.”

In fact there’s scant basis for this scare campaign, as South Australian field trials of the technology last year demonstrated:

The PlaySmart trial – one of the largest trials of pre-commitment conducted in Australia – shows that pre-commitment can be effective in reducing the amount problem gamblers spend on poker machines.

PlaySmart is a card-based pre-commitment system with onscreen warnings to remind players when they have reached their spending limit or time limit and when to take a break from playing.

The study, involving 268 people, found that net turnover on poker machines by problem gamblers using the pre-commitment system decreased by 56 per cent.

Pre-commitment technology did not appear to significantly impact on the spending behaviours of recreational gamblers, where turnover decreased by only five per cent.

British research by the UK Gambling Commission shows that the prevalence of problem gambling in the community is around 0.9% of the population, which hardly suggests a precipitous drop in clubs’  income if compulsory pre-commitment is introduced.  Moreover, the moral dimension of the clubs’ attitude is fairly breathtaking when you think about it.  It’s closely akin to heroin traffickers objecting that they’re not being allowed to make money out of their addicted customer base, and should be treated with similar contempt.

In a more general sense, these campaigns by blatantly self-interested industry groups have made me to rethink my attitude towards government advertising campaigns pushing intended policy measures (as well as ones that have been actually implemented).  Labor’s objections to the Howard government’s massive spending on marketing WorkChoices seemed plausible at the time (despite the hypocrisy involved in simulataneously gleefully taking advantage of opposing union movement advertising funded by union members whether they liked it or not).  However the success of the mining industry campaign against Rudd’s “super profits'” tax, and the current campaigns by Big Tobacco, Big Mining and Big Clubs, rather suggest that we’re condemned to permanent policy paralysis unless we reluctantly concede the right of elected governments to spend public funds promoting their policies.  It’s just too easy for wealthy sectional interests (business, unions or whatever) to frighten a complacent public into fearful oppositionism on any given policy issue.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“British research by the UK Gambling Commission shows that the prevalence of problem gambling in the community is around 0.9% of the population, which hardly suggests a precipitous drop in clubs’ income if compulsory pre-commitment is introduced”

That’s incorrect for Australia. At least for pokies, depending on how you want to define problem gamblers, around 40-60% of revenue comes from them. So the gamblers are addicted to gambling, and the clubs are addicted to problem gamblers. Perhaps we should be encouraging people to gambol instead :).

Apart from that I think I agree with almost everything you’ve said, although I think the campaign by this industry is going to get nowhere, unlike the miners.

Club Manager
Club Manager
10 years ago

Some points about the SA trial;

– it was a voluntary, venue based trial. Wilkie’s law is a mandatory national system.
– some players were recruited with $50 incentives.
– small sample of players less than 1%, 135 players for 12 months, 133 for 4 months (with incentive). Not all were ‘problem’ gamblers.
– the technology used in this trial is not compatible with other systems and so would not adapt to Wilkie’s nationally linked pre commitment scheme (PC report 3.23).
– estimated start up costs of $108K for 2000 players over 35 machines.

Quote from the trial report ‘readers should not rely on data or evaluation findings to make commercial decisions about PlaySmart or the cost-benefits of
precommitment.’

chris
chris
10 years ago

The big difference between the South Australian trial and the proposal from the the government is that in SA it was a voluntary scheme but with the government’s proposal everyone has to sign up even if you only play the pokies occasionally. Sure it might help problem gamblers but why should everyone have to sign up?

Richard Tsukamasa Green
Richard Tsukamasa Green(@richard-green)
10 years ago

I think it would be instructive (and I made attempts to do this) to look at club’s annual reports and the remuneration given to executives, particularly any disparity between (say) NSW and Victoria before and after pokies entry into the latter state. I remember once reading the report of one club I joined (because I wanted to watch FoxSports and it was the nearest place) and noting that the chief manager was earning something well north of $400K, and other board members were also very well remunerated.
The clubs have elected boards of course, but I’m not sure what the turnout on their elections is. I suspect that it’s low, and the pokie palaces that have long lost the seed community which they were built on (i.e the ex-servicemen or sporting clubs are long forgotten or dead) would have even a lower turnout. Members there would have a relationship more akin to customers than members. Like the mutual societies they’re ripe for anyone that can get inside the system and exploit the apathy – with even less scrutiny than the board members of corporations.
If this is so, the protestation of the managers is also protecting their own ability to siphon off the proceeds of human misery.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Speaking of human misery, I was just thinking that one group that hasn’t been mentioned much are the State governments — gambling is a very important source of revenue for some of them (especially Victoria and NSW). Given this, if these rules do cut into revenue, these governments are going to have to make everyone else more miserable to make up for it somehow, so perhaps some line like that might generate a bit more community “sympathy” for these venues. That being said, it would be interesting to know what the revenue vs. cost(crime, social costs etc.) equation really is.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Speaking as a hopefully sensible somewhat libertarian, pre-commitment is not a regulation of gamblers but of the price charging mechanisms of clubs. It is akin to mandatory cooling off periods for telemarketing sales and so on. As such, I’m always disappointed to read complaints about people spending money in pursuit of their self-interest. Even the filthy rich have rights you know.

Besides, I think the miners’ campaign succeeded for a perfectly good reason, the policy was hugely debatable and founded on a massive misrepresentation about who owns those minerals. Other than the miners, just how much success do those campaigns achieve? You will of course have noticed the public outrage against plain packaging for smokes, or the way Clive Palmer is now controlling the Qld Govt. The unions and the pensioners lobby are the ones who more usually have success.

The problem with government spending to promote a proposed policy is that, more than anything, it is election funding. The advertising of an existing policy has at least the fig leaf of publicising an existing policy, but is nevertheless much over done on both sides.

hc
hc
10 years ago

I agree with the general point. We live in a society where interest groups can ply the media with lies to defeat elected governments. The nonsense propounded by climate denialists, the supporters of the carcinogen producers, attacks on a neutral and efficient carbon tax and the voice of naked self-interest in relation to the pokies. Of course proposals for pre-commitment are sensible – they enhance the ability of people to make rational choices.

I think it is inevitable that governments must combat this misinformation. A major criticism of Labor is that it doesn’t. The lack of an effective campaign to reject the lies of the climate denialists is the worst instance.

John B
John B
10 years ago

@ hc: Hear! Hear!

Dave
Dave
10 years ago

Clubs in NSW must spend 1.5 per cent of poker machine revenue over $1 million on community programs, and they have warned that their sponsorship of local sports teams and charities will be slashed if mandatory poker machine restrictions are introduced

There is a simple solution to this. Increase the community obligation to 3% (say) of pokie revenue.

LiveWire
LiveWire
10 years ago

Possibly a bit late in the piece, but Richard Tsukamasa Green is really onto something/s; with the Clubs being ‘non-profit’ there are a couple of questions I have:
1. What is driving their behaviour?
I ‘get’ that a privately owned, listed tobacco company would want to maximise its profits – even if that means doing bad things to people’s health. Similarly for mining companies, I understand why they don’t want to pay extra tax on their profits before they distribute them to shareholders. But with ‘non-profit’ clubs, I don’t get why they only want to make more money at the cost of problem gamblers- no one is actually benefitting – there are no ‘shareholders’. Except as Richard points out, the salaried executives getting payed more – and supposedly, sport and community groups getting more (?).

2. Given the ‘democratic’ nature of ownership of clubs (I ‘own’ part of the club I occasionally go to watch some footy and have a cheap schnitzel) – and if the current reforms are defeated – when does someone start a ‘citizens revolt’ and start to take over clubs – and actually run them in line with their charters – ie to benefit communities?

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

hc @ 8 – and of course we can expect an Abbott-led Coalition to turn this situation around?