As Clubs in Canberra come under increasing scrutiny and pollies call for ‘victim’ compensation, pubs are calling for a thin slice of the revenue, denied a level playing field.
The ACT currently has 4,985 poker machines, but the Territory’s government has determined to cut this number to 4,000, and to give 200 of them to the casino. Pubs are allowed only the out-of-date ‘Class B’ machines, which began to be phased out in 2015.
In the wake of a Canberra Professor publicising her “gambling addition” and unwilling loss of more than $200,000 in Raiders, the tightly held sector now sees the attentions of crusader politicians Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon, who continue to push their line on gambling, particularly poker machines, as though the adults playing them have no mind of their own.
Prof Laurie Brown, of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), has a history of excessive gambling. She underwent measures to control her behaviour and curb her losses on poker machines, which she typically played between 10:30pm and 4am several times per week, without the knowledge of her husband, who lived on their farm outside of the ACT.
After a three-year abstinence, Brown chose to return to Clubs in 2015 and soon developed habits again, losing over $230,000 from their retirement savings before her husband again learned what was happening.
“Poker machines are designed to be misleading, deceptive and addictive to people like me,” Brown said in an interview with the Canberra Times. “I went in originally for entertainment, for recreation, I didn’t expect to end up with an addiction.
“I ask myself, how much responsibility do I take for an addiction to a product that was misleading and deceptive.”
Independents Wilkie and Xenophon have backed Brown’s argument, calling on Canberra’s Raiders club to repay the money lost.
Cheerfully ignoring mention of underlying issues that cause a person to continue to lose despite understanding the negative consequences – the commonality of all addictions – Wilkie warns that the all-powerful machines must be stopped.
“What happened to Laurie can happen to anyone,” Wilkie forecast to the Canberra Times. “The industry will try and portray it as people having a ‘character flaw or a weakness’ but in reality the real flaw here is in the design of the machines, which are designed to addict, and it highlights the need for urgent reforms.”
While Raiders has brushed off any idea of returning losses to Brown, she spoke of behaviour by the Club that was questionable at best, including being allowed to withdraw large sums through the ATM and EFTPOS systems.
The Professor admits to withdrawing at least $3,300 on five occasions at the Club, and amounts up to $3,990 via transactions through the Club and an ATM machine outside.
Brown’s gambling began again mid-2015, and in January of this year the bank finally alerted her partner, John Formby, to the frequent and large withdrawals.
But Australian Hotels Association ACT president Michael Capezio remains unconcerned by the furore, calling for 200 modern poker machines for Canberra’s pubs, with a limit of 10 per venue, ending the “rort” he says Clubs enjoy, having originally been given their licences for free.
Already enjoying a lower gambling tax rate than pubs and no income tax, beginning July Clubs in the ACT will also be eligible for a rebate up to 50 per cent.
“Realistically there is no difference between a club and a pub; what we offer and what they offer is very similar,” he said. “We are as much part of the community.”
The Clubs ACT association is working with government to put a cap on the number of EGMs in Clubs – coincidentally coming in at a modest 280 machines, a number that will not penalise any of its existing members, but will slash numbers at defecting former members Tradies in Dixon (347 machines) and the Labor Club (282 machines).
Figures by The Greens show the ACT has the highest number of EGMs per capita, at 16.2 per 1,000 adults. (NSW: 15.8, NT: 11.9, Victoria: 6.1, WA: 1.1).