After a lengthy legal build-up, Aristocrat Leisure and Packer’s Crown Resorts have been cleared of allegations that Dolphin Treasure incorporated deceptive practises and was designed to feed poker machine addiction.
The case, filed by self-confessed ‘former addict’ Shonica Guy, 41, centred around her reportedly ‘losing 14 years of her life’ playing EGMs.
The suit claimed design features of Dolphin Treasure, particularly the uneven spread of symbols across reels and the contentious ‘losses disguised as wins’ where a machine celebrates a win even when less than the amount bet, made the machine in breach of consumer protection laws.
Guy’s lawyers also argued that the theoretical rate of return to player (RTP), set by regulators, was misleading to gamblers, who were seemingly simple and believe the player would retain the 87.8 per cent and risk losing just 12.2 per cent*.
Last Friday (2 February) saw the much-anticipated decision from the Federal Court on what was an Australian first case, with the potential to set a snowballing precedent on the gaming industry, and potentially even EGM operators beyond Crown Casino.
Justice Debbie Mortimer threw out the case, finding the poker machine’s design features did not amount to misleading or unconscionable conduct.
Although agreeing that RTP statements on the machines could be confusing, Mortimer did not buy into gamblers continuing to feel mislead.
“Any such impression formed would be dispelled as soon as she or he actually starts gambling and the randomness of the operation of the machine and returns become apparent.
“The impression is fleeting and may cause confusion, but it is not misleading or deceptive as the law defines those concepts.”
The verdict ends a case that had the potential to bring into law an interpretation that products such as games could have effects on people beyond their will, potentially making the creators at least in some way responsible for adverse behaviour.
Industry representative the Gaming Technologies Association (GTA) says the case brought the microscope on gaming manufacturers, which its members embraced, but the decision rules a line through much of the unsubstantiated rhetoric.
“This case has failed on all counts,” stated GTA chief executive Ross Ferrar. “The judgement clears the air after a vexatious campaign waged against the industry based on speculation and claims that have failed to withstand legal scrutiny.”
Australia’s licensed poker machines are already subject to multiple regulations in each state, and to a degree unable to control many aspects of the play.
“We strive to scrupulously uphold our obligations with respect to EGM [electronic gaming machine] compliance,” said Aristocrat in a statement on the ASX on Friday.
While the jury is still out on why some people choose to engage in behaviour beyond the point of negative consequences – the clinical definition of addiction – it is still several leaps of logic to say a gambling product is guilty of forcing a person to play it.
But Monash University professor Charles Livingstone believes this case was the thin edge of the wedge, and the first of “what will be many decisions”. The professor of public health is an outspoken critic of poker machines in particular, and likens the case against Crown and Aristocrat to “the beginning of the issues around tobacco control”.
Livingstone did not respond to request for comment on the positive implications for consumer accountability in time for publication.
*RTP is calculated on the lifetime of the machine, and includes the payout of jackpots and major wins. It has limited bearing on an individual playing during a given session.