Friday, 2 March 2018

February frenzy for Dr Livingstone in the media

The issue of pokie machines and problem gambling turned out to be a hot issue in the Tasmanian state elections, which are being held over the first weekend in March. Head of our Gambling Health Unit, Dr Charles Livingstone, was kept busy by media with requests for comment on the issue in February, as well as related stories nationally. Over 22 million Australians saw or heard his name in relation to the matter during the month.

Early in the month, it was in relation to reform to political donation declarations following revelations about significant secret donations to all sides of politics from the pokie industry. In Tasmania, where Labor's proposal to remove pokie machines from pubs is a key electoral issue, the Liberal party only declared 21% of funding from gaming sources. 

Soon afterwards, it was providing comment on the case of Shonica Guy, a problem gambler who lost her case against Crown Melbourne. Ms Guy's lawyers argued that the group engaged in "deceptive, misleading and unconscionable conduct by misleading people who played Dolphin Treasure poker machines about their chances of winning." Dr Livingstone noted that whilst the court ruled against Ms Guy, he anticipates more and more such cases being brought against gaming outlets, similar to what big tobacco saw in the 1980s.

From there it was back to Tasmania, with a media ruckus focussing on revelations about the huge wealth of the NSW-based Farrell family, that owns a monopoly license over pokie machines in Tasmania. New research shows Tasmanian clubs keep just 0.9 per cent of their pokie revenue, while the family keeps 49 per cent. The report issued by Dr Livingstone found that gambling harm costs the Tasmanian community $341 million per year.

Findings Dr Livingstone tabled last year in May made a comeback, with the announcement a review of a controversial community contributions scheme used by Canberra-based gaming companies. The scheme allows Canberra's clubs to claim payments to elite athletes and massage therapists as "community contributions".

In the middle of the month, it was commenting on revelations about Woolie's being Australia's largest owner of pokie machines.  A confidential report entitled NSW Clubs Industry Insights and Trends was leaked to Fairfax, showing Woolworths has profited by $1.2billion through it's ALH group. The story bubbled away into early March after further revelations about staff in Woolie's owned pubs 'spying' on gamblers and using information to entice them into spending more time and money in the venues.

With a new report released yesterday and the coming post-election analysis, we're anticipating an equally busy March for Charles.