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The Opium of the People and the Addiction of Government

By Terence Mills

Several years ago a friend who gambles regularly mentioned to me that pokies were manipulated by the larger clubs and casinos to boost the House take and diminish the odds for a punter to win. He particularly mentioned how the win-options were compromised for weekends and when there were large conventions staying at the casino hotel at times when there were many more novices playing the machines. He had heard this from in-house sources

This information was merely of passing interest to me as I’m not a gambler, not for any question of morality but mainly because when it comes to casinos, horses and even the stock market, I just don’t consider that I have enough confidence or knowledge to bet successfully.

Now we have some courageous whistle blowers in the form of former Crown employees who have provided some very revealing information to Andrew Wilkie independent federal member for Denison in Tasmania.

According to ABC Online the allegations aired by Wilkie and specific to Crown include:

  • Staff being told to remove betting options from pokies
  • Crown regularly resetting machines’ memory to reduce returns to players
  • Staff being instructed to use different player ID cards when processing transactions over $10,000, to avoid reporting to AUSTRAC, the national anti-money laundering agency
  • Punters were constantly fed alcohol while at their machines and evidently those reluctant to leave their machines, who soiled themselves while betting, had Crown providing a change of clothes so they could continue gambling
  • Crown also ordered staff to “shave down” buttons on gaming machines to allow illegal continuous play on the machines, the former workers said.

State regulations ban the practice of allowing a machine to spin without the need to press a button for each spin. The whistle blowers allege they were instructed to use tools to shave down buttons on new machines to create space for punters to wedge something next to the buttons, so they could be held in place to keep the machines playing continuously. Regular punters would be aware of this practice even to the extent that Crown allegedly gave gamblers plastic wedges similar to guitar picks, featuring Crown’s logo, which were jammed next to the buttons to hold them down.

Money laundering has for a long time been an accusation levelled at casinos and the recent arrest of Crown employees in China, which was largely about inducing big gamblers or whales to patronise Crown establishments in Australia, also suggested that currency controls in China were being breached by providing a conduit for money laundering. With regulations in China limiting Chinese nationals to a foreign exchange offshore quota of $US50,000 a year there is probably a big temptation for those wishing to get money out of China, for offshore investment, to buy casino chips in China for redemption in countries like Australia. The Chinese authorities are very tough on this but not so much in Australia.

It’s almost as if coalition governments try to facilitate money laundering. In Queensland, the short-lived Newman government changed the rules to allow winnings of up to $5,000 to be paid in cash. Previously, jackpots could only be paid out by cheque or electronic funds transfer to a bank account. The former Baird Government in NSW, like the Newman government justified this and other changes in the name of reducing red tape.

None of this is new but what is new is that whistle blowers have now come forward and the need for an enquiry is becoming critical despite some obvious resistance from both state and federal authorities who are subject to the massive lobbying influence exerted by the gambling industry and are conscious of the the level of political donations coming from the gambling lobby to both major parties.

Then there is the influence exerted by people like Woolworths’ whose annual pokies revenue in Victoria grew to $669 million in the 2015-16 financial year representing over a quarter of its national gambling revenue.

That Andrew Wilkie has taken up this cause is a credit to him and a strong argument in favour of more Independents in our parliaments. Realistically, nobody expects the gambling and pokie industry to be outlawed but punters and the community should be able to rely on a level of government regulation that will even up the playing field and eliminate money laundering. It can’t be that hard, surely?

13 comments

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  1. Joseph Carli

    Terence..A well set out assessment of the problems that beset the industry of gambling..There is but one thing wrong with your expose’…and you self-admit that..: “I am not a gambler”..

    I am a gambler..I play the pokies. would AND DID bet on a horse..but NOT the stockmarket (THAT is a mugs game)..But I admit I am and have always been just a “penny punter”..a player in that American slang ; “of nickels and dimes”..zacs and dinahs in the Aussie lingo!…I try to cheat the God Adrenalin by scooping a minor pool with the win by an cheapskate outsider…the 100 to 1 shot..the “boil-over”..and I have on occasion done it!..and then…ohh the thrill..the pump of that high!..and I have scooted home with the swag like a feverish Fagan with his little box of treasure..I love gambling..but I have never had enough of the loose where-with-all to lose much of anything at all….to me , the human instinct to gamble is an honest if sometimes disgusting descent to that level of human desire to risk the heart for the chance of elation..much akin to love itself!

    Charles Bukowski..from : “One last shot on two good horses”

    “…and I put the $50 on Determine and then I wanted a cup of coffee

    but I only had a dime left and coffee was 15 cents.

    I went into the crapper and I wanted to flush myself away,

    they had me, all I had left was that piece of paper in my wallet,

    and I would have been willing to sell that back for $40

    but I was ashamed. well, I went out and watch the race

    and Determine won.

    I collected and set aside a ten and put the remainder all on

    My Boy Bobby. My Boy Bobby made it. I collected and stood over in

    a corner, separating the 50’s and 20’s and tens and fives,

    and then I drove on in, I gave her the thumb up as I drove up the drive,

    and when I got inside I threw all the money up in the air.

    She was a beautiful whore and her eyes almost came out when she saw

    that, and the dog ran in and snatched a ten and ran into the kitchen,

    and I was pouring drinks and she said, “hey, the hound got a tenner!”

    and I said, “hell, let him have it!” we drank ’em down…”

    I say it is the same hunger for conquest of hearts and empires that wants to win one over chance..over luck..a hopeless pursuit, I agree, as will most of humanity that has come and gone from this fat Earth!..We are all chancers, it’s just that most of us play for different risks, though against the same odds while hoping for the same prize!…Show me a “winner” and I will show you someone who has risked all on the chance of the one throw…THAT is why there are not many winners.

  2. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    This is misleading and deceptive conduct and other possible breaches of trade practices and consumer law

  3. amethyst3009

    I;m not at all surprised.

    Many years ago, i was an extra in an ad made in Queensland for Victorian Clubs (which were apparently linking up) I was the person next to the winner. We had many takes so that the winner his partner and the rest of us could all be amazed and thrilled by the win.

    In between takes the mechanic came and adjusted the ‘winner machine’ so that it produced a win each time. Obviously the machines can be adjusted any way they like!

  4. Joseph Carli

    I am surprised that anyone would believe that they can “honestly” win with gambling..of course it is crooked..ALL of it!..and that is not just me being cynical..it is the fact of the construct of gambling against any “bank” run by an organisation..I used to think that trotting was one of the best forms of horse gambling to bet on..NOT because you could pick a winner on “form”, but because the race is run with the jig and a human controlling the reins, it is SO crooked you can calculate with a tad more chance who is the most crooked and who will fix the race!
    Of course the pokies are crooked, of course the roulette wheel odds go against the punter…Gambling is really not about expecting to win, but about gaining a “win” over luck..and when the punter has a big “win”, proved by the cash-in-hand, it also proves a moment of “win” over the vicissitudes of fortune..perhaps of that boring life they live themselves..
    There is a brilliant short story by William Saroyan ; “Little Miss Universe”…

  5. Wam

    SlimyX conned the wowsers on pokies and SA is the equal to the pokie disasters in Alice and Darwin plus all the towns in between. He is a fraud and powerless to expose the blatant switching of money from machine to machine in the casino.
    This allows the kiwis to circumvent the slim possibility that a SA gambler may in moving cash from one machine to the next may decide to take the cash and leave.
    Your namesake, on winning power, fell to his knees thanking the lobby and within weeks note guzzlers, huge increases in the number of machines and access to upgraded venues.
    (Awful as it was, the minute labor loses in adelaide, the same will happen there.)
    ps I am an addict and play at the casino every day in darwin and drive to Adelaide and along the murray 2/3 times a year, but I am not a gambler. If you can understand that distinction, you will be able to see the casino’s are targetting me not gamblers in the hope of creating gamblers. They, their jackpots strategy and their machine modifications will win. Unless someone listens to wilkie??? Bet the slimey X will activate his pokies beginnings and begin his mouth movements?

  6. Joseph Carli

    I remember this bloke in one of the many doss-houses I have lived in over those young years, who would button-hole me whenever I came out of my room and show me these stats’ he kept in four small note-books, all hand printed and secured with rubber-bands both across and up and down all foru books together..He himself never bet on the horses, but he swore he could have made his fortune if he followed his “system”..although he refused to show me how his “system” worked…They really are a wonderful phenomenon, those system punters..

  7. Glenn Barry

    I had a family member addicted to gambling – it’s an insidious trap.
    I’ve since seen some fascinating documentaries, one detailing the neuro-psychologlical manipulation being perpetrated.

    Curiously the gambler on pokies receives greater stimulation from almost winning, accordingly the wheels are arranged in this way.

    The documentary had in depth analysis also of wheel design and graphics which reinforce the hypnotic nature of play and the potential for the almost wins.
    They alsocompared the payout ratio in Australia, which they stated was an incredibly cruel and low percentage in comparison to other countries.

  8. Zathras

    Poker machines are one of the worst blights inflicted on society.

    When they became more accessible in Victoria, many bored housewives found themselves shop-lifting to feed their families because they had gambled away their housekeeping money.

    How did the government address this social problem they created?

    They increased the fines for shoplifting.

    Ignoring the cause and treating the symptoms has long become standard operating procedure for governments.

    Many years ago there were rumours about Kerrie Packer laundering crime-associated money through his companies that climaxed in the “goanna” allegations but suddenly and inexplicably the task force was shut down, along with governmental apologies to Packer.

    The gambling industry is the perfect vehicle for such laundering and enjoys even more political protection.

    The government may make a few reassuring noises for a while but it will eventually return to business as usual, as long as the cash keeps rolling into the Treasury and their Party coffers.

  9. Kyran

    There are several aspects of this that warrant further enquiry but, by their very existence, ensure it will never occur.
    With regard to the Victorian history, it was the Kennett government that introduced Crown with monopolistic licence in terms of gambling generally. It is his company that has now taken over the servicing of the machines. It is only a matter of time that these allegations are reduced to ‘a union smear campaign’. If I were a gambler, I’d bet on that.

    “In replacing the positions, Crown Casino contracted with Amtek Corporation, a gaming machine manufacturer and servicer that plans to provide the same labour at a 30 percent reduction in pay. Per an internal company memo obtained by Fairfax Media, Crown Casino executives framed the switch to Amtek-provided maintenance as a cost-cutting measure, stating that a “decision has been made for an external supplier to deliver services, parts and labour to gaming machines at Crown Melbourne.”
    The choice to utilize Amtek has drawn the ire of McManus and the ACTU, which alleges impropriety based on an existing relationship between former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett and the company. Kennett was responsible for approving Crown Casino’s construction in the early 1990s during his term as Premier, and now serves as Director of Amtek, while holding a majority stake in the company’s shares.”

    http://www.australiangambling.com.au/gambling-news/actu-holds-rally-to-protest-crown-casino-layoffs/80595/

    In the off chance you would expect a political party to make the most of this, Bracks had the chance back in 2000.

    “NICK JOHNTSON: Restoring openness and accountability in government was one of the Labor Party’s major campaign themes in last year’s Victorian election. Pledging to put an end to Jeff Kennett’s secret State, Steve Bracks promised to throw open for public scrutiny government contracts worth billions of dollars if Labor won office.
    A year on Mr Bracks has finally made good his promise, releasing details of 56 contracts worth more than $45 billion signed by the Kennett Government. And just to prove how open and accountable it is, Labor has even set up a website to allow the public to trawl through the details of the deals.”

    But what he didn’t do was upset the powers that be.

    “NICK JOHNSTON: The contracts cover hospitals, public transport, electricity, major projects and private prisons. But what’s more interesting is what hasn’t been released, namely the contracts for Melbourne’s Crown Casino and the Formula One Grand Prix – deals Labor doggedly pursued in Opposition.

    The Premier says these contracts remain commercial in confidence and to release details of them, particularly the Grand Prix deal, may jeopardise them. That’s left the government open to attack from the Opposition, which accuses Labor of hypocrisy.

    Indeed today’s announcement raises the whole issue of how far governments can – or are prepared – to go to release information in the public interest.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/pm/stories/s198325.htm

    Will there ever be full disclosure on these grubby little deals and the influence of vested interests? Bearing in mind both of the major parties have ruled out any prospect of federal enquiry, if I were a gambler, I wouldn’t bet on that.
    As to suggestions of money laundering and reliance on AUSTRAC, well, what can you say? They sure scared the heck out of the Commbank boffins. Well, the banker’s union, the Australian Bankers Association, will pre-empt any reasonable enquiry. Whilst the following link relates to real estate in the main, some of the imbedded links relate to gambling.

    https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2017/06/global-regulator-blacklists-australia-money-laundering/

    The bottom line is that Australia is showing no appetite to even pretend to investigate money laundering, in any of its manifestations. Will that change? If I were a gambler, I wouldn’t bet on that.
    As to the influence of Woolworths, well, what can you say? Their union, the Australian Hotels Association, seems to launch media and club campaigns just before legislation is introduced anywhere. If you search “aha lobbies for pokies” you’ll get the drift. This is not to suggest that these corporate unions have any undue influence on conservative politicians. If I were a gambler, I’d never bet on the prospect of a union royal commission into the AHA.
    At what point does the smell of corruption become too much? If I were a gambler, I’d bet on the prospect of governments handing out face masks before they’d remove the source of the odour.
    Thank you Mr Mills and commenters. Take care

  10. Max Gross

    Where I live Woolworths – the only supermarket in town – is directly across from a “club” with the most pokies machines in town. Some days the “club” awards gamblers with token Woolworths “gift cards”. And now Woolworths is moving across the road. A newer, bigger Woolworths is being constructed right beside the “club”! Welcome to Merimbula NSW!

  11. Zathras

    Woolworths – the largest owner of Poker Machines in Australia and who has more machines than the top 5 casinos is Las Vegas – deliberately site their poker machines in socially disadvantaged areas.

    In NSW about 72% of their poker machine revenue comes from such areas. In Victoria it’s about 65% and SA account for 60%.

  12. diannaart

    My father was a compulsive gambler (horses), he balanced it with an alcohol addiction… ’nuff said.

  13. Ballarat

    Me too diannaart Enough said.

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