18 Sep

Opponents Furious over Merge of Pre-commitment with Pokies Loyalty Rewards

Officials in Victoria have worked long and hard, spending millions of dollars to implement a voluntary pre-commitment program for players of the poker machines, specifically designed as a form of “harm minimisation”. Now, merging that pre-commitment system with a new pokies loyalty card from ALH has anti-gaming advocates up in arms.

Pre-commitment to be Integrated with Pokies Loyalty Rewards CardVictoria has already begun testing out the new pre-commitment system. As of December 2015, it will be a mandatory provision that all poker machines in the state be equipped with the technology. Whether players choose to use it or not is entirely up to them.

The Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH) group, which is 96% owned by local retail giant Woolworths Limited, announced on ABC 7.30 last night that it would be introducing loyalty rewards cards for pokies players. These will be the same cards that punters can use to invoke the voluntary pre-commitment system.

Two years ago, talk of integrating a loyalty program with the pre-commitment system was considered absurd. Philip Pakula of the Australian Labor Party was quoted in 2013 saying it would be “completely inappropriate if pre-commitment technology is used for loyalty programs, and the minister should immediately rule this out.”

Now, it seems the Labor Party has turned about-face, approving the amalgamation of pokies loyalty rewards and harm minimisation technology. Players who earn loyalty points on the branded Montys Rewards Card while spinning the reels will be able to exchange those points for Woolworths gift cards.

While some might argue that enticing people to sign up for a loyalty program might encourage more players to take the next step by using the integrated pre-commitment system, opponents of the plan don’t see it that way at all.

Dr. Charles Livingstone of Monash University has spoken out on several occasions regarding the inadequacies of “voluntary” harm minimisation, and was appalled to find that the service is being further inundated with a program that encourages players to continue gambling, calling it a “cynical move by one of Australia’s biggest companies, a so-called family-friendly company.

“The machines are highly addictive, and they’re designed to be highly addictive,” said Dr. Livingstone. “And this is primarily a loyalty system that rewards people for using it, and entices them back to the club or pub.”

Not surprisingly, his reaction to Gaming Minister Jane Garrett’s endorsement of the new pokies rewards card on ABC 7.30 was one of incredulous disbelief.

Garrett said that, “of themselves, loyalty programs are not bad” resolving that they serve “different roles for different people.”

On the whole, she said, “People like loyalty programs. They like them at their coffee shops, they like them on their plane trips, they like them at their local restaurants.”

Anti-pokies lobbyist Paul Bendat believes that the loyalty program will actually deter players from using the pre-commitment system. The way it’s being set up, once a player reaches their preset gambling limit, should they continue to put money into the poker machine, exceeding their pre-commitment level, they will no longer accrue points towards the loyalty system for those wagers.

As such, Bendat said, “the scheme actually builds in a disincentive to join the so-called voluntary pre-commitment side of it.”

According to a spokeswoman for Gaming Minister Garrett, however, two years’ worth of “significant research” has shown that players are not comfortable using separate cards for loyalty and pre-commitment.

“The research showed players would baulk at using two cards for fear of outing themselves as a problem gambler,” said the spokeswoman. “Once pre-commitment limits are reached, the user can no longer accrue loyalty points,” something advocates of the card believe will help deter players from continuing to wager rather than exceeding the preset limit.