Tag Archives: Francis Markham

When it comes to election campaigns, is the gambling lobby all bark and no bite?

Francis Markham, Australian National University and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The gambling lobby’s influence in overriding popular opinion and the public interest in Australia is well-known. But is its electoral power exaggerated? A look at this year’s ACT election suggests that perhaps the gambling industry is less influential than it appears to be.

Generating fear

One crucial weapon in Big Gambling’s lobbying arsenal is its threat to campaign against MPs at elections.

Former politicians describe the fear generated by threats of being targeted at elections: that the gambling industry will bring such financial resources to bear in an election campaign that proponents of gambling reform will be defeated at the ballot box.

The 2011 campaign against federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s poker-machine reform agenda provides evidence of this electoral fear. Aided and abetted by a conflicted media, the gambling lobby boasted of a A$40 million war-chest that would “eviscerate the government’s ranks of ministers and parliamentary secretaries at the next election if no compromise was reached” on Wilkie’s reforms.

A marginal seats campaign was promised, in which vulnerable government MPs would be targeted with vast electoral resources to blast those who did not acquiesce to Big Gambling’s wishes out of office.

History shows this campaign was successful in spooking the Gillard government. It reneged on its promised reforms well before the 2013 election. This gave the gambling industry an easy victory without an election being fought on the issue.

We don’t know if the gambling industry’s promised electoral strategy would have been successful because it has never been tested. Its great success has been in the fear it generates among politicians well before any election is called.

However, there are good reasons to think the industry’s popular support is lacking. For one, poker machines are wildly unpopular in the electorate. In 2014, 86% of ACT residents stated a belief that pokies do more harm than good, and a majority would like to see the number of machines reduced.

Similarly, a national study conducted during the gambling reform debate in 2011 found 74% in favour of mandatory pre-commitment.

What happened in the ACT?

With such little popular support for Big Gambling among voters, the wisdom of fighting an election campaign over pokies is questionable.

The 2016 ACT election finally put this question to the test. The issue was the Labor government’s decision to allow the Canberra Casino to purchase 200 pokie licenses from ACT clubs, allowing the machines in the casino for the first time.

Lobby group ClubsACT promised to campaign hard on the casino issue, arguing it was a threat to the clubs sector’s viability in Canberra. But ACT Labor did not back down prior to the election, and decided to face a concerted electoral campaign by the gambling industry.

ClubsACT, which is reliant on pokies for the majority of its income, launched a campaign against Labor and the Greens. It reportedly spent $185,000 funding the creation of a new political party, Canberra Community Voters (CCV), headed by lobbyist Richard Farmer. Most of this money was reportedly spent on TV advertising.

A ‘Your Canberra Clubs’ ad.

CCV’s signature issue was the future of clubs in the ACT. While it always seemed unlikely that it would gain seats in the Legislative Assembly, the political strategy appears to be one of diverting primary votes away from Labor and the Greens, and directing preferences to the Liberals.

A second front of attack was launched directly through the clubs themselves. During the months leading up to the election, banners and beer coasters appeared in Canberra’s community clubs bearing the slogan:

Imagine Canberra without community clubs.

And, on election day, text messages were sent to club members, imploring them to “save your community club” by voting Liberal.

A text message sent to a voter on the morning of the ACT election. Francis Markham

In all, ClubsACT reportedly spent $240,000 on its electoral efforts.

But this much-feared campaign amounted to very little. CCV received just 1,703 first-preference votes, or 0.7% of validly cast votes, at a cost of $109 per vote. Clubs in the ACT collectively have more employees than CCV received votes.

If the clubs’ claim of 200,000 members across the ACT is taken at face value, then less than 1% of members voted according to their wishes. Ultimately, the sitting Labor government was returned for a fifth term. The Liberals, the supposed beneficiary of the clubs’ campaign, received a swing against them of 2.2%.

While it is impossible to know exactly what role the gambling industry’s campaign played in this election, the clubs’ monopoly over pokies clearly wasn’t a decisive issue. Few voters were swayed to change their vote by the clubs’ arguments or CCV’s advertising blitz. In the final analysis, the clubs’ willingness to spend almost a quarter-of-a-million dollars on campaigning came to little.

This should embolden governments around Australia that have a mind to deal with the social fallout caused by poker machines. Poker machine reform remains very popular in Australia. What we now know is that the gambling industry’s much-vaunted electoral power is more bark than bite.

The ConversationFrancis Markham, PhD Candidate, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Gambling on pokies is like tobacco – no amount of it is safe

The Conversation

Francis Markham, Australian National University; Bruce Doran, Australian National University, and Martin Young

Is occasional gambling safe? Our study found that gambling is like smoking: the more you gamble, the greater your risk of developing problems. There is no safe level of gambling, only risks that increase as you lose more money – even at relatively low levels of losses.

We examined large, nationally representative surveys in Australia, Canada, Finland and Norway, and found that no amount of gambling was safe.

In the graph below, we show the average relationship between money lost and problem gambling index scores in the four surveys. Gambling losses are shown on the x-axes, with problem gambling risk on the y-axes.

Crucially, there is no safe region on these curves where problems do not increase as you lose more money. This is different to alcohol, where moderate consumption may reduce your risk of mortality.

The relationships between gambling losses and problem gambling risk in four countries.
http://doi.org/10.1111/add.13178

We have known for some time that some forms of gambling are more risky than others. Therefore, we also examined the relationships between losses and risk for different gambling activities.

Electronic gaming machines – known as pokies in Australia, video lottery terminals in Canada and slot machines in the US – were the most strongly associated with problem gambling in every country in our study.

In Australia, there was also a clear relationship between money lost betting on races and problem gambling. Lotteries were also associated with problem gambling in Canada and Finland and sports betting was associated with problem gambling in Norway. There was no evidence of low-risk thresholds for any gambling activity.

Contradicting conventional wisdom

These findings are important because they contradict the conventional wisdom that there is a threshold below which gambling is safe. According to this view, gambling is much like alcohol, in that only after a particular consumption level has been reached does risk mount. It is only after heavy consumption (or losses) that problems supposedly occur.

As a case in point, the axiom that “safe levels of gambling participation are possible” is one of the six fundamental assumptions of the influential Reno Model, which describes itself as “a science-based framework for responsible gambling”.

This claim that safe levels of gambling are possible turns out to rest on two erroneous arguments. The first is an empirical case that supposedly documents low-risk thresholds for gambling.

The most prominent study of this kind found evidence for a “J-shaped” relationship between problem gambling risk and gambling expenditure. A J-shaped curve describes the situation where risk starts off very low and increases significantly only at higher levels of gambling losses (see panel A in the the graph below).

Unfortunately, this conclusion was based on an incorrectly scaled graph. In panel A, the range of money represented by each data point widens from $50 to $500, but the dots are still placed with equal distances apart. When the x-axis is correctly rescaled, a linear rather than J-shaped relationship emerges (see panel B).

The evidence base for ‘safe levels of gambling’ appears to rely on a flawed interpretation of data.
http://doi.org10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01392.x

The second argument sometimes made to support the idea of safe gambling is based on the anecdotal observation that some people do gamble large amounts without becoming problem gamblers. By extension, the argument goes, problem gamblers need to become like these responsible gamblers who can gamble without adverse impacts.

However, the existence of such individuals does not imply that gambling at that intensity is safe at the population level. For example, while some regular smokers may live to 100, this does not mean that smoking is safe or that we should promote “responsible smoking”. Such an argument fundamentally misunderstands the concept of risk.

What now?

Our findings have two important implications for regulation.

First, public information about gambling should not imply that moderate gambling is risk-free. Guidelines and other forms of public awareness campaigning should make it clear that, for poker machine gambling in particular, every increase in consumption increases the level of risk.

As a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association put it:

Traditional messaging oriented around “reduce, restrict, limit, ban” may make sense for determinants that have a linear relationship with health outcomes, as with tobacco and mortality.

Our research suggests that this kind of public health messaging should also apply to poker machine gambling.

The second implication relates to the “responsible gambling” model of regulation. This model rests on the notion that gambling in moderation is safe. In contrast, our research suggests that gambling at any level can be associated with harm. And the more money lost, the greater the risk of harm.

There is no threshold below which consumption does not increase the risk of harm. Harm-minimisation policies should seek to reduce the poker machine gambling of everyone, not just problem gamblers.

The ConversationFrancis Markham, PhD Candidate, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Bruce Doran, Senior Lecturer (Geographic Information Systems), Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, and Martin Young, Associate Professor, Centre for Gambling Education and Research

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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