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Monday, June 24, 2024

Australia’s biggest gambling operators be warned – media pack is baying as one

Australia’s biggest gambling operators be warned – media pack is baying as one

Often enough, a single news organisation will crack an important story or begin a worthy crusade and the rest of the media ignore it – and the story or crusade dies a lonely death, having achieved somewhere between nothing and not much.

Partly it’s the ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome, partly it’s a journalistic distaste for doing follow ups on someone else’s scoop, partly it’s a churlish determination not to acknowledge the perceived opposition, sometimes it’s because management is ideologically or commercially opposed to the thrust of the yarn.

Whatever the several reasons, it is a rotten aspect of journalism, one that treats organisational ego as more important than the job of disseminating important information, one that treats the organisation’s readers/listeners/viewers with contempt.

Single newspapers/broadcasters/sites sometimes beat the odds and achieve great things solo, but mainly – unless the pack gets on board – the single organisation can be ignored.

Which is why ClubsNSW and its interstate equivalents should be worried.

Gaming-machine addiction

The media pack is starting to bay as one over the suppurating wound that is Australia’s electronic gaming-machine addiction.

The industry’s apparent ownership of political parties, the money laundering and crime. The destitution, despair and family violence that follows problem gamblers. The rank hypocrisy of organisations claiming to care about “community” when the relative pittance tossed in the community’s direction is merely the camouflage of a self-perpetuating parasite – it’s jumped the shark.

Anyone who wanted to know, already knew all of the above. Good people have tried and failed to tackle the beast.

Nobody in power has cared enough about the exploitation, the crime, the deaths to risk their own jobs by doing what they knew they should do. Any politician who did try soon didn’t have much power.

It has taken a steady escalation of disclosure of the gambling industry’s malfeasance to finally get the media pack collectively on the case, instead of taking occasional individual pot-shots.

It wasn’t enough to know ‘the pokies’ are addictive, rigged and everywhere, preying on the vulnerable.

The 2015 documentary Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation definitively told that story but achieved nothing. It was “old news” – the pack didn’t care and the industry was stronger than any sense of moral outrage.

We needed a fresh layer of criminal behaviour to spark greater interest. Merely ruining lives didn’t matter.

Crown duels

Cue Crown Resorts.

Strong initial reporting and brave whistleblowers shamed sleepy regulators into opening their eyes to the criminal aspects of money laundering and criminal connections.

“Sensationalist and unproven”, claimed Crown executive chairman John Alexander. Hah!

With the Victorian government a Crown ‘captive’, it took a NSW inquiry to expose the obvious.

And if it happens at one casino … hello Star. Surprise, surprise.

And if it happens at the official casinos, the ‘mini-casinos’ in pubs and clubs everywhere bar Western Australia …

Especially when there’s nothing ‘mini’ about some of them.

The NSW mega clubs sucking money out of the state’s poorer communities have more than 700 machines. They are casinos offering casino-style games, just without croupiers.

ClubsNSW makes Star’s three casinos look like small beer.

Interest mounts

Troy Stolz tried to blow the whistle, his story of money laundering being rife in NSW clubs and pubs breaking at the beginning of 2020 on the ABC and Sydney Morning Herald.

For a moment, it seemed like something really would be done by the relevant NSW minister Victor Dominello.

It didn’t take long for Mr Dominello to no longer be the relevant minister – the industry didn’t like it.

In November last year, Nine Newspapers were back on Troy Stolz’s story, a natural progression.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph has joined in ahead of a National Crime Commission report due to be delivered this month, claiming a government report says investigators suspected organised crime laundered $5.5 million through Sydney venues in a seven-week period.

ClubsNSW’s decision to sue Troy Stolz for defamation and start a contempt of court action against Mr Stolz and YouTuber Friendlyjordies is looking like a monumental own goal, keeping Mr Stolz’s story alive even while he is dying of cancer.

The Guardian and The New Daily noticed. The Sydney Morning Herald caught up with full outrage, including a both-barrels editorial. Independent media, including The Conversation, Independent Australia and Crikey, were no longer individual small voices.

On Sunday, the Murdoch tabloids ran stories focused on the pokies’ takings in the various states.

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian government shocked the industry last month by announcing a loss pre-commitment card will be mandatory by the end of 2024. (Careful, Tassie – that’s giving the industry plenty of time to fight and fight it will.)

And on Sunday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet reportedly vowed to reform the sector “taxing on the misery of others”.

Yes, the crime commission report will be embarrassing for the NSW government. Mr Perrottet has to say things like that, given what is coming, given that he leads a government that has repeatedly signed a  Memorandum of Understanding with ClubsNSW that basically says, “she’ll be right, mates, and thanks for the donation”.

Pressure point

It won’t be right if the pack keeps howling, but it will take pressure.

Any chance of reform, of ending ClubsNSW’s domination of NSW politics, depends on Labor and the Coalition adopting identical policies – and whoever wins the March election keeping those policies.

With the election in the balance but Labor ahead, ClubsNSW is a powerful enemy to make. One party going alone could be knocked off by it.

This, as much as the ICAC and whatever oath Members of Parliament might take, goes to the heart of the integrity of each and every politician in both houses.

Anyone who takes the tainted pokie money and ducks the fight isn’t worthy of public office. And the pack is watching.

Ditto Victoria. Does either party have any integrity as it faces the electors?


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