Landmark lawsuit filed against pokies industry in Federal Court

26 October 2016
A landmark pro-bono legal action that is set to highlight the deceptive and misleading behaviour of electronic gaming machine manufacturers, designers and venues has today been filed in the Federal Court by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Jacob Varghese said the case was the first of its kind that would focus on the design of poker machines contributing to players being deliberately deceived on their prospects of winning, in particular the design of the ‘Dolphin Treasure’ machine.

The case is being brought by lead applicant Shonica Guy against Crown Melbourne Limited, which has the machines within its casino, and Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd, who manufacture the Dolphin Treasure machine. Ms Guy played poker machines for 14 years suffering significant losses, after she first started playing at the age of 17.

If successful, the litigation would have ramifications for the design of all pokie machines in the industry.

The case centres on allegations that the Dolphin Treasure machine misrepresents the true chances of winning due to deliberate design features in the machine’s reels and symbols.

“This is an important legal case that we hope will play a key role in improving the way the pokie machine industry operates for consumers, including potentially being applied to all machines across the industry,” Mr Varghese said.

“The claim is the first to focus on the deceptive design of pokie machines, and in doing so calling into question the behaviour of the manufacturers and the industry in allowing people to continue playing machines that have been deliberately geared to make winning far more difficult than appears to players.

“We are alleging that the misleading and deceptive design of the Dolphin Treasure machine has occurred on three key fronts.

“The first is the size and second is the symbol distribution of the reels within the machine.

“Each machine contains five reels, covered in symbols. In a fair machine, symbols should be evenly distributed across the reels, so each symbol occurs the same number of times on each of the reels.

“In the Dolphin Treasure machine however, four of the reels are of equal size with 30 symbols on each reel, but the fifth reel is larger with 44 symbols.

“That means that it is much harder to win the big prize symbols on the last reel than on the others. No matter how many ‘jackpot’ symbols you get on the first four reels, the big fifth reel keeps the odds stacked in favour of the house.

“The second issue is that the symbols in the Dolphin Treasure machine are not evenly distributed across the five reels, so the symbols do not occur the same number of times on each of the five reels.

“It's like playing a game of cards without knowing that the deck has four aces of spades, three queen of hearts and 7 tens of diamonds. It's rigged. And the effect on players is that they see these symbols coming up constantly, but they don't know that their real odds are determined by the reel with the lowest number of the given symbol.

“Yet neither of these features are made clear to players of the Dolphin Treasure machine.

“The third issue with the machine relates to the information provided to players on the display screens.

“This information must be available on all pokies in Victoria. It attempts to tell gamblers what they risk when they gamble on the pokies. In Victoria, the minimum return to player must be 85 per cent.

“The information on the Dolphin Treasure machine states that the total theoretical return to a player is 87.83 per cent – giving the impression that the player will retain 87.83 per cent of the amount they bet while risking the loss of 12.17 per cent of the amount they bet.

“This again is misleading.

“The so-called ‘return to player’ is just an average on any given spin. If you play multiple games – as the machines encourage – the return to the player often ends up approaching zero, because you lose an average of 12.17 percent each spin. Calling it a ‘return to player’ is just false. 

“So if you put money into the machine and have multiple spins, you likely will be left with nothing.”

Mr Varghese said the two defendants, Crown Melbourne Limited and Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd, had both been put on notice about the deceptive design features of the Dolphin Treasure machines, but neither had acted to address this, leaving no option but to commence legal proceedings.

“This case is about ensuring a level playing field for consumers, by making sure these machines are designed fairly in future, as they should be,” he said.

Lead applicant Shonica Guy said she was taking the case on to drive a better standard in the industry and to crack down on the misleading conduct of machine manufacturers.

“These machines took over my life for 14 years, and I do not want that to happen to another family,” Ms Guy said.

“People deserve to know what is going on with the design of these machines, which deliberately give people false hope that they have a chance of winning to keep them playing.

“It is wrong, and it has to stop,” she said.

Tim Costello from the Alliance for Gambling Reform said the legal action was an important step in keeping up the fight against the poker machine industry in seeking a fairer go for consumers.

“The Alliance is proud to continue to campaign for greater reform of the gambling industry on behalf of consumers,” Mr Costello said.

“For too long the balance has been skewed towards the industry and it is not good enough – Australia is facing a gambling crisis and the sooner we can get more attention on the unfair drivers behind this and clean-up the industry the better.”

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