Landmark trial against pokies industry set to begin

12 September 2017
A landmark, pro-bono trial seeking to highlight the deceptive, misleading and unconscionable conduct of poker machine manufacturers and venues will begin today in the Federal Court.

The action is being run pro-bono by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers against Crown Melbourne Limited, who house poker machines within its casino, and Aristocrat Technologies Australia, who manufacture poker machines.

The case centres on the design of the ‘Dolphin Treasure’ machine, and is being brought by applicant Shonica Guy, who suffered significant losses through playing poker machines.

“I started playing the pokies when I was 17. Poker machines took over my life for the next 14 years,” Ms Guy said.

“This case is not about seeking compensation for what I lost – I just want to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“For too long now we’ve been told that a pokies addiction is our own fault.

“What I want this case to show is that the industry knows their machines are addictive, and designs these machines to get us hooked.

“I’m looking forward to having my day in court to fight for honesty and fairness in the pokies industry.”

Maurice Blackburn head of Social Justice Jennifer Kanis said the trial was the first of its kind to look at the design of poker machines in contributing to players being deliberately deceived on their prospects of winning.

“This is a landmark pro-bono action that we hope will shine a light on what we believe are grossly unfair practices within the poker machine industry,” Ms Kanis said.

“This case is about making sure that poker machines are designed fairly and that players are genuinely informed about their prospects of winning.

“The gambling industry is well aware of the research outlining the harmful effects of problem gambling on vulnerable people, and they have been for many years.

“Our concern is that despite these known risks, the industry continues to exploit vulnerable problem gamblers, by knowingly designing machines that are misleading and deceptive.

“Through this action we hope to make people aware of what is really going on in the design of poker machines and importantly to see a better standard applied to the future design of machines right across the industry, in ensuring they operate fairly for all players,” she said.

The trial is set down for three weeks, Ms Guy will seek to argue a number of key points in outlining the misleading and deceptive design of the Dolphin Treasure machine as well as the unconscionable conduct of Crown and Aristocrat, including:

1. The oversized reel

When playing the Dolphin Treasure machine it appears on the screen as though all five reels are the same size.

In reality, four of the reels are the same or similar size, but the fifth reel is larger. For example there are 30 symbols on the first four reels but 44 symbols on the fifth reel.

This means it is much harder to land on the best symbols – and get the highest prizes – on the last reel than on the other reels.

2. The starving of the reels

When playing the Dolphin Treasure machine it appears to the player that there is some regularity in the distribution of the symbols on the reels. In reality the symbols are not evenly distributed.

3. Information provided to players on display screens

The Dolphin Treasure machine provides information on the return to player, which starts from around 87 per cent, but this is just a theoretical statement regarding what the machine can be expected to return over all of its millions of spins.

The case argues this return to player figure is misleading because it does not tell players what they need to know, which is how much they stand to lose per spin, or per session.

4. Losses disguised as wins

The machine disguises losses as wins to the player. It does this by displaying the lights and sounds of a win when there is a partial return on a spin, even if the player has actually lost money overall on that spin.

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