A Federal Court judgment today on a landmark pro-bono poker machine case has found that while poker machine design features are not legally misleading and deceptive, the full impacts of such features in fuelling gambling addiction remain unclear.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers brought the pro-bono case on behalf of former gambling addict Shonica Guy. The case was the first of its kind to look at how the design of poker machines contributes to players being misled on their prospects of winning.
Maurice Blackburn head of Social Justice Jennifer Kanis said the case had highlighted design features of poker machines that had previously been unknown to many Australians.
“The reality is that what you see is not what you get when it comes to poker machines,” Ms Kanis said.
“Every day there are people whose lives are devastated by poker machine addiction, and our client Shonica Guy has shown great courage in taking this case on for all Australians who have been hurt by poker machines.
“We brought this landmark case because the harm being done by poker machines in communities across Australia must end – in 2015-16 alone Australians tipped more than $12 billion into poker machines(1).
“This was the first case to look at the role and conduct of poker machine manufacturers and venues in fuelling addiction.
“While we have been unsuccessful today on the legal arguments, what was accepted is that while poker machines look like the mechanical machines of old the reality of what actually happens to determine whether a gambler wins or loses when the button is pressed is actually something quite different.
“In our view today’s decision provides an opportunity to review the regulations to ensure that the design of poker machines fits the reality of what the gambler sees and experiences.
“The decision also concludes that there may be some merit in Aristocrat, Crown and the regulator examining the return to player information provided to gamblers so that it is not confusing.
“Our case was never going to be able to take up this fight alone – tackling the scourge of pokies needs leadership to reverse the financial and human costs that come from gambling on the pokies.
“We are proud that our case has been able to play a role in the conversation we must continue to have – where we accept that problem gambling in Australia has reached an untenable level and that action is needed now to address this,” she said.
Shonica Guy said the case had been necessary in the continuing fight to ensure a fairer and more honest poker machine industry.
“Poker machines had a hold on my life for 14 years, at a significant cost to myself and my loved ones,” Ms Guy said.
“I managed to get on top of my addiction, but the sad reality is that many people right across Australia can’t do this, and the impacts are devastating.
“That’s why I took this case on, because we need a fairer and more honest pokies industry that doesn’t expose people to addiction.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have had my day in court on behalf of all Australians who have been hurt by the pokies, and I hope that this can lead to a better way forward so that others don’t have to go through what I did,” she said.
(1) Australian Gambling Statistics 1990-91 to 2015-16 33rd edition, Queensland Government.