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Poker giants in aggressive community relations drive

An unlikely alliance among Tattersall's, Tabcorp and the Salvation Army has everybody happy.

Australia's gaming leaders Tattersall's and Tabcorp stand to gain enormous support and priceless public relations points for their Responsible Gambling Awareness Week - scheduled for June 20-26 in Victoria - when erstwhile nemesis the Salvation Army weighed in behind the project.

Responsible Gambling Awareness Week is aimed specifically at fans of poker machines, which are big business in Melbourne. Last week, the Bracks Government revealed that there were enough Victoria poker machine addicts to pack Telstra Dome. Gaming Minister John Pandazopoulos testified in Parliament that 55,675 Victorians were "officially addicted" to gambling. That is a little over 1% of the state's total population, estimated at just over 5.052 million at the end of 2005. Tabcorp reckons the real figure is higher, 2% or around 102,000 Victorians.

The stakes are huge for Tattersall's and Tabcorp. In the business since 1881, Tattersall's operates 900 lottery retail outlets and, in Victoria alone, 260 hotel and club venues that offer an enthralling mix of live entertainment, poker machines and Free Poker games. Tabcorp itself is the largest wagering company in Australia and the country's single biggest casino operator.

Beginning today and for the rest of the week, both companies will warn Victoria customers about the dangers of their product. Venue staff will wear Responsible Gambling badges and T-shirts and talk to patrons about the availability of problem gambling counselling services. Already, every Tattersall's venue displays responsible gambling posters, machine talkers and brochures in their gaming rooms. These materials contains the message "Can you win, Really win, On a Poker machine?"

The campaign theme "Have fun but play it safe" is also set to include a television and radio advertising blitz.

The Salvation Army has long been critical of widespread poker machine use in Australia and, in particular, Victoria. They decry the fact, for example, that the state government expects to receive over A$1 billion from poker machine taxes this year.

In 2003, the Army went so far as to return a $5 million donation from Tattersall's, claiming they did not want to benefit from the "misery" of gambling addicts.

Today, however, spokesman Major Brad Halse says now is the time for a united front in the fight against problem gambling. "Whilst The Salvation Army is best known for its strong voice on behalf of those who suffer the consequences of problem gambling, the particular focus of this week is to encourage responsible gambling by those who choose to gamble. It is not diluting our previously stated positions -- it is recognising that for those who wish to engage in gambling as a social or recreational activity they need to stay in control," Mr Halse said.

Since Responsible Gambling Week is an inaugural effort for Victoria, it remains to be seen how this take-off on responsible behavior programs to control AIDS, smoking and overpopulation will go over with poker machine enthusiasts.


August 31, 2006
Jeremy Evans

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