A Melbourne woman who admits to once being addicted to poker machines has lost her case against Crown Melbourne.
Shonica Guy was not seeking damages, but wanted machines to be designed fairly, and for players to be clearly informed about their chances of winning.
The decision in the case of Shonica Guy against Crown Melbourne Ltd and another was handed down by Justice Debra Mortimer in the Federal Court today (Friday, 2nd February).
It was found that Ms Guy did not prove any breaches of Australian Consumer Law. Ms Guy had alleged that the Dolphin Treasure poker machine incorporated features which were misleading and deceptive, and that its operation was unconscionable.
Justice Mortimer referred to a lack of specific evidence from people who had been harmed by the Dolphin Treasure at Crown, and also commented on the genuine evidence that was courageously provided by people with a history of gambling harm, in handing down her decision.
Justice Mortimer found that research into the connections between poker machine design and characteristics and addiction to gambling was a new field, one in which there was some justification for additional work to be carried out.
The intersection between consumer law, and the decisions of state governments to allow but regulate the consumption of harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco was noted by Justice Mortimer. She indicated that she had not needed to address such intersections, but noted that "their general importance and complexity means those issues should await determination in a proceeding where it is necessary for them to be decided".
The case, as Justice Mortimer noted, has some parallels with issues that arose in the early days of the tobacco control movement. At that point, confusion around the nature of expert evidence and opinion (much of it generated by the tobacco industry, as identified in the book Merchants of Doubt, meant that it was difficult for legal proceedings to be effective as a means of better regulating tobacco consumption.
The tobacco control movement used both legal and other strategies to bring about the present system of tobacco control, which in Australia and other countries has been highly successful in reducing avoidable harm.
The policy adopted by the ALP in the current Tasmanian election, in which it wants to ban poker machines from pubs, is indicative of the change in opinion towards poker machines. The ALP has traditionally been supportive of the poker machine industry, but appears to have acknowledged the significant shift in public opinion in recent years. Moving to take poker machines from clubs and pubs in Tasmania is a major policy development, particularly coming from one of Australia's two major political parties.
Effective gambling harm prevention and reduction is unlikely to come from a single court decision, or indeed from some 'silver bullet' solution. Rather, it is likely to be developed over an extended period, via traditional public health activity - research, policy review and development, and knowledge translation.
Monash University is at the forefront of this activity (as evidenced by the recent contribution to Lancet Psychiatry co-authored by three Monash researchers, Hooked on Gambling? A problem of human or machine design?), and we will continue to work towards the prevention and reduction of avoidable harm.
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