The Australian casino and gambling sector continues to make the news, some good, some bad. Not to be outdone, New Zealand, the Kiwi's south of Australia, also have some newsy happenings. Readers, gamblers and sports nuts, time to swing into the Asia Pacific region...Media Man and Gambling911 with your voyage of discovery...
Australia's Cairns In Northern Queensland To Become Aussie Las Vegas?...
Cairns would become Australia's equivalent to Las Vegas under a somewhat controversial scheme to transform it into the national centre for poker machines. Aussie Casino King, James Packer, his prize casino being in Melbourne, Australia, isn't speaking on the matter as yet. Packer also has his Burswood Entertainment Complex in Perth, Western Australia, so don't expect Packer to support the proposal. It's not a Crown Limited venture either, but maybe we would buy them out one day. The current proposal is to be heard within 24 hours in Brisbane, north of Sydney, and south of Cairns, at one of the tourism industry's key annual conventions, Tourism Futures, to be attended by international tourism heavyweights and politicians, including Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. It is being championed - sphere headed by breakaway Liberal National Party MP Aidan McLindon, who has previously had campaigned against the spread of pokies. But Mr McLindon, who quit the party in May to form the Queensland Party, is now pushing for debate on a scheme that would create a Las Vegas style gambling strip in gorgeous Cairns by relocating poker machines from existing pubs and clubs across Queensland to a new "Aus Vegas" to be built in the region. Punters may recall Aus Vegas was an online casino name owned and operated by Lasseters, but they closed shop roughly 3 years ago, unable to compete with competitors which snatched online casino tuna, dolphins and whales. Aussie punters turned off Aus Vegas (online), finding the likes of PartyCasino, Captain Cooks Casino and Virgin Casino.
The Beaudesert MP first tabled his vision for a Vegas-style pokies hub to reduce gambling in April last year in his virgin speech to State Parliament. It somewhat replicates the US model, where Nevada is the only state to have no significant restrictions against gaming machines. Under the "Aus Vegas" proposal, clubs would have to sell their poker machine licences back to the Government or relocate their pokies to Cairns and become "shareholders" in the new venture. The state's existing 4 major casinos would be exempt. The plan would be supported by a shake-up of the current distribution of gambling funds collected by the State Government, with pokies revenue instead being poured into recreational sports through a scheme that would hand sports clubs a cash grant for each child they put on the sports field! (a suitable connection between pokies and kids). "The location is ideal given the Cairns region is suffering some of the highest unemployment levels and the tourism industry is plummeting," Mr McLindon said. "It already has the international airport there, which is under-utilised. Ideally, you want them (gaming machines) all in one place so people can go away, have a holiday, blow their money and come home." But welfare groups fear the plan could turn Cairns into another "Sin City", following Vegas, Sydney and Melbourne to a certain extent...making residents the sacrificial lambs of the nation's gambling problems.
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Sky City New Zealand Crunch The Numbers...
The regulatory cloud which has overhung Australia's casino sector since late 2009 looks to have been removed by the government endorsing voluntary pre-commitment as the preferred way of targeting problem gambling, says Rob Bode at First NZ Capital. That's even though the more draconian recommendations seemed very unlikely with the more severe measures unlikely to pass a cost/benefit test, Bode says. "For Sky City Entertainment Group, not only does this remove risk of substantial erosion of gaming revenues for its Australian properties ... but it also avoids an unhelpful precedent being imported to New Zealand," he says. The Adelaide and Darwin casinos contribute about 30% of Sky's group earnings before interest and tax (EBIT). "Following the introduction of the Gambling Act 2003, New Zealand has been ahead of Australia in terms of introduction of harm minimisation measures and this has undoubtedly been a factor contributing to lacklustre performance of gaming machines over the past six years," Bode says. "If Australia had leapfrogged New Zealand in implementation of harm minimisation measures, it would have probably only been a matter of time before New Zealand followed suit." Bode says it looks like the Australian changes will be relatively drawn out and manageable for the industry.
Sky City Shares - 2nd July...
Casino operator Sky City closed up 1.8% at NZ$2.88. Macquarie earlier upgraded it to neutral from under perform following recent weakness in its share price and a benign government response to a Productivity Commission Report on Australian gambling industry.
New Zealand profile
Australian Politics - Kate Lundy VS Sen Stephen Conroy ("Censorship Minister")...
Julia Gillard's takeover of the Labor Party leadership has sparked calls for the communications portfolio to change hands also. Gillard became the country's first female Prime Minister after Kevin Rudd decided not to contest a leadership challenge. In her acceptance speech, Ms Gillard said she would make "consequential" changes to cabinet positions at "an appropriate time". However some bloggers and technology pundits have already decided on the two politicians they would like to see trade places. The minister they would like to see out is Stephen Conroy, currently in charge of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (BCDE), and the figurehead of the Government's controversial internet filtering policy. The favourite to replace him is Kate Lundy, a former shadow IT minister who has retained an interest in the area and the respect of industry figures. Technology wire service Delimiter speculated on whether Senator Lundy would replace Senator Conroy in a reshuffle, airing claims from critics of the current minister that Senator Lundy better understood the sector. Gizmodo Australia went one step further and launched a campaign titled "Kate Lundy For IT: The Change We Really Need" that was linked to by hundreds of users on Twitter. "If it's time for a change in Labor, there’s no better change than replacing Conroy with a forward thinking minister for BCDE like Senator Lundy," it said. Editor Nick Broughall said the campaign wasn't just a kneejerk reaction to the leadership change and had so far received encouraging support. "We're going to run with this until the new front bench has been named and we know whether or not the Government is going to change its approach to the BCDE portfolio, in particular its proposed internet filter," he told News Limited's news.com.au. Web filtering Much of the backlash against Senator Conroy is linked to the Government's controversial internet filtering plan. Under the scheme, internet providers like Telstra and Optus would be forced to block access to a secret list of banned webpages. One of the key differences between the two senators is the degree of their support for the plan. Senator Lundy has been one of the only Labor voices to publicly question the policy and earlier this month said she would propose an alternative to the Labor Caucus. "I am working to change the internet filtering policy to better achieve the policy goals of protecting children through empowering and educating parents," she wrote on her blog at the time. Senator Lundy's concerns lay with the mandatory nature of the filtering plan. She believes Australians should be given the option to choose whether their internet connections are censored. However Internet Industry Association chief executive Peter Coroneos said a change of minister wasn't necessary for the filtering plan to be dropped, if the Government chose to do so. "I wouldn't necessarily conclude from (Gillard's) comments that we're going to see a major rearrangement of the deckchairs," he told news.com.au. "To speculate on who will be the communications minister really is jumping ahead." Mr Coroneos said the association supported two of the Government's three main communications policies — the national broadband network (NBN) and its e-security agenda — but not its internet filtering plan. If the communications portfolio was up for grabs, Mr Coroneos said it would be a "difficult question to answer" which senator would suit it best. "Kate Lundy is someone we’ve worked with for a long time and we have a great deal of respect for both her commitment to our industry and also her understanding of the issues," he said. "But there's no doubting Stephen Conroy's commitment to the NBN either." Senator Lundy was one of the first Labor MPs to declare her support for Ms Gillard last night. Fittingly, she made the statement on Twitter. "I will be voting for Julia Gillard in the l'ship ballot. She will be an inspiring PM!," she wrote, from the @katelundy account. And speaking on ABC Radio this morning before the leadership decision was revealed, she seemed confident with what the outcome would be. When asked if Australia would have a new prime minister by lunch, Senator Lundy replied: "I believe so." She also took the opportunity to describe IT policy as one of "those areas I'm passionate about". Senator Lundy was Labor's shadow IT minister from 2001 until 2004 when the portfolio was handed to Senator Conroy under then opposition leader Mark Latham. Since that time Senator Lundy has maintained an active interest in communications and technology, speaking publicly about the NBN and initiatives such as Gov 2.0, and regularly updating her blog. Senator Conroy is also understood to have supported Ms Gillard, according to The Australian. His media advisor did not immediately return a request for comment about the reshuffle.
Aussie Pokie Palaces Use Games To Train Up Kids?...
Pokies venues across the state of Victoria are "grooming" kids to gamble by installing arcade games that mimic poker machines, electronic gaming experts and anti-gambling advocates tell anyone willing to listen. The so called "redemption games", many of which offer children prizes worth hundreds of dollars such as digital cameras or televisions, look similar to poker machines on the premises' adults-only gaming floors, usually located just a few steps away from the kids' areas. Last month Media Man and Gambling911 pointed out the interesting 'Insert Coin' feature on the Google Pac-Man game. Conditioning or not?
A gaming expert at Monash University, Charles Livingstone, says the arcade games served two purposes...to "indoctrinate kids to gambling, to make them think this is a normal part of life"; and to lure children, and with them their parents, into pokie venues. The good doctor said Australia had "one of the world's most liberal gambling regulatory regimes", which had led to more pubs and gaming venues offering children's activities. A state government spokeswoman said there was no "research or evidence linking children playing redemption games … with problem gambling in adulthood", but an Adelaide University study released last year contradicts that assertion! The study, involving more than 2500 teenagers, found that those who were already pathological gamblers were significantly more likely to have a history of playing video and arcade games. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said state legislation was clearly failing children. "While mum and dad are playing pokies inside, the kids are getting trained up on redemption (arcade) games just a few metres away. The connection is insidious and it is totally cynical," he said. Senator Xenophon said games with gambling features that offered real prizes should be reclassified as gaming machines under the law and children should be banned from using them. If state governments were not willing to act, federal intervention was needed, he said. At the Westside Hotel in Melbourne's west, a group of children's games stands a few paces from the pokies floor. The prizes on offer are attractive...digital camera, 43-centimetre TV, iPod, Nintendo game console. "Win'n'Grin", one game greets us with. But not everyone is grinning.
The manual of one of Westside's games shows operators how to fix the number of games played before a prize is given. Anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello told Fairfax Media he was "very worried about blurring the boundaries of children's play and what is a highly addictive adult entertainment". The Productivity Commission's report on gambling released late last month reaffirmed its view that "minors should not … be exposed to gambling areas within venues". In 2001, arcade games offering cash prizes were banned in Victoria. But games are allowed to dispense redeemable tickets or actual prizes. And while children are not allowed on a gaming floor, venues are allowed to provide children's games nearby. Redemption games - whose primary focus is about winning prizes...have been fixtures in games arcades for years, but the push to install them in pokie venues has accelerated recently. The owner of the largest distributor of coin-operated amusement equipment in Australia, Zak Athanasiadis of Zax Amusements, said dozens of gaming venues around Melbourne now had kids' arcade games. But he said he refused to stock games with prizes worth more than $15. "I don't think it's ethical to have machines where there is a chance people might need to put in $100 to get their prize," he said. "It's not good for the children, it's not good for the parents, it's not good for the venue." The owner of Legends pub in Epping, Bruce McPhee, said redemption games were becoming more popular as children looked for thrills they could not get at home. McPhee said kids could now play race-car games or hunting games in their lounge room or bedroom, but they could not win prizes from their game consoles (but don't tell Richard Branson's Virgin Gaming that, as they may want to argue the point). PokieAct.org founder Paul Bendat said all children's games should be banned from pokies venues. "I stand for children not being in pokies venues at all because gambling is an adult form of harmful entertainment," Mr Bendat advised. He highlighted the issue in a submission to the Productivity Commission, and has raised it with the state government. Bendat said "They've done absolutely - in Victoria - nothing. Zero." Government spokeswoman Rebecca Harrison said redemption games were not covered by the state's gaming regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation, as they "are not gaming machines because you can't place a bet on the outcome of the game". She said redemption games were "typically games of skill", while pokies were "games of chance". A spokesman for Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which owns Westside Hotel, David Curry, said he did not believe the games trained children to gamble and regulators had never raised any concerns about the venue's provision of children's activities. "We operate family venues with a variety of entertainment opportunities for children included within that" he advised.
UFC: Aussies Want Brock Lesnar To Win But Money Goes On Shane Carwin...
Australian UFC and sporting nuts love Lesnar, but the majority think Carwin will... er Win. MMA junkies down under predict Carwin by submission, knockout or stoppage in the 1st or 2nd round. Carwin's positive momentum along with his size and agility, along with not being dwarfed by monster Lesnar are key reasons for the 60% or so backing on Carwin.
Aussie Casino Shares...
Reef Casino Trust $1.900
Aristocrat Leisure Limited $3.610
Lasseters Corporation $0.010
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Punters, as always, bet with your head, not over it, know the odds and have fun.
*The writer is a special contributor for Gambling911
*Media Man is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. Gaming is just one of a bakers dozen of sectors they cover
*The writer owns shares in Crown Limited