A landmark trial opened in Australia on Tuesday as a former gambling addict has alleged that a casino chain and slot machine manufacturer willingly mislead consumers about their chances of winning. The games, which are known as poker machines or “pokies” in Australia, are ubiquitous in bars and nightclubs, and Australia has the highest rate of legal gambling in the world.
“I started playing the pokies when I was 17. Poker machines took over my life for the next 14 years,” said Shonica Guy, who has brought the suit against casino giant Crown and slot machine maker Aristocrat.
“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,” Guy said.
Guy and her legal firm, Maurice Blackburn, allege that the “Dolphin Treasure” slot machine at Crown’s flagship casino in Melbourne is designed to deceive players about their chances of winning. Guy is seeking an injunction, against Crown, banning the game and another, against Aristocrat, to stop the company from supplying them.
The case centers around the five wheels in the machine, which award players prizes based on how many symbols they can match up on each wheel. While the first four wheels are the same size at about 30 panels, the fifth wheel is much larger with 44 symbols, thus making it more difficult than it appears to match all five.
Guy and her lawyers also say that Crown claims that players will on average receive back 87 percent of their wager, which, it can be argued, is technically true – but it is a calculation based on the life of the machine, not on the average gambling session.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jennifer Kanis said the losses can actually be much higher.
“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,” Kanis said. “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.”
Kanis added: “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.”
Australia’s gambling problem
Crown has said that it would be “vigorously defending” itself while Aristocrat, for its part, said that it “emphatically rejects any suggestion that its games are designed to encourage problem gambling, or in any way fail to comply with all relevant regulations and laws.”
Gambling addiction is a widespread problem in Australia, with around 80,000 to 160,000 adults incurring significant risks to their health or family while another 250,000 to 350,000 (about 2 percent of the adult population) are considered at “moderate risk” because of gambling.
The state of New South Wales, which is second in the world only to Nevada in terms of the number of gambling machines, reaps about 1 billion Australian dollars a year from poker machines.
es/rc (AFP, dpa)