Australian Gambling Opponents Seek Legal Action

Poker Machine Operators Threatened with Court

Charged with contravening Australia's Consumer Law.

Australian poker machine operators are being threatened with legal action by gambling opponents.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has announced that it will be working with legal firm Maurice Blackburn to prove that operators are involved in deceptive behavior and breaking Australia's consumer laws.

According to the group, poker machine operators place the games in venues, encouraging people to engage in entertainment, all the while knowing that people have the potential to become addicted to the pokies.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform also charges that this conduct goes against Australian consumer laws which dictate that one may not use deceptive and misleading conduct to lure consumers.

Section 18 of the Consumer Law states that should companies or operators be found engage in this type of conduct, they could face injunctions and compensation orders.

Alliance Won't Seek Damages

The AustralianĀ GuardianĀ noted that the legal action which the Alliance for Gambling Reform and Maurice Blackburn were seeking would not include damages.

Instead, they would only demand that poker machine operators eliminate the sounds that encourage play such as bells and whistles. According to the group, these sounds trigger a part of the brain which associates them to rewards.

The Alliance is also hoping to get operators to mark the machines with warning signs, similar to those found on cigarette packets.

"It's not a question of if legal action will take place, but when," said an Alliance spokesperson.

"Our primary argument will be that the machines are designed to be deceptive and that consumers are unaware of this deception. Put bluntly, the machines are designed to get around the rational, thinking brain and into the animal part of the brain to create addiction, and the industry has been aware of this for a long time."

Case Not Yet Lodged

The potential landmark case has still not been lodged in state or federal court, and it is still in its early stages. It is not clear if and how the Alliance and other anti-gambling bodies will proceed and how much of a legal case they have at the end of the day.

Jacob Varghese, a lawyer working on the case, said the firm was still examining whether machines contravened consumer laws.

"We think there's a genuine argument that some of the behavior by the poker designers is misleading and deceptive in that it makes people think things are happening that are not actually happening," said Varghese, adding that they were seeking warnings on machines and not an outright ban.