Gambling addict sues casino, poker machine maker

SYDNEY • A landmark trial began yesterday against Australian casino giant Crown and gambling slot machine-maker Aristocrat alleging players are misled or deceived about their chances of winning.

The federal court case was brought by law firm Maurice Blackburn on behalf of gambling addict Shonica Guy, who suffered significant losses playing what are known in Australia as poker machines.

"I started playing the machines when I was 17. Poker machines took over my life for the next 14 years," she said. "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."

Gambling addiction is a major problem in Australia. Advocates for reform estimate that people lose A$12 billion (S$13 billion) a year - with losses spiralling since the first machines were built in 1953.

A public inquiry in 2010 disclosed there were 115,000 "problem gamblers", whose habit can lead to serious health, family and financial issues. A further 280,000 were categorised as at "moderate risk".

The legal case centres on the design of the Dolphin Treasure machines, which offer cash prizes to players who line up matching symbols across a series of spinning reels, at Crown's flagship Melbourne casino. It claims that the true chances of winning are misrepresented, with four of the reels the same size having about 30 symbols and a longer fifth reel with 44 symbols. This means it is harder to land on the best symbols and get the highest prizes through a match on the fifth reel, the court heard.

  • 115k

    Number of "problem gamblers", whose habit can lead to serious health, family and financial issues, according to a public inquiry in 2010.

    280k

    Number of gamblers categorised as at "moderate risk".

    $13b

    The amount, estimated by advocates for reform, that people lose a year - with losses spiralling since the first machines were built in 1953.

Among other charges, it also said Crown's assertion that people can expect on average to win back 87 per cent of their wager is misleading, given this is calculated on millions of spins over the life of the machine and not from an average gambling session. The legal action said the losses can be much more.

"This is a landmark pro bono action that we hope will shine a light on grossly unfair practices within the poker machine industry," said Maurice Blackburn's head of social justice Jennifer Kanis.

She added: "The gambling industry is well aware of the research outlining the harmful effects of problem gambling on vulnerable people.

"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."

Crown and Aristocrat strongly deny the allegations, with Crown saying it would be "vigorously defending the claim".

Aristocrat "emphatically rejects any suggestion that its games are designed to encourage problem gambling, or in any way fail to comply with relevant regulations and laws".

Ms Guy is seeking an injunction banning Crown from operating Dolphin Treasure or any machine with a similar configuration, and for Aristocrat to stop supplying them.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'Gambling addict sues casino, poker machine maker'. Print Edition | Subscribe