Landmark Poker Machine Case: Court Finds Crown Casino Dolphin Treasure Poker Machine not Misleading and Deceptive
Earlier this month, the Federal Court delivered a highly anticipated judgement on the landmark case against poker machine maker Aristocrat Pty Ltd and Melbourne Crown Casino. The court found the Dolphin Treasure poker machine available at Crown Casino not to be misleading or deceptive. The full impact this decision will have on gambling regulation is still unknown.
Background of the case
In 2016, legal action was launched on behalf of Shonica Guy, a gambler who was severely addicted to poker machines for 14 years.
The lawsuit centred on the allegation that the Dolphin Treasure poker machine, which is manufactured by Aristocrat, is deceptive in that it tricks users into thinking they have won money when they have actually lost.
It was further argued that the design of the machine misrepresents a player’s true chances of winning. The allegedly deceptive design is due to an uneven distribution of symbols and an over-sized 5th reel. The first four reels of the game contain a standard 30 symbols; however, the final reel has 44 symbols. These extra symbols on the final reel make it significantly harder for players to land a winning combination. As the reel is digital, it’s impossible for players to know that the final reel has more symbols and thus their chances of winning are significantly lower. Furthermore, the uneven distribution of symbols makes it even harder for a player to line up a match.
Ms Guy was not seeking monetary compensation for the case, instead, she sought declaration that both the Dolphin Treasure machine, and the way it is made available to play at Crown Casino, breaches Australian Consumer Law. She also sought injunctions to prevent Aristocrat using the deceptive design features found in Dolphin Treasure in any new games or machines.
The Federal Court found in favour of Aristocrat and Crown Casino, ruling that the machine complied with regulation and therefore did not mislead or deceive. When handing down her judgement, Justice Debra Mortimer noted that while the machine may cause confusion, it is not misleading or confusing to the requisite standard to make it unlawful. While her Honour found against Ms Guy, she expressed that her finding should not in any way undermine the witness’s accounts of the negative impact gambling has had on their lives. In her judgement, her Honour stated, “I accept their evidence was genuine and acknowledge the courage it must have taken to give those accounts in a public forum.”
The cost of poker machines
Currently, Australia has the seventh highest total number of poker machines of any country in the world. Regular poker players lose roughly $7,000 to $8,000 a year, while highly addicted punters can burn through over $1,500 in just one hour. Furthermore, according to the 33rd edition of the Australian Gambling Statistics, the total electronic gaming machine expenditure across the country was approximately $12.074 billion in 2016.
Additionally, its not just money on the line. The social costs of problem gambling include depression, suicide, crime, breakdown of relationships and many more issues. According to the University of Sydney School of Psychology, for every problem gambler in Australia, approximately 10 people suffer second the hand effects.
What does this case mean?
While Ms Guy ultimately lost this case, the decision provides an opportunity for review of regulations to ensure they are sufficient to protect poker machine players. Community groups have stepped up and encouraged individuals to write to Ms guy, thanking her for her bravery in speaking out. The reality is that significant change is not going to come merely from a single court decision. Gambling harm reduction and prevention is something that need to develop out of research, policy changes and community engagement. So, while Ms Guy may have lost this battle, there are still plenty of ways to continue to combat problem gambling.