A woman who spent nearly 15 years in the clutches of a gambling addiction has launched a David and Goliath class action against Crown casino and poker machine maker Aristocrat for allegedly using deceptively designed machines.
The landmark Federal Court case centres on the design of Aristocrat's popular 'Dolphin Treasure' machine, which has different sized spinning wheels it's alleged make it harder for the user to land on a winning symbols.
The company says its machines abide by strict standards.
Shonica Guy, who brought the case after suffering what she described as significant losses through playing poker machines after becoming addicted when she was 17, hopes the case will show the industry knows its machines are addictive, and designs the machines to get people hooked.
Next wk our pokies trial begins. We argue their design has tricks that encourage addiction, like the oversized reel: pic.twitter.com/2E2rEDzUDw— Maurice Blackburn (@WeFightForFair) September 7, 2017
"Poker machines took over my life for the next 14 years," Guy said in a statement as the Federal Court case began in Melbourne on Tuesday.
"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.
"For too long now we've been told that a pokies addiction is our own fault."
Aristocrat's barrister, Peter Jopling QC, told the court the company was operating in an "intensely regulated" industry and "followed the standards to a tee".
"And nobody has said that we haven't," Jopling reportedly told the court.
"They haven't withdrawn our licence for the machines."
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello said outside the court he believed the machine was a con.
"This is actually a con. We believe all the machines built on that same con," he said.
Australia has more than 196,000, or about 20 percent, of the world's poker machines. That's one machine for every 114 people. According to the federal government half a million Aussies are at risk of becoming problem gamblers.
Alleged tricks of the trade:
The Oversized Reel -- When playing the Dolphin Treasure machine it looks all five reels are the same size. They're not. In reality, four of the reels are the same or similar size with 30 symbols, but the fifth reel is larger with 44 making it harder to land on the best symbols.
- The "Starving" Of The Reel -- It appears to the player that there is some regularity in the distribution of the symbols on the reels. In reality the symbols are not evenly distributed.
- Information Provided To Players On Display Screens -- the machine gives information on the return to player, which starts from around 87 per cent — but it does not tell players what they need to know, which is how much they stand to lose per spin, or per session.
- Losses Disguised As Wins -- The machine disguises losses as wins to the player by displaying the lights and sounds of a win when there is a partial return on a spin, even if the player has actually lost money overall on that spin.
Source: Maurice Blackburn
Aristocrat, Crown -- who house 38 of the machines -- and industry regulators strongly deny strongly deny the allegations.
Industry regulators defended the machines outside court, saying they are monitored in the field and comply with industry regulations.
"We stand behind our products," Gaming Technologies Association CEO Ross Ferrar said on Tuesday as the case began.
Crown have reportedly moved to distance itself from many of the allegations concerning the allegedly deceptive design features of the Dolphin Treasure.
The casino operator said it does "nothing more than make the machines available", which it has been legally approved to do under Victorian law.
"The only allegation against us is that we made them available," Barrister Neil Young QC said.
"We are doing no more than conducting a lawful business."
- The latest figures show in 2014-15 total gambling expenditure in Australia increased from $21.114 billion in 2013-14 to $22.734 billion in 2014-15, up by 7.7 percent;
- Per adult gambling expenditure in Australia increased from $1,171.09 to $1,241.86;
- Total electronic gaming machine expenditure in Australia increased to $11.589 billion from 11.052 billion, up 4.8 percent;
- Total sports betting expenditure in Australia increased from $626 million to $815 million (up 30.1 percent). Sports betting is now 4.51 per cent of total gambling expenditure, up from 3.99 percent.
The law firm handling Guy's case, Maurice Blackburn, said the trial was the first of its kind to look at the design of poker machines in contributing to players being deliberately deceived on their prospects of winning.
"This case is about making sure that poker machines are designed fairly and that players are genuinely informed about their prospects of winning," Maurice Blackburn head of Social Justice Jennifer 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.
"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."
The trial before Federal Court Justice Debbie Mortimer is expected to run for three weeks.