Reflections on battling the gambling industry


July 8, 2019

Stephen Mayne explains why he has resigned from The Alliance for Gambling Reform and what happens next...

After more than two exhilarating years working with The Alliance for Gambling Reform, I've decided to move on from the 3 days a week gig as Communications Adviser.

My interest in much-needed gambling reform - which started with Jeff Kennett's casino cronyism and the Tabcorp float in 1993-94 - will continue. It will just be a bit more focused on journalism and shareholder activism - plus plenty of tweeting, of course.

The Alliance comprises a great group of people and the mission is absolutely spot on - bring co-ordination and system to a movement which has historically been occupied by lone wolf players who come and go depending on the circumstances.

The Alliance's model of promoting the voices of those with a lived experience of gambling harm - people such as Anna Bardsley and Shonica Guy - is absolutely right.

It was incredibly powerful watching Shonica sue Aristocrat and Crown in the Federal Court, Anna Bardsley take on James Packer at the Crown Resorts AGM and Stuart McDonald run for the Western Bulldogs board on an anti-pokies platform in 2018.

The Alliance has a strong and diverse board, is well led by executive director Tony Mohr and is building a powerful team of campaigners and volunteers. The support it gets from local government in Victoria and philanthropic donors has been pivotal to its development over the past 4 years. Long may it continue.

All up, it was a fun 25-month run with The Alliance comprising lots of media management, shareholder activism, engagement with councils, lobbying of politicians and endless visits to pokies venues - along with steady stream of daily tweets. There were plenty of newsletters, regular media releases and TV and radio appearances over the journey and it was terrific working with people like Tim Costello, the current Darebin mayor Susan Rennie and the young veterans driving reform at RSL Victoria.

However, truth to be told, there is a degree of vicarious trauma as you battle such a ruthless industry knowing the harm and misery that it creates across the community and hearing the stories of addiction and loss. There were quite a few times where you ended up in tears - such as when the NSW and Victorian governments legislated to lock in long term pokies harm in 2017-18.

It was becoming quite hard to escape the scourge of gambling. Sometimes it was difficult to sleep or let go of the issues. It's time to adjust the work-life balance, particularly with our eldest child Laura doing year 12 and the better half, Paula Piccinini, serving as Mayor of Manningham until November.

The Alliance was given plenty of notice about this move and I'm delighted that we've hired a genuine professional in Rebecca Thorpe as Communications Director. Please give a shout out to Rebecca on email to Rebecca@agr.org.au as she steps up to the plate.

A pivot back to journalism through Crikey


I've also missed writing for Crikey in recent times - clocking up just two pieces so far this year and 14 last year - the thinnest full year effort to date. Crikey turns 20 next February, so I'm really looking forward to returning to Crikey with a weekly corporate governance column which started with this July 8 piece on the RSL Victoria AGM.

Working with Alan Kohler

Since August 2017 I've also been freelancing for the fabulous Alan Kohler, first on The Constant Investor and now with The Eureka Report and Investsmart since Alan sold his business to that public company a few months back.

This work for Alan has comprised doing 25 interviews with public company chairs and 44 investment focused editions of The Mayne Report, which typically run to about 3000 words and often included a passing sledge at the gambling industry.

The regular Mayne Report editions will be continuing for Investsmart, with a focus on fairness in capital raisings, corporate governance, shareholder activism and the odd gambling story thrown in for good measure. See the July 8 edition here.

Combining gambling campaigning with shareholder activism

With the AGM season coming up, I'm also looking forward to combining shareholder activism with some gambling campaigning.

For instance, if the Big Four banks don't agree to follow the lead of Macquarie Group and ban credit card transactions for gambling...they just might find some competition for their boards seats at a flurry of AGMs shortly before Christmas.

Firing up The Mayne Report again

The Mayne Report was shut in January 2017 - read the farewell missive here - and will remain so in terms of pumping out email newsletters, mainly because our content management provider is no longer offering an email service.

However, we were able to quietly resurrect the website in December last year and I do intend to keep it ticking over in the period ahead. There's even now a dedicated gambling section on the website, which will be populated with more content over time.

In terms of public interest publications, I love what Michael West has done with his investigative journalism website and enjoyed working with him on some gambling pieces, such as this latest hit on the big NSW pokie clubs over the weekend.

Subscriptions are a hard slog for an independent website but the Michael West donation-supported model looks more prospective so that's something that might be worth exploring in 2020, depending on where things sit. Next year will also see council elections in Victoria, NSW and Queensland so no doubt that will attract some interest too.

That's all for now. If you've got any story idea or thoughts on issues to pursue in the period ahead, drop us a line to stephen@maynereport.com but remember to keep battling those ruthless exploiters in the gambling industry.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne