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Press Council rejects ClubsNSW complaint about SMH pokies story

The Sydney Morning Herald has been cleared of publishing a “inaccurate and misleading” report over the NSW government’s proposed changes to poker machine rules by the Australian Press Council.

ClubsNSW, the peak body for the state’s registered clubs, complained to the Press Council about a report published on March 12, 2018 headed “Pokie numbers are set to rise under new laws” in print and “Law changes could see pokie machine numbers rise in vulnerable areas” online.

The group, which represents 1200 clubs across NSW, claimed the story and the headline were inaccurate and misleading in saying the proposed changes could see a rise in poker machine numbers across low income parts of the state due to the state government’s rules on reducing the number of machines and restrictions on their being sited in vulnerable areas.

ClubsNSW went on to allege the story was also inaccurate in saying smaller regional clubs could lease their poorly performing machines to larger venues in high revenue areas like the south-western Sydney suburb of Fairfield – one of the highest locations for gaming machine losses per head – because proposed law changes expressly prohibit venues in Fairfield leasing other clubs’ machines.

The group said the publication ignored its request for these statements to be corrected.

Nine responded that the article and the headline are accurate with the story focusing on community concerns the proposed changes will allow poker machine owners to lease low performing machines to more lucrative locations.

While the SMH accepted that poker machines cannot be moved into Fairfield, it said they can be moved within parts of the greater Fairfield council area.

The paper added said critics of the legislation had told journalists the legislation could result in a lower overall number of machines and an increase in the money taken by those machines or a higher number of machines and a higher take.

The SMH said it responded to the complainant’s letter of complaint denying the article was inaccurate and offering to the opportunity to submit an opinion piece.

A previous opinion piece written by ClubsNSW CEO, Anthony Ball, defending the state’s poker machines had appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald the previous December.

In its ruling, the Press Council said its reading of the facts around the law indicated it would be possible more poker machines would be installed in Fairfield as a result of the proposed changes. Accordingly, the Council concluded the article was not inaccurate or misleading or unfair and unbalanced.

The Council also said it understood that while clubs outside Fairfield cannot lease their machines to clubs into the district, machines in low turnover areas of the council area could be moved to high turnover areas.

Noting that the language used in the article may not have been ideal, the Council concluded the article was not significantly inaccurate or misleading or unfair.

Accordingly the Council concluded the story did not breach the any of the APC’s general principles.

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