Posts Tagged ‘clubs’

The Stars Are Half As Bright – A Final Note On A Full Life

In General Mish-Mash on October 15, 2017 at 4:05 pm

At 5:10pm on Wednesday 4th October the final breath was taken by my dad, Roger Cowan. A memorial service was held outdoors at Panthers, followed by a chance to share drinks and stories in, ironically*, The Ron Mulock OAM Room at the Panthers Events Centre.

(*If you don’t understand why this is ironic I recommend you try and get hold of a copy of Jenny Bentley’s Panthers Passion & Politics – The Roger Cowan Years.)

A big thank you to everyone who came along to the service, those sent us messages of condolence and support, and those who for a fleeting moment gave a thought to Roger.

A number of people asked for a copy of my eulogy. It’s too long to publish here but you can download a copy by clicking on the link below. There is also a link to Glenn Matthews’ message for Roger from Kona, Hawaii where he was competing in the Hawaiian Ironman 2017.

Download the Eulogy for Roger Cowan delivered by Max Cowan.

Download the Glenn Matthews Message about Roger Cowan from Kona Hawaii.

Scroll down for a video of 3 of the eulogies – it runs for 32 minutes.

Other information:

The Big Panther Has Gone But Will Never Be Forgotten – from prominent hospitality mover and shaker Jenny White of White Now!

Grace Funerals Tributes Page – read how others have paid tribute to Roger; leave a tribute of your own; you can even upload photos, videos, sound bites that may add to our memories.

Roger Cowan 2016

Roger in November 2016

Wilkie blinks, Gillard baulks – clubs smile, reformers cry – punters punt.

In General Mish-Mash on January 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Today’s news is that the proposition to impose mandatory pre-commitment on poker machine gambling is, at a minimum, to be deferred.

In the background you might be able to hear the collective sigh of relief from the pub and club world – in fact you may even hear a few cheers.

Whatever you can hear, if it is at all celebratory the sentiment is both premature and misplaced.

And the sighs of disappointment from those who want mandatory precommitment are equally premature and equally misplaced.

Let’s first deal with those who have hung their coats on mandatory precommitment (also noting that some want to augment this with reduced bet limits) – why is their disappointment misplaced?

Nick Xenophon & Andrew Wilkie - do they know?

Well, firstly, let’s get one thing out of the way – I am sure, deep down they want reform to reduce both the incidence and the impact of an addiction to gamble on poker machines.  (I don’t know why they seem not to care if your addiction is gambling on games with dealers (blackjack, roulette etc), on sportsbetting, on any form of racing, on the stockmarket, or online – all of which can lead to devastating results for addicted individuals and other affected parties – anyway this is a topic that we can (and they have) put on the backburner for the moment).

… anyway, they want to help problem machine players and they have a belief that mandatory precommitment will do the job. This is a problem. The belief they have is not support by anything except the belief itself. It may well be a belief that seems logical and sensible but it remains a belief founded in thought experiments. (It is true that Einstein used thought experiments too – though I doubt this subject matter is as conducive to this method of investigation, and I also doubt they have either the tools or the deftness of an Einstein).

I keep straying from the point I want to make …

Their disappointment is misplaced because they are now presented with an opportunity to find evidence to support their hypothesis and thus build a stronger, more compelling argument for the case that mandatory precommitment on poker machines will have a substantial impact on the incidence and impact of addicted gambling. They have an opportunity to challenge their hypothesis in a scientific way. And as a result, rather than depend on the vilification methodology they have used to date, they could rely on the evidence.

If they are really, really concerned about the plight of compulsive gamblers their search during this hiatus could be for ANY solution to the punters plight, that is based on evidence.

The passion they have shown could and should be diverted into helping the lot of the addict instead of making assumptions and using those assumptions to support vilification of a community sector that by and large is both genuine and concerned.

My assumption is that they are fair dinkum in wanting to help – here is a hiatus during which they can prove their motivation is for the (addicted) gambler rather than simply being anti-gambling. (Note: Anti-gambling has not been successful in curtailing addicts in any precinct in any period of history.)

OK, what about the providores of gambling, machine gambling that is.

These guys have been understandably on the defensive … and, to be fair to them, the effort to paint them into a corner has been sustained and relentless over a long period of time.

Nevertheless, the public believes this defensiveness will extend to resorting to any means in order to protect their gambling revenue – even if that revenue is the result of the unassailable drive of an addict and leads to great misery. The public has this perception of the operators of poker machines.

(Man, even today there was an article about clubs putting on kids bingo in order to train the gambling behaviour for future harvesting – check out the story and have a look at the reader’s comments. The Daily Telegraph: “Help! Bingo’s got our babies.”)

The fact is that there is probably a small proportion of operators or employees who hold the type of value that encourages profiting from misery … even the private, entrepreneurial owners of pubs, whose personal wealth is determined by gambling revenue, as a rule, do not have this type of immorality. Indeed, many would believe that no matter how profitable a compulsive gambler may be in the short term – they are still bad for business in the long run.

The club industry, of course, does not generate private wealth. And those who are employed in this industry also, in general, do not want to gain from the misery of their members, patrons, and the wider community. In general, they look upon their role as community based organisations seriously and want to contribute positively to their community.

(I know some will assert that club managers are extremely well paid – but they are still paid a salary (sometimes with bonuses) and do not amass wealth the same way – or to the same extent – as the gaming entrepreneurs. Further, compared with business of comparable size they are generally not as well paid as may first seem.)

Nonetheless, any relief these industries may feel at today’s news, is almost certainly premature simply because the campaign to reform will not stop, Combine that with the public’s perception of operators and you know the crosshairs will be recalibrated soon enough and they will be in the sight lines of a higher calibre weapon.

And the industry sigh of relief is misplaced because in some ways they deserve to be in those crosshairs. They have failed to demonstrate, through their behaviour, that they are concerned about the issues surrounding gambling. And in the case of clubs, may of them have failed to convince even their own constituents that they are authentic community based organisations … and they are regarded with scepticism and cynicism.

In short, they talk about and make assertions as to the strength and priority of their community focus … but this shakes under scrutiny and questioning. Behaviour reveals priority.

This hiatus is an opportunity for them as well, to change their behaviour and take up a position that is authentically constructive for their communities.

When confronted with objections about proposals for change – the objections are almost always about the cost to undertake the changes necessary. Clubs need to remember that their is no financial cost to being committed – committed to understanding the problems, committed to understanding the impacts, committed to find solutions, and committed to being both authentic and relevant.

Commitment will generate behaviours related to the values they underpin. Hopefully, this will mean behaviours that are more constructive, have authenticity, and are relevant to constituents.  (And – lo and behold – these just might help build a stronger business).

There will be no need to stumble over responses to a grilling about gambling or interrogation about ethics, no need to blame others, no need to plead ignorance, no need to fight vilification with return vilification,  … because you will be real, you will be worthy of the privilege and responsibility you have to be the steward over the use of these products.

And won’t that be worthy of a sigh of relief.

My pessimism says that this delay will be used to intensify the wasteful battle – a battle that seems endless. More resources, resource that could be applied to the actual problem, will be burnt and the logs who are at loggerheads now will just be getting bigger splinters and become bigger pains in the arse … while the punters will continue to wear the arse out of their pants.


In General Mish-Mash on September 29, 2011 at 9:59 am

My heart dropped when I read the headline on page 15 of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

Panthers dudded us

I never, ever thought I’d see such a headline.

And now, today, there is a suggestion that the intention all along was to dud the good people, who are the West Epping bowlers, of their property.

This belies the honourable actions of those who made the decision for the West Epping Bowling Club and Panthers Group to merge.

It is true that West Epping Bowling Club joined the Panthers organisation with a healthy bank balance, a well position land property, and a belief that it [the amalgamation] would mean both security and improvements.

They became West Epping Panthers … and they were excited about their future in a bigger and (apparently) more robust family of clubs.

Not so long after the amalgamation was completed, there was a significant – a dramatic – change in the tax regime on poker machine revenues. As a result, proposed spending on the West Epping was placed on hold – it became impossible to finance.

It was clear that things would be  difficult but there was confidence and optimism built on the sound and shared values, and open communications.

I know many will justify the West Epping closure with cries that these are hard times, and the future looks even harder. Hard times demand hard decisions. It is an economic reality that these sorts of things occur.

But there are 2 points that need to made about that:

  1. Process – the Panthers philosophy in the past, when it was a leader in the industry, was to keep the highest priority on preserving dignity, behaving respectfully of others, & being honourable & trustworthy. Even the hardest decision, decisions that were at times bitter, were implemented with the values respect, dignity, & trust resonating.
  2. Economic Imperatives – have dominated the club industry for a some years now. This is one of the main reasons there is a disconnect between clubs and the general public. And especially with the younger generation who are quick and alert in detecting a lack of authenticity. Professor Hing expressed it very well a few years ago:

This change in focus [by NSW clubs] from social to economic imperatives has aroused public and political scepticism about the clubs’ actual distinctiveness from profit-based organisations.

The rising dominance of economic imperatives is great, great pity because the club model is a very strong enterprise model, capable of delivering enormous benefit to communities.

There are some clubs that have adjusted really well to the changing community needs but the one hat was once the innovative leader has allowed to its focus to trip it up to the point that rather enhancing the community it is accused loudly of dudding it.

I don’t know what is most depressing – the fact that the West Epping bowlers have been dudded, or helplessly standing by and watching the decline and decay of  what was once a great community organisation.

Note: Until last year I was the Marketing Manager at Panthers. I have tried to write this in terms of general principles rather than the specific issues that are impacting the governance & management of Panthers Group. 

Efficiency is NOT a strategic direction!

In General Mish-Mash on September 6, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Towards Strategic Repositioning

Note: This is an edited version of a paper prepared in July 2008. I have included it here because it is relevant other bits of mish that have recently been – or are about to be – mashed!

Setting the Scene 1 – McDonald’s

In 2003, McDonald’s announced losses of over $300m for the final quarter of 2002. It was the first time the company had resorted to red ink in its 48 year history.

The losses were the result of a drop in sales. Share prices plummeted. There were serious doubts about its future.

Despite having 30,000 restaurants in over 100 countries and more than 47 million customers a day, it had stagnated.

The pressure brought to bear on the company came from issues that had, in essence, changed its brand position.

The issues facing McDonald’s were simultaneously shrinking their market, their sales, their margins, and their brand equity. The issues included the challenge of obesity and especially childhood obesity, price wars with its main US competitors, anti-globalisation movements and, the killer for the fast food burger, a change in consumer habits.

Setting the Scene 2 – The A-League

In 2003, the game of soccer in Australia had reached such a nadir that there was a parliamentary enquiry into how it was administered.

Unlike McDonald’s, Soccer Australia had used exclusively red ink for its entire 27 year existence. The game was riddled with political and ethnic problems. In Australia it had low brand equity,  low attendances, and very dim prospects.

Yet it had control of the Australian franchise of the most popular sporting product on the planet.


These two scenarios, though carrying quite different antecedents resulted in very similar responses.

Someone had to make a strategic decision. The competing strategies were to either battle on or make fundamental change(s). In both cases the decision was to stop, pause, re-think, and completely re-shape their businesses.

In both instances a stake was placed in the ground. The stake represented a “point of no return” commitment to change.

While the resulting change fingered all aspects of these businesses operationally, there was much about the process that was marketing driven.

The NSW Licensed Club Industry – Circa 2008

In 2007-8 the NSW licensed club industry is operating under pressure.  Pressures are being applied from a variety of sources.

Changes in consumer behaviour are shrinking the size of the market for club products, increases in competition shrinks the market place even further, the current economic cycle and changes in some regulations are driving sales down.

Other regulations (smoking, harm minimisation) and the tax impost are driving costs up.

This operating environment hamstrings any ability to re-invest in the club business and leads to an inability to live up to the raison d’etre of many clubs.

Being unable to finance their reason for being leads to an inability to justify or support the “community benefit” defence against attacks.

The industry and its operators are on vicious cycle.  Their vulnerability as a target magnifies and is an easy mark for those intent on attacking 2 of the core products of our industry – gaming and alcohol. If community relevance is in doubt then so must be the “licence” to trade in the 2 core licensed products.

It is not pretty.

Responding to the Pressure

There seems to be 2 choices in responses to this pressure cooker:

  • Option 1 – battening down and trying to outlast the conditions
  • Option 2 – transforming our business model to take advantage of the prevailing conditions

Option 1 – Riding Through the Storm

Choosing to play the waiting game, reducing the size of our businesses while we wait,  assumes that the fundamental model of our business is right and the conditions we face are a temporary aberration.

It assumes the paradigms under which we are now operating are “in sync” with our normal environment and the current conditions will, at some time, settle back to that normalcy.

This is what we have been doing.

Our attention has been on battening down the hatches and getting ourselves lean, strong, and fit enough to emerge bruised but intact when the storm subsides.

This takes the form of our emphasis on operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Option 2 – Overcoming the Conditions Through Transformation

Choosing the second option assumes that our model, relative to the operating environment, has hit a systemic flaw and the conditions are a symptom of a deeper malaise.

It assumes the environment has shifted and that our paradigms need to change to accommodate that shift. That is:

“what was normal, is no longer”.

To counter this involves a strategic examination of the environment and how we connect and communicate within that environment.

It doesn’t assume that over time the “storm” will change but that we must change so that we take advantage of it.

Selecting this path is also to select a path that contains inherent risk and angst.

There is a third option. This involves taking the actions necessary to stave off the prevailing conditions while we critically examine and then shift the paradigm of our model. Essentially though, this option is merely the sensible, even necessary, method of approaching Option 2.

Cycles – Vicious or Virtuous

We are always in some type of cycle.

The question is whether the cycle is vicious – a slippery slide to undesirable destinations – or virtuous – a more difficult path but with attractive outcomes.

The indications are there that we are on a cycle that is vicious.

What we face is not a simple aberration but a systematic and predictable downward trend. There may be a coincidence of events causing magnification to some problems – a perfect storm type coincidence – but the signs are that many of the issues we face are here for the long haul.

In my opinion, there is one possibility for shifting the cycle from vicious to virtual – and that would be a major reform to gaming taxation. Such a shift would give us room to do what most successful businesses do – invest in ourselves.

Even if this happened, I think we would still need to ask whether it would represent a turning of the cycle or just a shift up the existing cycle. Any future stutter or stumble causing a quick slide downwards again.

We predicted much of what we face today. That, in itself, suggests that the conditions are not an aberration but part of some type of system.

Operational Effectiveness and Strategy

As an industry there appears to be very little movement on addressing any of the issues we face. Well, little movement beyond providing guidelines for governance, checklists for compliance and tools aimed at improving operational effectiveness.

Our communciations have been limited to trotting out facts and figures about the impacts we have on employment, community infrastructure and projects, welfare, sport, and charitable organisations.

As an operator, we are doing many of the things you’d expect – in summary we are:

  •  finding ways to cut our cloth so that we operate in a way that suits a contracted market situation.
  •  looking for ways to convince people that we are relevant to the their community
  • developing messages to try and counter the strident critics.
  • developing communications that will create a desire to visit us.
  • developing reporting mechanisms that tell us with ever-increasing accuracy how much more we need to cut, how much less there is to spend, and how long it will be before we expire if we don’t cut.

Despite my language, I do not mean, in any way, to diminish the importance of committing to and exploring ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operation.

However, it is important to understand that operational effectiveness is not strategy.

Paradoxically, for an industry to have efficiency as its primary focus, the end result is imitation and homogeneity … and the inevitable result is diminished returns.

We, our industry – indeed, probably much of enterprise – have allowed operational effectiveness to supplant strategy as the key driving force.

In our case strategy has been forced at gunpoint to get into the back seat.

We have recently been through and continue to exercise improvement to our practices that will increase our effectiveness. That has been, and continues to be, necessary – even vital.

But it is not sufficient.

There are worrying signs that strategy is seen as nothing more than a communications campaign. Strategy is pigeon-holed as a segment of the marketing function – a creative way of selling the things we have always done and continue to do. It is a thinking that is very dangerous.

The evidence for this?

  • promotions continue unabated and unchanged for lengthy periods
  • suggestions of change to product mix are met with horror
  • potential group initiatives beyond  group wide promotions are not supported, even undermined (eg standard of core membership benefits)
  • the expression, “our competitors are doing this so we should” is almost a mantra from some quarters.
  • price increases or reduced discounts are statements of sacrilege.
  • our Board becomes increasingly concerned about operational issues. They “sweat the small stuff”, so to speak.
  • severe reluctance to make choices

There is good reason for the existence of this evidence – I think.  It is endemic and systemic.

We have no well-defined strategic position that can be used to support a paradigm shift by our operational managers. We cannot engage our site managers from a central group strategic position because we cannot get that position to hold water – at the moment.

Further – the pursuit of operational effectiveness is at all times tangible, it is actionable, measurable and can be very re-assuring. It is easy for a focus on operational effectiveness to dominate the agenda at the expense of strategy.

Developing a Strategic Position.

Now is a great time to redress the balance between operational effectiveness and strategy. It may even be a necessary time.

It is time for us to stop, pause, re-think and re-shape – to place the stake in the ground.

While this process can be driven by marketing and financed by the marketing budget, it can only work if we collectively grab the stake and drive into the ground. We all need to commit to the process and its outcome(s), … whatever they may be!

War! What is it good for? Part II

In General Mish-Mash on July 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Ok! Ok!  (See today’s Daily Telegraph: NRL Tackled on pokies profits.)

The combatants keep ramming home their positions on the mandatory pre-commitment for people who want to play poker machines. It’s a knock ’em down, drag ’em out battle where each side questions – nah! insults – the integrity and veracity of the other.

The passion is wonderful – well, it would be wonderful if it could be used constructively.

Mr Xenophon has laid down the defining gauntlet. His goal is the complete eradication of poker machines from our society. It’s his legitimate right to take that position and fight that fight. He is a smart man, though, and he must realise that prohibition is a dangerous road. Not dangerous for him but very dangerous for those he wants to protect – those affected by problem gamblers.

In saying that … in a way he has it right – eradication of gambling will cause the eradication of problem gamblers. The ultimate harm minimisation measure of those who operate under prohibition is – eradication. If you had a problem arising from gambling in Chicago in the 1920’s, your problem would be quickly and effectively attended.

The Harm Minimisation Team

So, does Mr Xenophon really want poker machines deleted from our society? Well, he probably does – he has adopted the role of the patron saint of the problem gambler and his belief is that the machines create the problem. It is a deeply held belief.

I think he has a genuine concern for those affected by problem gambling, yet every (recovering) problem gambler that I ever met (and it has been many) knows full well that the moment they focus on the machines (or bookmaker or casino or …) as the cause of the problem, their recovery is in jeopardy.

Andrew Wilkie, I dunno about him … and probably never will. He claims his stance is steeped in his personal integrity – after all, he is prepared to lose his job over it! But really, is he just taking a giant punt here? Is he really dedicated to problem gamblers or is he just using the issue as collateral for his play for some sort of power? Questions I can’t seem to answer.

Jenny Macklin? I wonder will she insist that the Labor Party take a stand and demands the immediate removal of gaming machines from the Labor, Workers, & Union clubs dotted around the State. A starting point and leadership position.

Now, what about the other side of the argument?

The other side is defending, even their attacks have a defensive ring. Venues and operators feel they are being attacked – and defence is the natural response.

But have they recognised that some of their own behaviours have been provocative.? These behaviours may well be forced upon them by economic imperatives … nevertheless it is what the public witnesses, it is what they have to interpret.

The public, in general, regard machine game operators with some level of cynicism and scepticism – not because they operate machine games. No! But because of the way they operate machine games – the way the machines have become the focal point of attention.

At the venue I worked in for many years, the over-riding philosophy was one of generosity, a generosity of offer, a generosity to community, a generosity towards those in trouble and in need of help, a generosity and respect toward individuals and the value of people.

If you could encapsulate its philosophy in a single sentence it would be – to provide a venue where people could be entertained in a myriad of ways, at low cost, often without cost.

The prime objective was to ensure people enjoyed themselves and received value, irrespective of whether they played the poker machines.

As operating costs became tighter and tighter, as regulations became more stringent and more costly, as taxes rose … something had to give. The generosity receded. Events, venues, & facilities that offered distractions at low cost were reduced or cut and, naturally, the profile and importance of machines loomed larger to both the operator and the customer.

The community’s respect and admiration for this local icon (and many other venues) plummeted. The people in the community believed that the primary focus had become machines. They came to believe that because that is the behaviour they saw.

As you focus, so you behave.

So, both sides of this battle are focused on the machines. And no-one is focused on those that are suffering. (Nick, no matter how much you postulate that machines are the problem, every problem gambler knows that the real problem lies within and the machine is just an instrument.)

So, my question to all the combatants, and all affected by the combat, is –

“What would happen if all the resources, attention, and intelligence that are being applied to this war were diverted to attend to those who suffer (and those who could be identified as having a propensity to suffer) from the cruel and invisible addiction?”

Stop your bickering and politicising, stop focusing on the machines, start focusing on the job of making our world a better place for more people, start broadening the offering and being more generous … and especially spare a thought or two or three or more for those people who need help but you are using as political footballs.