Dirty, rotten lies

Peter Kell

The Clubs industry in Australia has just launched a $20 million lie – if we believe them, we will miss a once in a generation opportunity to radically transform the way we care for those who are addicted to gambling.

The Clubs industry is so driven by greed that it will stop at nothing to prevent reforms proposed by Federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie from taking effect.

Mr Wilkie wants the Federal Government to pass legislation that would put a limit on how much can be lost in a single session playing the pokies - punters would pre-commit how much they can lose. They might use a pre-paid card, much like that used to top up your mobile phone credit; a simple and consumer-friendly suggestion that won’t deter casual punters.

Clubs say that controlling how much you can lose on poker machines is not necessary, constrains civil liberties and will destroy their local members. All lies.

Clubs will also say that Mr Wilkie’s reforms will stop them contributing to the community and cost jobs. But Clubs get tax breaks that dwarf their community contributions and Clubs in Western Australia are thriving without pokies.

The truth is Clubs don’t want the reforms because they reap the rewards of others’ suffering. In its 2010 report on gambling reform, the Productivity Commission found that 40 percent of all losses on poker machines come from problem gamblers, handing Clubs at least $800 million a year.

Frankly this is disgusting, and it is morally reprehensible for Clubs to try and bully the Australian Government to let this situation continue.

If the alcohol industry received 40 percent of profits from alcoholics, there would be outrage, particularly given the family breakdown and wider economic costs. This situation is no different.

Get the facts on problem gambling

As always, smart policy is supported by simple facts and strong research. Some main findings from the Productivity Commission that you need to know are:

• Poker machines are the second highest cause of crime in the community after illegal drugs (Victorian Government)
• There are about 115,000 problem gamblers in Australia and a further 280,000 are at ‘moderate risk’
• Poker machines are responsible for the vast proportion of problem gambling
• NSW alone reaps about $1 billion each year in revenue from poker machines
• Last year 1 in 5 people who attended the Emergency Department at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne after attempting suicide, said problem gambling was the reason for their suicide attempt.

Additionally, media reports this week revealed that Woolworths has applied to lift the number of poker machines it controls from 12,100 to 13,300, meaning that to would surpass the top five casinos in Las Vegas for the number poker machines it would own.

For more detailed information and a clear fact sheet, visit the website of Senator Nick Xenophon.

Opportunity for reform

Whatever you may think about Andrew Wilkie, he is a determined, if not courageous social reformer. He faces an angry opposition in Clubs that have been given too long a leash and are complicit in the widespread extent of problem gambling.

Mr Wilkie has made it clear that his support for the Gillard Government depends on it introducing legislation to come into effect next year, with full pre-commitment in place by 2014. Mr Wilkie says he will walk away from the Labor Government if it does not make these reforms happen in all States and Territories. If he does walk, Mr Wilkie will bring down the Government.

It is not clear if other Independent MPs like Rob Oakeshott will support Mr Wilkie’s reforms. Mr Oakeshott has been sitting on the fence. Frankly, if Mr Oakeshott were to read the Productivity Commission’s report and consider his wider social responsibility to those beyond the clubs in his electorate, I don’t know why he wouldn’t support Mr Wilkie. The evidence is in. The need and suffering are incontrovertible.

Christians can be a powerful voice

Now more than ever it seems that the Prime Minister is trying to engage the Church. Imagine if tens of thousands of Christian people wrote to the PM, offering their support for the pre-commitment gaming reforms. Imagine if thousands of churches prayed for better care for those addicted to poker machines. There is real power and influence to wield. And all of Australia will benefit.

If you are an investor, think about where your dividends coming from. Are you happy for your grocery and petrol bills to further enrich a company that has such an enormous interests in pokies?

As always, here is a space to speak in to. Clubs are spending $20 million to have their say. All you have do to is pick up a pen and paper and pray.

I cannot stress enough that we are truly at a historic point; to achieve reform that will make our society stronger by quashing interests that profit from others’ pain. 

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