Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Australian Churches Gambling Task Force

Yesterday I attended the second meeting of the Australian Churches Gambling Task Force. Representatives from about 15 different Australian Churches, including some Heads of Churches and heads of their community services agencies, gathered to finalise the objectives and strategies of the Task Force. There is a strong sense of unity amongst the group recognising that there is a 'once in a generation' opportunity to introduce much needed reform into gambling in this country. The focus of the campaign is to support the legislation being developed by the Government as part of their pre-election agreement with Andrew Wilkie, to legislate to protect problem gamblers from 'high-intensity' electronic gaming machines.

Chair of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, Tim Costello, said mandatory pre commitment for high intensity electronic gaming machines will help problem gamblers who want to help themselves by putting consumer protection measures in place to make poker machine gambling safer. The reforms will mean that consumers can choose how much they are prepared to gamble. The press release indicates that “90,000 problem gamblers losing an average of $21,000 each a year, gambling in Australia is a huge issue and more power needs to be given to the consumer so they can set their loss limits. 600,000 Australians play poker machines on a weekly basis, and around 200,000 of this group are people who have a moderate or severe problem with gambling. Mandatory limits allow people, in a sober moment, to say: ‘I can’t afford another $300 this month.' Each year thousands of children suffer because of the impact of someone’s poker machine gambling, with problem gamblers each affecting at least one child and adversely impacting on 10 others."

“The social costs of problem gambling are high, with relationship breakdown, mental health issues, unemployment, debt and financial hardship, theft and social isolation contributing to costs estimated at $4.7 billion a year,” Rev Costello said.

At least forty per cent of club’s profits come from people addicted to gambling. This explains why the gambling industry has invested so heavily in a fear campaign to oppose reform that would be laughable if it wasn't built so heavily on lies; and if the issue wasn't so serious in terms of damage to problem gamblers and their dependents. I notice that the National Rugby League, which also has an interest in maintaining its revenue on the backs of addicted gamblers, has joined the campaign to discredit and undermine reform.

I hope the Churches and their members, and all members of the community concerned about the social damage caused by these dangerous machines, will contact their local members to express support for these much needed reforms.

Secretarial and infrastructure support is being provided by UnitingCare and soon there will be a website with information and suggestions for action.

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