Australians don’t back clubs on poker machine reform

Australians don’t back clubs on poker machine reform

The Rev. Tim Costello, Chair of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, has said the gambling poll released by the Australian National University shows the clubs have got it wrong when it comes to community support for their opposition to poker machine reform.

Speaking shortly after the launch of Public Opinion on Gambling, which shows three-quarters of the population support mandatory measures to reign in problem gambling on poker machines, Mr Costello said the clubs had hoodwinked a handful of people in some communities to support their marginal seat campaign aimed at discrediting the government’s proposed reforms.

“But we know from today’s poll and from previous polls that Australians are largely supportive of mandatory pre commitment measures that limit the impact of problem gambling,” Mr Costello said.

“Problem gambling disproportionately affects people who are already financially vulnerable and poker machine venues are most strongly concentrated in poorer suburbs and areas.

“The Government is currently considering measures that require all poker machine players to decide ahead of time how much they are willing to lose in any gambling session. These limits can be as high or as low as the player likes. No-one is telling them how much they can or can’t spend, but simply that players have to at least think about their losses ahead of time.

“Contrary to what the clubs industry say, there will be no finger printing, no invasion of privacy, very simple and inexpensive machine modifications, and a straight forward card system (via technology and systems already available in many clubs).

“A recent Senate inquiry recommended that the technology need only apply to high loss machines. An estimated 80 per cent of players will prefer the low loss machines and so won’t need to use a card.”

He said mandatory pre commitment was a straightforward measure that would work. “It empowers problem gamblers to help themselves. It does not single them out. It is a measure that applies to all poker machine players.”

He said only those clubs that depended on revenue from people addicted to gambling would lose. A business model that succeeded on the back of other people’s grief was indefensible.

Among its findings the poll suggests that:

  • People who gamble on any activity are more likely to have lower levels of education.
  • The public generally believes there are adverse consequences from gambling, is supportive of some degree of government regulation, but does not support banning gambling altogether.
  • There was considerable support, even among people who gamble frequently, for the idea that people should be limited to spending an amount they nominate before they start gambling.
  • People most often associated gambling problems with poker machines followed by gambling on horse and greyhound races and table games at a casino.
  • Problem gambling is associated, in the public mind, with alcohol abuse, suicide, marital problems, parental neglect and being less compassionate.
  • Attitudes likely to be conducive to stigma and discrimination against people with gambling problems are evident in the community.
  • There was little difference between people who gamble often and non-gamblers in terms of these opinions.

Australia has the highest number of poker machines per capita in the world – around 197,000. Around 600,000 Australians play poker machines at least weekly, and of these 95,000 are problem gamblers who lose on average up to $21,000 a year and account for 40 per cent of the total spending on machines.

Members of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce include the heads of Australian Christian Churches and the heads of their social services agencies nationally, united by a commitment to make poker machine gambling safer.

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