Churches launch national gambling taskforce

Churches launch national gambling taskforce

Australia’s major churches met at a national forum in Canberra today to launch the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce amid calls for urgent action on gambling reform.

Senior representatives from the Uniting, Catholic, Baptist and Anglican churches and The Salvation Army attended, along with senior representatives from the church-based social services peak bodies.

Existing state church gambling taskforces were also represented.

President of the Uniting Church and Forum Chair, the Rev. Alistair Macrae, said that each year thousands of children suffered because of the impact of someone’s poker machine gambling.

“For every problem gambler at least one child is affected and ten other people are directly adversely impacted,” Mr Macrae said.

“Between 2008 and 2009 Australians spent $12 billion on poker machines. Gambling on poker machines is a regular activity for a relatively small number of people.

“Only 600,000 Australians play poker machines on a weekly basis. But 15 per cent of these regular gamblers are problem gamblers and account for 40 per cent of expenditure on the pokies.

“These gamblers are estimated by the Productivity Commission to lose on average $21,000 each year.

“Three quarters of people classified as severe problem gamblers play poker machines. It is possible to lose $1,500 an hour on modern machines.

“The social costs are high: relationship breakdown, mental health issues, unemployment, debt and financial hardship, theft and social isolation. These costs are estimated at $4.7 billion a year.

“The rot has to stop. If a club or hotel can only exist on the back of problem gambling spending and its huge human cost, it is not a viable business. Our priority is to ensure gambling policy supports consumer protection and harm minimisation.

“Gambling is a product that causes a problem for 30 per cent of regular users. This is not a benign product. It is a dangerous product for many.”

He said the Australian churches wanted to see measures which, if people chose to gamble, would help them do it more safely.

“A national pre-commitment scheme that is mandatory in all gaming machine venues is one effective consumer protection measure.

“We support this measure because it focuses regulation on machines and venues and requires gamblers to choose and stick to their own gambling limit. People choose what limit to set, as high or low as they like.”

Mr Macrae said, “Mandatory pre-commitment measures will require all electronic gaming machine venues to install the technology. It will help people help themselves to set and stick to their limits.”

The Australian Churches Gambling Forum is calling on all states and territories to sign on to legislation that will ensure all gaming venues have mandatory pre-commitment technology in place by 2014.

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