‘Don’t be played by the clubs industry’
The Rev. Tim Costello, Chair of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce has urged the people in marginal electorates in New South Wales to speak out for a safer community when Clubs Australia brings its misleading marginal seat campaign to their neighbourhood in the coming days.
Speaking ahead of Clubs Australia rallies planned in the Kingsford Smith electorate in Sydney and the Tweed region in northern New South Wales, Mr Costello said clubs provide valuable services for local communities and that the Taskforce supports this essential role.
“But poker machine addiction creates serious problems for some people and the evidence can be hard to spot,” 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.
“Since most people don’t use them, most people don’t understand the impact poker machines can have on some people.
“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.
“So for every two machines there is roughly one problem gambler, and for every problem gambler ten other people are affected, including at least one child.
“The social costs are high, including relationship breakdown, mental health issues, unemployment, debt, financial hardship, theft and other crime, social isolation and all too often suicide, at a cost of around $4.7 billion annually.
“Gamblers can lose up to $1,500 an hour on modern high intensity machines. Twelve billion dollars a year is spent on poker machines in Australia, but the small group of severe problem gamblers accounts for $2.6 billion of gaming machine losses.
“That’s money that could otherwise be spent in local businesses on groceries, children’s clothes, entertainment, holidays and other, regular family expenses. Local businesses are major employers in regional Australia, but they’re in competition with poker machines for limited local dollars.
“In no other industry would consumers be exposed to such a dangerous product without reasonable protection.
“We have limits on the amount we can safely drink, and it’s illegal to serve alcohol to someone who is intoxicated. It’s mandatory to wear a seatbelt even though the catastrophic consequences of car accidents are rare considering the number of people who travel in a car every day.
“There are limits on where people can smoke in order to limit the impact of passive smoking. And so it should be that children, families, colleagues and whole communities should be protected from the devastating impact of someone’s addiction to poker machines.
“Mandatory pre commitment measures will require poker machine players to decide in advance how much they are willing to lose. The limits can be as high or as low as the player chooses. Once ‘in the zone’ problem gamblers say they are incapable of making safe choices. But in a sober moment, in the cold light of day, they can make more rational decisions.
“Local communities can make a difference by supporting the Federal Government’s poker machine reforms that will help problem gamblers help themselves.”
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.