A Gamble We Must Win

20 January 2012
I envy people who have moral certitude. DH is what I would refer to as a fundamentalist atheist. Convinced there is no god, that there couldn't possibly be a god, that in the face of the evidence it is foolish to believe otherwise. He spends hours reading and debating atheist philosophy I can't pretend to understand, but the basic principle is simple. No god. I envy that. I'm all confused. I would describe myself, depending on how I'm feeling on the day, as anything from semi-agnostic lapsed Catholic through to atheist. It's hard to escape the Irish Catholic upbringing, and I've never quite gotten over the concept of sin. I'm a lefty these days, of course, which means there aren't many things I would actually class as a sin that don't involve cruelty to small children or animals. But if there's one thing I would class as sinful, it's gambling. Everything about it is wrong. I don't think we should all go around wearing hair shirts at the state of the world - be mindful of others, but enjoy your life - but come on. Money means so little to you you can afford, in essence, to throw it away? And if you do win, it means many others have had to lose to provide you with those winnings. I understand for many though it's a disease, an addiction - they've fallen for the claims of the gambling industry, the false promises of those who profit at their expense, who are the ones to whom we should direct our ire. The whole thing just seems deeply, deeply wrong to me.

If gambling is bad, poker machines are the lowest form of the practice. Bright and colourful, playing cheerful enticing music reminiscent of the fairground attractions of old, they lure in the desperate and the lonely as well as the drunk and greedy. NSW has the shameful title of the world's poker machine capital - one in ten (!) of the world's poker machines are in my home state; Australia as a nation is home to 20% of the global total. It's a horrific figure, built off the sufferings of thousands upon thousands of people; the poker machine addicts and their families. And whilst it's true that most poker machine users aren't gambling addicts, most poker machine revenue comes from those with a gambling problem.

Something needs to be done, and I can only applaud the bravery of Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who has taken on a mammoth task in attempting to pass legislation that will require gamblers to limit their bets before they make them - stemming, one would hope, the out-of-control gambling that comes as a pokies user loses what they have, then goes into debt trying desperately to win it back. Of course, the poker machine industry, enamoured of the rivers of cash that flow from the misery of problem gamblers, have no intention of going down without a fight. With their massive financial power, they're undertaking a massive campaign against the changes, claiming that they won't work to stop problem gambling (wrong), that betting limits are un-Australian (puerile) and most indefensibly, that community and charitable groups will be hobbled as registered clubs, deprived of their poker machine revenue, will no longer be able to afford to support them. I've written previously about how clubs boast of their community involvement and charitable contributions whilst in reality, they give very little of their revenue "back to the community" - every registered club is legally required to publish their annual financial statements; check out your local club and see just what percentage of revenue they give to their precious community groups. The pokies lobby portrays movements to curb problem gambling as taking the footballs out of the hands of little kids who wish to play. It's emotive bullshit, it's a lie, and it's a scandal that the media lets them get away with it.

The pokies lobby is going to fight dirty here, so it's important everyone who supports these reforms - or even those who aren't sure and would like more information - checks out Stop the Loss, a coalition dedicated to poker machine reform. We need to show that the poker machine lobby can't lie to ordinary Australians to get their way any more. And to press the Labor government to make the reforms law. I've even defended Julia Gillard over the carbon tax, but this goes beyond politics - Gillard must live up to her election promises and not be swayed by the pressure of a wealthy lobby group over the welfare of many, many good hardworking people seduced by the lure and lie of the pokies.


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