Today’s announcement that Clubs NSW are partnering with the Salvation Army to trial a “clubs chaplains” scheme is just the latest in a long line of bandaid solutions put forward by Australia’s poker machine industry.
In case you missed it, the concept calls for uniformed Salvation Army chaplains to be stationed in gaming rooms, for four days a week, to offer guidance and support to problem gamblers. There will be a 12 month trial at Mingara Recreational Club.
Clubs NSW boss Anthony Ball (who also heads Clubs Australia) talked up the scheme in the usual way. “That is a vital first step on the path to repair for these people,” he said. “Giving somebody a card to play, limiting them to $1 at a time, that’s not the way you help someone with a problem.”
Think about that. And think about the clubs industry’s previous ideas, including more counselling, stronger self-exclusion and the ability for family members to have problem gamblers banned from clubs.
All of these have one thing in common. They all involve picking up the pieces after gambling addiction has taken hold.
It’s the clubs mantra: let the problem develop, get the money spent and the damage inflicted, and then say “Oh no, you have a problem. Exclude yourself. And here’s someone you can talk to.”
Ball said it himself. “Someone with a problem.” Ever since poker machine reform became a national issue they have driven this concept, that it’s all about people with problems. They continue to point the finger at people, and away from themselves.
It’s not just about people with problems, but the generations of gamblers to come. People who have never played a poker machine but will become a footnote in the carnage that they wreak on Australian society.
Over the next 12 months, over a quarter of a million Australian teenagers will turn 18. My eldest daughter is one of them; some of your children may be too. Apprentices, students, trainees, employees… our daughters and sons. Teenagers who have never played a poker machine. Young adults who don’t have a gambling problem.
Based on the statistics for poker machine players and problem/major risk gambling in Australia, 28% of these fresh young adults will become poker machine players. That’s over 74,000 new gamblers in the next 12 months, playing the pokies at least once a year.
3.36% will become regular poker machine players. That’s almost 9,000 18-year-olds, gambling on poker machines on a regular basis. Once a fortnight, once a week… maybe more.
And 1.40% will become problematic, or major risk, poker machine players. That’s 3,715 young adults who will develop gambling problems associated with poker machines, every year. They will lose thousands of dollars, experience incredible pain and hardship, depression, anxiety and guilt. Their families and friends will suffer along with them.
This isn’t conjecture. It’s a statistical certainty.
And the clubs industry wants us to rest easy in the knowledge that when these young adults, our children, our friends’ children, hit the wall… there’ll be a chaplain they can talk to.
My answer to Anthony Ball’s pithy throwaway lines about gambling cards and bet limits is unprintable. I have the utmost contempt for him and the industry he represents, because they are willing to let our kids, year after year, walk into the meat grinder just so their clubs can keep humming along.
Poker machine reform is not just about people with problems; more than anything it’s about the countless thousands of people who don’t have problems… yet. But they will. The industry demands it.
No, Anthony Ball, you’ve got it wrong. Giving somebody a card to play, limiting them to $1 at a time… that’s the way you help prevent someone from developing a problem.
It’s a tragedy that the clubs industry is willing to write off 3,715 young lives every year. Having been through poker machine addiction, having seen what it did to me and those who were a part of my life, I hope like hell that my kids aren’t amongst them.
And I hope yours aren’t too.
The above figures are sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (population) and the Productivity Commission (gambling).