priest of the pokies

The Clubs industry have moved into the next phase of their “save our pokies” campaign. This is the “high-profile respectable friends” phase. Yesterday it was David Schwarz, former AFL footballer, former problem gambler and current employee of ALH & Woolworths. Schwarz released a video explaining why (he thinks) mandatory pre-commitment won’t work. The video was, naturally, accompanied by a Clubs Australia media release.

Today, it’s Father Chris Riley: Catholic priest, CEO of the Youth Off The Streets charity, and the 2012 NSW Australian Of The Year. This flyer has been doing the rounds, featuring Fr Riley and his message opposing poker machine reforms.

It’s a Clubs Australia leaflet, of course, and Fr Riley’s message is: “There’s a better way to help problem gamblers.” Mind you, Fr Riley’s “better way” involves counselling and education… which is exactly what Clubs Australia want. And that’s no surprise.

Let’s take a sneak peek inside the war-room of the Clubs pokies campaign staff:

“We’ve got to appear more respectable! They’ve got the Reverend Tim Costello on their side, and all our guys look like used car salesmen!”

“Oh, if only we had someone who could compete with that… hang on, we do! Here’s a priest we prepared earlier!”

You see, Fr Chris Riley and Clubs NSW go back a long way. A long, long way. In 2003, when the NSW Carr Government was planning to introduce new taxes on poker machines in registered clubs, there were howls of outrage and marches in the streets (sound familiar?). Fr Riley was marching right there with them. His position then was that taxing pokie revenue from clubs meant less money for charities like his.

Not a word about poker machine addiction; it was all about the money.

In 2009, Fr Riley made a submission (on behalf of YOTS) to the productivity Commission’s inquiry into gambling. He painted a glowing picture of Clubs NSW, and stated that YOTS and Clubs NSW had been working in partnership for almost a decade. There was also a lot of testimony with regards to donations; I’ll come back to that later.

No mention of poker machines.

More recently, Fr Riley has been attending Clubs rallies opposing the current reforms. Speaking at Parramatta Leagues Club in August, he said that without backing from licensed clubs, many of the young people he helped “would be in danger on the streets.”

True enough; but again, he refused to acknowledge where that backing comes from.

The sad fact is that Fr Riley, for all the tremendous good he does with YOTS, is a priest who has been bought and paid for by Clubs NSW.

Here’s the full text of Fr Riley’s “message” from the flyer:

“Neither mandatory pre-commitment or lowering maximum bets will help problem gamblers. I’ve witnessed problem gambling in the community and I believe the only way to treat it is through counselling and education.”

“I’m greatly concerned that in making clubs spend $3 billion to install the technology, all the Government will actually achieve is to put people out of work and strip money from the charities and sporting groups that clubs support.”

I bleeped over the first paragraph; if he’s not talking about poker machine addiction then his opinion is irrelevant. And counselling and education? The Clubs Australia mantra. Let the addiction develop, let the damage be done and the money get spent, and then bring on the counselling? Oh, please.

But the second paragraph is telling. “Strip money from the charities”? That’s his main concern.

In 2005, World Vision rejected a $100,000 donation from Clubs NSW because it was the proceeds of gambling. They did the same thing after the Boxing Day Tsunami, when Clubs NSW tried to give them $500,000. In both cases, Fr Riley’s YOTS took the money instead. Without a qualm.

In his submission to the Productivity Commission (told you I’d come back to that), Fr Riley stated that registered clubs in NSW had donated $3.5 million to YOTS, as of March 2009. He then listed all 311 clubs that had donated to his charity. Additionally, Clubs NSW had donated $850,000 above and beyond that amount. That was the basis of his support for the clubs industry… because they give him money.

Last year, Bankstown Sports Club donated $100,000 to YOTS. Merrylands RSL gives them $75,000 every year. There is a veritable cascade of poker machine dollars flowing into Fr Riley’s charity… is it any wonder he doesn’t want that to stop?

Even if a large percentage of it comes from the addicted?

Even if the massive amount of money YOTS receives is only a fraction of what poker machine gamblers spend?

Even if those donations are tinged with the stain of family breakdown, domestic abuse and suicide?

The sad reality is that as long as the donations keep pouring in, Fr Riley will say what Clubs NSW want. He is more interested in helping clubs stay strong than he is in helping the victims of poker machine addiction.

How far he has fallen is best summed up by the following quotes. In 2003, Fr Riley stated:

“I acknowledge that the great problem facing the community is people who are addicted to gambling and I call for the clubs to put in place systems and supports to help people fight this addiction.”

Yet just five years later in 2008, at the 2020 Summit, Fr Riley stated:

“Gambling is not the only social evil challenging Australian families and communities today.”

…and then went on to talk about divorce, family breakdown and financial hardship; all of which are fundamentally tied to poker machine addiction. But not in his eyes.

That’s a fair attitude shift, Fr Riley. Gee, I wonder what caused it?

Note: Many thanks to @jonesytheteachr and @mprimme for the images, and thanks to sis-in-law @rell25 for helping with the funny.

13 comments for “priest of the pokies

  1. December 7, 2011 at 5:03 am

    It seems to me that the debate currently raging in Australia is partly rooted in a failure to distinguish between what will help problem gamblers, and what will help prevent people from becoming problem gamblers.

    Fr. Riley is right. Pre-commitment will not help problem gamblers. Pre-commitment tools will help “at risk” players manage their gambling by allowing them to make decisions about how much they’re prepared to lose BEFORE they begin play and potentially get caught up in a need to begin chasing losses. In Canada we talk about this as “responsible gambling”.

    There are other tools available to support problem gamblers, including self-exclusion programs and counselling of course.

  2. December 7, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I have witnessed Father Riley completley dismiss PG as the underlying cause of many of the “good works” he gets funded by the Clubs. I wonder what the Churches Taskforce on PG would make of him. With regard preventions vs treatmetn Ias a PG counsellro for many years I have had many client who would find Pre-committement valuable eg the guy who posted his ATM cards to himself each Friday so he didn’t have them over the weekend, the woman who puts them in the freezer so she has to wait for them to de-frost ie curbing the impulse and using strategies to maintain control. These are people with full blown PG but also rationally able to make decisions (responsible gambling) before they are in front of a machine. Likewise the pensioner who wants to keep gambling on the pokies but reduce her spending from $800 to $20 a session-that’s harm reduction and pre-committment would give her the tools.

  3. GP975
    December 7, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I’m sure Father Chris Riley means well, but I don’t think he’s done himself any favours by supporting the Clubs Australia pokies campaign.

  4. December 7, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Of course, without the social dysfunction caused by issues such as problem gambling, how would Fr Chris have anyone to carry out “good works” on in order to keep bribing gawd for his ticket to heaven?

  5. mark
    December 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I see Father Riley driving his HUGE shiny 4wd with huge dogs & over-sized parrot around Moss Vale & dining at the (***** trading name removed) Bistro.
    I often wonder how this is funded, and how he reconciles this lifestyle with the privations of those people his organisation was formed to assist.

  6. The Claw
    December 7, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Nothing to do with pokies or funding from Clubs Australia, imho. All I see here is a Catholic priest throwing his weight behind a political attack which he hopes will help unseat an atheist Prime Minister and install fellow Catholic Tony Abbott in the lodge.

    Never expect ethical behaviour from those in positions of power within a religious structure, and you’ll never be disappointed.

  7. mark
    December 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    so good to see that they pay no attention to the “render unto caesar, “my kingdom is not of this world” rantings of that old commie…

  8. scott eagar
    December 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Father riley is being funded to say this crap. He is right about the pre commitment card. Its stupid. Hey Ive got an idea…. why don’t we look at stopping people getting addicted to pokies in the first place???? hey what a great idea. Its a shame you guys are all arguing over damage control solutions.

  9. tflip
    December 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Ah yes, better to have Fr Riley at the bottom of the cliff with his shiny well upholstered ambulance than put a fence in place at the top.

    This from the outfit that brings you the similar logic of no condoms or abortions but orphanages instead.

    And do we really want priests having anything to do with youth on or off any street? Still, I am sure George Pell will be backing him.

  10. December 7, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    @scott eagar

    Personally, there’s nothing I’d like more than to see pokies gone for good. They’re a blight on every pub I go to (except a select few who bravely forgo the revenue).

    However I also accept that some people like to play them, and those people, it seems, have a voice and a right to use them responsibly. And some political clout. Apparently.

    So damage control – or more accurately damage prevention and minimisation – is still the order of the day.

    It’s called pragmatism.

  11. December 8, 2011 at 12:54 am

    So the good father is against pre committeemen t. He knows more than the productivity commission who spent years studying problem gambling and the host of problem gamblers who have come out publicly to say pre commitment mandatory cards would help them. The combined inter church task force and leading academics. He is a staunch supporter of clubs who make nearly half their income off the backs of innocent people who are addicted to their poker machines (nearly $5 billion dollars a year) . Now would the good father please ask his friends at the clubs to reimburse the public the $4.7 billion dollars that has been identified by the PC ask the amount we fork out every year as a community to fund the social damage the clubs do. EG jailing the addicts, court costs, broken homes,kids going hungry , emergency shelters,food and rental assistance etc etc

  12. December 8, 2011 at 1:00 am

    i forgot to mention well written exposure of the good father done by Cyenne :O)

  13. December 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    There are a lot of people on the social media networks who are currently rationalising that Father Riley’s endorsement of what basically amounts to inaction on gambling addiction (he prefers the current unsuccessful measures) is okay because a few hundred thousand out of the billions of dollars lost by addicts is donated to YOTS & its good works each year.

    Those people should be able to answer this set of questions very easily. I walk past at least 3 brothels (seriously) on my way to Central station here in Sydney. If those brothels donated some of their takings from prostitution to Father Riley, should he a) accept the donation, b) make it public & c) endorse the brothels while also recommending that the prostitutes should have access to careers advice so that they can eventually leave prostitution and take up another career if they wish to do so? Because that is a very similar situation to what is happening with Youth Off The Streets & Clubs Australia.

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