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?