4 things Christians can do to stop pokies destroying lives

Reverends Tim Costello, Keith Garner and Simon Hansford shared a Facebook live conversation as part of Gambling Harm Awareness Week, revealing some shocking facts about gambling in Australia.

Costello, who is Chief Advocate with Alliance for Gambling Reform, explained that Australia has the greatest gambling losses, per head, of any nation in the world. These losses total nearly $24 billion per year.

Even more alarming, these losses are 30 per cent higher than the second-ranked country, Singapore.

About $12.5 billion of these gambling losses are lost on poker machines. This is unsurprising, given almost 20 per cent of the world’s pokies are located in Australia.

In News South Wales, the concentration is especially high – it has almost 10 per cent of the world’s poker machines.

Yet, despite the enormity of the social issue, the three men encouraged Christians not to lose hope but, instead, to take active steps towards change.

“Let’s get reform. Not prohibition, reform,” said Costello. “Reform means shorter hours – [poker machines] not open from 9am to 5am.”

Costello also calls for $1 bet spins; in NSW, poker machines allow $10 bets and gamblers can preload up to $7,500 in credit. “Slow the machines down, they do less damage,” said Castello, adding that the “easy money” raised in gambling revenue was “the corruption of both sides of politics”.

“We don’t get gambling reform because both sides of politics are captured by the gambling industry,” he said. But according to Costello, this is where churches can step in and raise awareness of corruption, crime, domestic violence, hungry children and “all that flows from this capture of government”.

Costello said Christians can do these four things to take action:

  1. Pray – “This is an addiction that ensnares lots of your neighbours,” Costello said.
  2. Encourage addicts to break the silence – because many people are locked in shame about their addiction.
  3. Write to your local council to express your concern – encourage them to take action and ask them to join the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
  4. Write to your local member – ask them to “slow the machines down”. Two Productivity Commission reports have suggested doing this (in 1999 and 2007), by setting a limit of $1 bet spins.

Simon Hansford (Moderator, Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW and ACT) said that it was “all well and good” that people like he and Garner (Wesley Mission Superintendent) speak up about the issue of gambling. But he emphasised Christians on the ground, in communities where it is happening, getting involved in advocacy, communication, letter writing and confronting local politicians about “how important this is”.

“Because in the end, this may well be an important policy issue – and it is – but on the ground is where the change is going to happen. [That is] where communities and congregations start saying no to these things and asking for a different way forward.”

Speaking to Uniting Churches under his care as moderator, Hansford also encouraged churches to prepare themselves to become “places of refuge and recovery” for those ensnared in gambling addiction – by becoming acquainted with the local resources and support services available.

The video will be watched in all Uniting Churches in NSW and ACT this Sunday.

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