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Save your supermarket

2 February 2015 Rev Keith Garner's Blog

In our neighbourhood on a Saturday morning, the supermarket is unofficially the hub of the community. If your supermarket is anything like ours, it is always buzzing with families doing their weekly shopping and others buying supplies for barbecues, beach days or other outings. We are all drawn together into the activity hive that is the local supermarket. A visit here is a normal and essential part of daily life for nearly all of us, and it becomes a place where we often bump into friends, having informal catch-ups over those trolleys which never seem to push in a straight line.

However if plans to expand the sale of lottery tickets go ahead, our local supermarket, where we all go to buy our everyday essentials, will become a place of temptation for those in our community who struggle with gambling. This could be anyone from a parent of a young family to an older person on a reduced income. Not only this, having lottery tickets at the eye level of our children tells them that gambling is a part of everyday life, as normal as picking up the weekly groceries.

Lottery tickets often seem harmless. I know there are even some people who pop them in a birthday card for a friend or relative as a fun and colourful novelty to scratch away at and perhaps pick up a small win. However while for some this occasional ticket might be the only time they see a lottery ticket, for others it could be the spark that ignites a lifelong problem that causes untold damage not just to them, but also to their families.

I recall so clearly the first time I saw the extent of this damage. I was heading up a mission program in the north-east of England and I knew a woman there, a wife and mother, whose life had been ruined by an addiction to what we call poker machines. In an effort to help her I went with her one day and we sat and watched what was happening as other people kept putting their money into the machines. It was a harrowing sight, as she became more and more aware just how much hard-earned money was disappearing. She was unable to join in but, by just watching as a spectator, she received an alarming wake-up call.

At this time, there are those in the media who are focusing on the plight of newsagents, whose bread and butter comes in a large part from the sale of lottery tickets, in some cases up to 90 per cent. A recent poll showed 81 per cent of people voted against the move to allow NSW Lotteries to expand their sales of lottery tickets, for the sake of local newsagents who will struggle to stay open if the move goes ahead.

Of course I accept this is a concern, and that newsagents play an important role in our communities, especially in rural areas. However the impact of the increase in availability and visibility of lottery tickets on the vulnerable, who will not even be able to buy bread and milk without being confronted with this temptation, I believe is a major concern for us all.

Every year at Wesley Mission we assist hundreds of families suffering from financial stress, family breakdown or homelessness and many of those are in that position partly because of gambling. The road to recovery is long and hard, and can take years. If we can prevent people from going down this road to start with, we do them, and our community as a whole, a great service.

I read the other day that Lotto products are already being sold in Coles Express stores in Victoria. With the end of the Agency Protection Period coming up in April, it is all the more important for us as a community to do everything we can to ensure the sale of lottery tickets stays out of our supermarkets. There are those in New South Wales government who appear to be strongly supporting the move to allow lottery tickets to be sold in supermarkets. I think this is a retrograde step. I hope you join me in being eager to make sure everyone in our community can do their weekly shopping in our supermarkets without being put at risk of a temptation that has already damaged so many lives.

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