Over three decades, my friend Rev Tim Costello has been Australia’s pre-eminent advocate for gambling reform. Over that time, Tim has conducted six funerals for people who have tragically died by suicide where gambling harm had been a critical factor. Tim describes Australians as ‘the world’s biggest losers’ because we suffer considerably more gambling losses per person than every other nation in the world – and more than half of those losses are on poker machines.
If, as Tim puts it, Australia is the poker machine capital of the world, it makes NSW, with almost 87,000 machines, nearly half of Australia’s total – the ‘belly of the beast’. Since they were introduced in 1956, the poker machine industry has had a stranglehold on NSW politics.
Remarkably, and in no small part to the ‘Put Pokies In Their Place’ policy platform that Wesley Mission launched late last year, poker machine reform is, for now, the number one election issue – the subject of an avalanche of media attention and political pressure.
Over the last couple of months, Wesley Mission has provided substantive gambling harm research and commentary to media outlets. We have engaged in many conversations with leaders of all political parties and independents as we have educated them about gambling harm and necessary reforms, publishing discussion papers, data analysis and recommendations, which we have also made public. Many outside the major parties have adopted our policy platform in its entirety. We have been among the stakeholders consulted by both government and opposition in their policy development. They have adopted some of our recommendations, and we have affirmed policy announcements where we can and critiqued where we must.
Between now and the election on March 25, there will be more twists and turns in the debate. The gambling industry will do all it can to protect its $8 billion ‘river of gold’. Opposition to reform will be fierce and protracted. And while we have made huge progress, we are still a long way from confirming the sorts of reform that will reduce the carnage caused by these machines that are designed to addict. All this to say, there is a lot more to do leading up to, after and beyond the election – as with perseverance and hope, we continue to press for reform commitments and, ultimately, implementation.
Here are four things you can do to partner in this cause:
- Share Wesley Mission’s gambling reform social media posts (Twitter and Facebook) to your networks. Let’s get the message out!
- Add your voice to our supporter network by signing up to Put Pokies In Their Place
- Write to your local candidates requesting their policy on poker machine reform, or better still, ring their office and ask if they are committed to the introduction of a cashless gambling card.
- Most importantly – pray. This struggle isn’t simply political; it’s spiritual – as all struggles for justice are ultimately. If you pray – pray with me that justice will prevail in the end.
Remember, you can find all about our recommendations to prevent and reduce harm here: wesleymission.org.au/gamblingreform
If you have any questions about gambling reform, or indeed suggestions – please hit reply. I would love to hear from you.
Rev Stu Cameron
CEO and Superintendent, Wesley Mission