Soft hearts, sharp minds: The $25 billion challenge

Dear Friends,

Have you ever had a kind friend or mentor point out a ‘blind spot’ you have in your life? I have several trusted advisors in my life whose wise counsel I’m grateful for. But ‘blind spots’ can happen on a much larger scale. Australians often look at America, where gun violence and mass shootings are rampant, with horror and wonder how their leaders allow the problem to continue. But did you know that Americans and people worldwide wonder why Australia hasn’t taken action to address its blind spot?

Australia is addicted to gambling – losing more than $25 billion annually, more per person than any other country on earth. And nearly half of this total is lost to poker machines. Australia has some 200,000 poker machines, and almost half of these are in NSW. They are profitable, accessible and deeply harmful. Dotted in pubs and clubs across the state – they are dangerous and designed to addict. In no other place on earth is gambling so ubiquitous. Poker machines are Australia’s blind spot.

In the first half of 2022, people in NSW lost $3.8 billion to poker machines – that’s a lot of essential bills unpaid, retirement savings lost and kids going hungry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s why Wesley Mission is calling for meaningful reform to prevent and reduce the harm from gambling.

This last week, alongside a growing coalition of civil society organisations and faith groups, we launched our 2023 NSW election platform, which we’ve called ‘Put pokies in their place’.

We were privileged to have the launch at NSW Parliament House hosted by Cate Faehrmann MLC and Helen Dalton MP and endorsed by Arab Council Australia, Anglicare, Community Resource Network, Financial Counsellor’s Association of NSW, Indian Crisis & Support Agency, NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS), Older Women’s Network, The Salvation Army, Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Suicide Prevention Australia, Uniting Church Synod of NSW & ACT, and the NSW Council of Churches.

The launch was held in the Jubilee Room – a name which has a real sense of alignment with our message, as ‘jubilee’ in the Bible promises release from indebtedness, freedom from oppressive economic practices. This is exactly what we want to see through policy reform – an end to the predatory practices of the gambling industry. You can watch a recording of the launch event by clicking play on the image below.

We are calling for five reforms. They are proportionate, sensible and are eminently possible of being implemented in the next parliamentary term. And they will significantly reduce harm!

  • Introduce a universal, identity-linked cashless gambling card with the ability to set limits
  • Power-down pokies between midnight and 10 am
  • Introduce a state-wide, independently overseen and enforced self-exclusion register
  • Let communities have a say in local applications about how many pokies there are in their local government area
  • Transparently publish poker machine data by venue.

At the launch, we heard heartbreaking stories of regular people who had been and continue to experience severe gambling harm. We heard about a 61-year-old woman who, through no fault of her own, lost all her superannuation and is close to losing her home. Unbeknownst to her, her husband lost it all on the pokies – he was continually drawn in, and there was always ample opportunity with gaming rooms in a neighbourhood pub and club always open. Anytime, anywhere, any day, there was always a poker machine ready to take his (and his wife’s) retirement money.     

Another woman in her 70s had taken proactive steps to exclude herself from gambling rooms and venues. She wanted someone to stop her if she faltered and went back to gambling on poker machines. Sadly no one ever did stop her, and she kept gambling, except on one occasion when someone intervened. She had felt a little affronted at the time, so she simply left the premises, walked a short way down the road to the next venue, and continued to gamble. 

These are just two stories that demonstrate that the current system is broken. The existing self-exclusion system is so hard to navigate that it is anything but empowering, and the harm caused by after midnight gaming is extreme. This is why our call to ‘Put pokies in their place’ is so important. 

We were delighted that our launch garnered extensive coverage across TV, radio and print media. Here are just a couple of examples, as published in The Guardian and in newspapers nationwide under syndication by Australian Associated Press.

Our gambling advocacy work is a true team effort – informed by experts in our counselling and social work teams, illuminated by voices of lived experience and backed up with hard data and great research by our advocacy team. I am so very grateful.

If you would like to be part of the growing coalition to protect our communities by helping to prevent and reduce gambling harm by keeping gambling reform on the political agenda, get on board here:

The tide is turning. Gambling reform has become a major election issue that parties and candidates cannot ignore. We have real momentum on this issue – and it is just one of the ways that we’re making a difference in NSW and across Australia. We hope you will join us in a revolution of hope!

Every blessing,

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