Australian Jesuit's gambling defence


IEverybody knows that problem gambling, just like binge drinking and illicit drugs, destroys lives. There were no surprises in last week's Productivity Commission report on gambling, which found that 15 per cent of regular poker machine players are problem gamblers, and contribute about 40 per cent of spending on poker machines.

Governments appear slow to implement measures to reduce its incidence, possibly because they are as addicted to gambling revenue as problem gamblers are to gambling. Last year, the NSW and Victorian governments pocketed $1.6 billion each from gambling revenue.

Undoubtedly there are very good arguments for governments to lessen their reliance on gambling revenues. But should they be aiming to eliminate gambling altogether, as they are with smoking?

The Australian Jesuit Michael Kelly thinks not. He recently criticised so-called wowsers who were urging a ban on betting on the World Cup. He called the 'wowser' view Calvinistic, meaning that it regards gambling as evil in itself. For his part, gambling is a pleasure that must be pursued judiciously within a controlled environment.

He says: 'If you're like me, a modest punter, it's fun: a bit of mental stimulation/distraction, the equivalent of the satisfaction others find in crosswords; if you're like me, it's the occasion for socialising with friends gathered about a common interest.'

Gambling, he says, has traditionally been about speculating on an outcome and being prepared to back your judgement with money or its equivalent.

But such good-natured pursuit of pleasure has been corrupted and manipulated by its organisation on an industrial scale by often unscrupulous operators. These individuals are prepared to exploit the vulnerabilities of members of the public with addictive personalities, to feed their own addictions to the accumulation of wealth.

Efforts to control gambling should not be be focused on the demonisation of gambling itself, but in reining in the practices of unscrupulous operators of casinos and other venues who prey on their patrons, who they regard as fodder.

The Productivity Commission has suggested control measures, and organisations such as UnitingCare have highlighted them. UnitingCare National Director Susan Helyar urges the Federal Government to act immediately to reduce poker machine harm by (i) setting the maximum loss to $1 per button push and $120 per hour, (ii) limiting venue opening hours, and (iii) banning ATMs at venues.

The unscrupulous players who run the gambling industry prefer the value-neutral term 'gaming' to the demonising 'gambling'. So do modest punters. But games only thrive when the play is fair.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Michael Kelly, gambling, Australian Jesuit



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Existing comments

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the mind, like the body, needs recreation. Sitting in the yard watching the flowers bloom or reading a book in the sunshine while smoking a cigar or pipe combines both recreations wonderfully, and the chemical properties of tobacco sooths the nerves and sharpens the intellect.

What He created is good and here for a reason. Nature, and tobacco is one part, is meant to lead us to Heaven. It might not be the Rosary, but the human mind is not always capable of the most elevated thoughts and acts. There is something puritanical in rejecting natural pleasures, even in moderation, simply because they are not explicitly religious.

Gambling and smoking (especially cigars and pipes) are not sinful in themselves. Only the immoderate use is dangerous. Gluttony is a sin.
Trent | 28 June 2010

I completely agree that gambling is not evil in itself. But I think Poker Machines are! The reason I think that is because they are not about gambling at all. They are preprogrammed to make a profit. You cannot win. You might win on particular occasions, but overall you cannot win because the technology is against you. This is not really declared. If I buy a ticket in a lottery I know that I have a very mall chance of winning. But poker machines are deceptive, compulsive, and easily repeated. Ans the ultimate sin - they are just so boring!
Fr John Fleming | 28 June 2010

I completely agree with Father John Fleming regarding poker machines. Technology is misused under a veneer of gambling. Having a bet on a horse or similiar forms of gambling where you are using your judgement to predict the result is true gambling, but, of course, only in moderation.
Trent | 28 June 2010

Michael while both "gaming" and "wagering" are forms of gambling the two are as different as clay shooting and Australian Rules football would be in a sporting sense. I don't think they can be compared and I believe Fr Kelly's argument was very much a defence of "wagering", particularly horseracing, one of this country's most revered and time honoured sports and an industry in itself.
Tom Cranitch | 28 June 2010

I like Fr Fleming's reaction to poker machines and implicit appreciation of the differences in the types of gambling available in Australia. I hate both poker machines and casinos as you might see from my original article which first appeared in UCA News, reacting to the strictures of my Jesuit friend from Hong Kong at

I loathe pokies and casinos for two reasons: first, the way they bring absolutely no value whatsoever because they simply turnover money which in itself has value apart from its being the tradeable token of the value in other things such as work, buildings, etc.; and secondly because of the way governments in Australian States are now themselves as dependent as addicted gamblers on the tax revenue they receive from them.

A decade ago the Victorian Govt received 19% of its revenue from gaming. Forget taxing the users of public services who earn incomes so that those services can be maintained. Hit the poor mug who's sick. That's a nice way to run a civilised society.
Michael Kelly SJ | 28 June 2010

With a name like Michael Kelly how could he not enjoy a punt on the neddies (Thoroughbred or Harness, or even on the dogs? Michael describes the atmosphere in many a TAB in NSW.

However clicking away in the background are the dreadful pokies. Getting rid of the handle made their description as one-armed bandits old hat. But even though they now operate on a push button system they are still bandits. They are programmed to make a profit as John Fleming so succinctly says. They are not pokies. They are pilferers, pillagers,predators, pirates,plunderers. Management of my local club where my friends and I are regular punters of a Saturday afternoon at the club's TAB has told us we are not much value to the club. The return they get from having a TAB agency is negligible compared to what they get from the pokies.

Obviously the club's attitude is the same as the State governments. Too bad about the poor pokie addict putting the rent through the machine in pursuit of the elusive Jackpot
Uncle Pat | 28 June 2010

The gamblers I'd like to see stopped are those who speculate every day on the stock market with money that is usually not theirs. The recreation gambler is not going to cause a global or any other crisis.
Anne | 28 June 2010

Agree with pretty well all comments here.

In any event,history shows us that trying to ban anything where there is a "supply and demand" equation eg.gambling,alcohol,drugs and prostitution,has proven spectacularly unsuccessful.
Peter | 28 June 2010

Organised gambling is a racket very much on the increase and causing me much concern. Should we legislate against it or appeal to conscience if any? I would prefer the latter but I am feeling rather pessimistic over our chances either way.
Thomas A HINKS | 28 June 2010

I completely agree with Father John Fleming regarding poker machines. Technology is misused under a veneer of gambling. Having a bet on a horse or similiar forms of gambling where you are using your judgement to predict the result is true gambling, but, of course, only in moderation.
Trent | 29 June 2010

A question for Trent.....If gluttony is a sin, is it a sin for me to eat too much cheesecake?
Sebastian | 30 June 2010

what specific forms of gambling is Michael Kelly talking about? I think we need a bit more information. Does he mean going to the races?

e.g. "socialising with friends"?

catherine o'brien | 02 July 2010

As a fellow Catholic, could one of the Catholic hierarchy please justify the existence of Catholic clubs whose poker machines generate millions of dollars at the expense of at least hundreds, but probably thousands, of lives damaged or destroyed as the result of addiction?
Bill Farrelly | 02 July 2010


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