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Gillard's gambling problem


Tara Moriarty, secretary of the NSW branch of the Liquor and Hospitality Union, has made perhaps the most useful contribution to the current debate on poker machine reform.

She distanced her union from clubs industry claims, insisting the union was 'certainly not buying into' the 'probably over-stated' campaign. But she stressed that 'it doesn't mean that the workers shouldn't have a seat at the table during this process to make sure that their jobs are protected'.

Her comments reflect an appreciation that care for problem gamblers needs to be balanced against care for workers whose jobs are threatened. 

The Federal Government, on the other hand, is open to the accusation that it regards the jobs as expendable because its survival depends upon the successful passage through parliament of the mandatory pre-commitment legislation. Moreover the Prime Minister's ostensibly empathetic assertion that 'too many people would know a family torn apart by problem gambling' could be disingenuous.

Many people also know families torn apart by unemployment, and there is an onus on Julia Gillard to demonstrate that she is primarily motivated by an ethic of care for the wellbeing of her citizens, and not her own political survival. If this is the case, it follows that she will look after workers affected by the pre-commitment technology.

Assistance provided for workers to make the transition to alternative employment is not the same as the compensation packages that will be sought by the clubs industry and affected gambling entrepreneurs such as James Packer, whose business models rely on profiting from the misery of problem gamblers and their families. 40 per cent of the clubs' profits come from people addicted to poker machines. These profits should be regarded as ill-gotten, and therefore not deserving compensation.

That figure is quoted by Rev. Tim Costello, who chairs the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. He suggests that clubs dependent upon problem gambling revenue are 'operating [on] an unsustainable business model and should seek advice from Western Australia, where there are no poker machines outside the casino, yet communities and clubs thrive'. 

There will be ambit claims for compensation if the ethic of care is obscured by the greed of the clubs and gambling entrepreneurs.

There are arguments that pre-commitment technology is a sign of the 'nanny state' at work and therefore a threat to civil liberties. Nanny state rhetoric is a ruse that gives licence to those who are greedy, or psychologically robust, to prey on the weak and vulnerable.

The so-called nanny state is actually a euphemism for a state that cares for its citizens. Certain powerful interests perceive that as a threat. 

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, gambline, mandatory pre-commitment technology, poker machines



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Existing comments

Michael,I wanted to take the time to thank you for taking your time to show others that there are compassionate people in Australia willing to stand up and speak the truth. The fate of millions of Australians both in this generation and those to come is in the balance.If we as a people allow the gambling industry to win this battle then countless Australians will become government licensed and sanctioned human sacrifices given each day to appease a few heartless and greedy unscrupulous gambling barons bank accounts.

I agree with every thing you have written.Poker machines are addictive and DO destroy lives and if we as a people do not do anything to address this then many pensioners will continue to eat pet food and not buy medicines,kids will go to bed hungry and to school with holes in their shoes,divorces and bankruptcies and host of other sad events will continue to sky rocket. This debate is one that should not be taking place because their can be no rational or economic argument for the continuation for the many to suffer for the profit of the few.

Mandatory precommittments would be a good start.I for one am really looking forward ( with both dread and inspiration) to the out come of the debate and if it goes in favor of big money over fellow Australians I for one will question for ever more what it means to be Australian and who runs the country.

justafamilyman | 31 October 2011  

Change, whether it be market-driven or legislated, often has repercussions in the work-place. Club employees, like other employees affected by change, deserve respect, compensation, and assistance when their jobs disappear. There is no doubt about the adverse effect of gambling in this country on those who can least afford it, and no real evidence that the industry itself is doing anything to prevent this damage. As the first poster says, mandatory pre-committments would be a good start, but it needs to be followed up by a progressive wind-back of commercialised gambling in all its forms.

Ginger Meggs | 31 October 2011  

The nanny state is not a euphemism. It is a damning condemnation of legislators who want to run our lives. However, when a problem reaches past the individual and impinges on the community as a whole, governments not only are permitted to intervene they have a responsibility to do so. Problem gambling has probably reached this point. The cost to the nation economically,socially and morally demands intervention. Why is no government equally concerned about the pervasive danger of alcohol, a drug about which every piece of statistical evidence proves to be an even greater danger than gambling and only marginally below nicotine as a public threat to social cohesion? As regards jobs, if people know their employment is dependent on the exploitation of human weakness, in this case gambling, they know that community tolerance is not always a given. It is the same with charities and sports' clubs who cry what will happen to us if the alcohol spnsorships are removed? Maybe they could have thought of that in the first place.

Grebo | 31 October 2011  

I heard Tara Moriarty on the radio. She made a lot of sense. All interested parties should be "at the table" discussing pokie reform.

But who will be the adjudicator at that table? The Christ-figure, if you like?
It seems to me the discussion (I use the word loosely) is being carried out in the media using every PR deceptive device exposed in The Gruen Transfer.
I do get the impression the Government is not all that keen on Wilkie's proposal of mandatory pre-commitment but politics requires them to do something - even if half-heartedly.

The Opposition on the other hand will throw any grenade (No matter how suspect its origins or its collateral damage) against the Government.

We need more people like Tara Moriarty in public life, especially in the union movement, who can articulate the need to protect workers against possible unseen consequences of well-meaning social reforms. And I don't mean just in relation to poker machine gambling.
We also need more people, like Andrew Wilkie, who can recognise a serious social problem and who are prepared to use the political process to try to get something done about solving it.

Uncle Pat | 31 October 2011  

Social good must come before jobs, although these are not in themselves unimportant.It is a matter of balance and here the balance seems to me obvious. "Our" gambling problem and our dependence on gambling is a community and governmental disgrace.This is doubly the case when the social harm is so great. The selling of tobacco is another example where the harm to the community is so overwhelming that the jobs and point of sale businesses involved have to take a definite second place.

Eugene | 31 October 2011  

The précis of this article in the covering Eureka St email states: "Care for problem gamblers needs to be balanced against care for workers whose jobs are threatened by proposed reforms".
That seemed the sort of statement that would be welcomed by the powerful self-interested lobbies who don't care about balancing their profits from poker machines against the lives and families ruined by addiction. I was relieved that the article itself reflected rather the more considered and socially sensitive analysis that we usually get from Michael Mullins. Pre-commitment is a minor step for a responsible government "that cares for its citizens", in controlling the insidious use of an addictive product that attracts its investors with false hopes.

Peter Johnstone | 31 October 2011  

A state that cared would have adopted the WA approach, and not encouraged mindless, endless gambling.

Poker machines are not the end of it though are they.

I see the local Catholic church promotes Bingo and horse racing as 'innocent pursuits' and takes the profits from their engagement in that to pay for Vatican owned buildings and employees.

Goose and gander equation here, or 'let's just turn a blind eye to what WE do'?

Would the prostitute industry get sucha good hearing I wonder?

Or the drug industry? After all, many solicitors, jail owners, social workers, public servants, mental health workers and so on, owe much of their employment to the illegal drug trade.

Forget the changes offered, and just legislate the prizes right down to 'not worth bothering with', say, $1000 jackpot, and then up the 'losing streak' to about 95%.

Only a total goose, or an addicted gambler, would bother with that sort of odds, and if clubs are not to earn income from addicted gamblers (as if that wasn't the attraction of getting into the trade), then it would not be hard to pick them out as they stand at the machines, and then prosecute the clubs.

Time for the 'jobs, jobs, jobs,' mantra to kick the bucket. It is used to justify everything, and is totally meaningless-except to alert us all to the fact that a 'dodgy deal' is on offer, so dodgy that only the appeal to a capitalist God (JOBS) can sneak it past the gormless punters.

Harry Wilson | 31 October 2011  

More of the nanny state. Adults who play poker machines are big enough and ugly enough to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. You either outlaw pokies or accept the good and bad that comes with having them.

cheynewalk | 31 October 2011  

This old defence is trotted out anytime a reform is proposes, except of course when companies want to offshore Australian jobs, and then it is conveniently forgotten. The proposed reforms are far more likely to cut the mega profits of the gambling industry back to a more reasonable level, than to cost jobs. Indeed the industry claims that few of their punters are problem gamblers, so their own logic says that there will be little effect. We need to start putting the good of the community first.

Even if a few jobs are the cost, in the long term the benefits will outweigh them. I don't think the likes of Packer care too much about Australian jobs - its pure self interest talking when they resort to this defence.

Mike H | 31 October 2011  

Research, including that of the productivity Commission shows that employment in the hospitality industry is equal to or higher in states that do not have Poker Machines e.g. W.A. where they are only at the Burswood Casino. There is a lot of emotion in this whole debate - and too little reliance or reference to the facts

Graham reynolds | 31 October 2011  

this article of of the "tow bob each way variety"

Maybe our gambling mania is a bad thing
But maybe reducing the current excess of poler macinienes etc., might cost some jobs so may be reducing gambing opportunities is also a bad thing.

Make up your mind Mullins - take a stand - do something positive - stop sitting on the fence - show some leadership - some backbone

frank hetherton | 31 October 2011  

The Productivity Commission found that poker machines providea net social benefit of between $768m and $5.5b per annum. That's after accounting for the cost of problem gambling.

Despite the media hype Australia has some of the lowest problem gambling rates in the world, less than Canada, US and the UK.

State governments have been doing alot of things the public doesn't see it because it i targeted at pokie players. Problem gambling rates in Australia are falling not rising.

Sure there is plenty more that can and should be done because problem gambling is a terrible affliction on peole and thier families.

The big question is will mandatory pre-commitment work? The academic experts are divided in thier opinion. Unfortunately there is no real evidence either way. With people's jobs on the line the least we could do is have a proper trial of the technology to make sure it is going to have the desired effect before commiting to it.

Clubs in ACT has volunteered to trial the technology let's hope the Govt. stands up to Wilkie and demands a proper trial and cost-benefit analysis.

A bit of perspective | 31 October 2011  

This debate is generally about people trying to impose their ideas on the rest of us. People such as Tim Costello, Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie remind me of the temperance league which was prominent in the early part of the 20th century; the temperance league were opposed to the production, distribution and consumpion of alcohol. People like James Packer are only interested in making money. I believe that there are very few problem gamblers and most people who get into trouble with gambling, drinking and drug taking lack discipline. I also believe that the advantages of poker machine venues outweigh the disadvantages. They provide good social meeting places for people. They also provide good dining and subsidise activities such as bridge, bowls, golf, squash, indoor swimming, gyms, film nights and concerts and sponsorship of community sport. Poker machines also provide a good source of revenue for state governments. I believe that potential job losses would have a greater social impact than problem gambling.

Mark Doyle | 01 November 2011  

A few comments are submitted for further consideration? Firstly, I guess that the LHU rep Moriarty is happy for the more emotively-linked Clubs to do the Pro Pokies work, much because they may be seen to have more 'pull' in society than private pubs would?

Secondly, I am sure that Julia Gillard is a lot more concerned about the need for balance between pokies and jobs, than is suggested here? When poker machine venues employ just 1-2 people for every $1 million sucked out in takings...and the retail shops that WOULD have employed 4-6 people for that same money are choked out by pokies...WHY would Ms Gillard NOT be trying to 'create a better balance'? Pokies are LOSING net jobs for us...and other workers ALSO have rights to job protection...Yes?
Thirdly, the Clubs say that more counseling is the answer? That is rubbish! Only 10-15% of pokies gambling addicts will seek counseling voluntarily...and then it comes WAY too late to PREVENT gambling addiction...thatclubspretend to worry about!
Fourthly...while $1 bet limits may reduce some heavy gambling...it is still more than possible to 'lose the farm' on bets of a dollar or even less!

What IS needed is a system where pre-commitment comes in much earlier...from Day ONE of using a pokie. ALL pokies gamblers deserve to receive consumer safety tools that they can choose to use...from the time they ever start to use a pokie! A personal ID card that records pokies spending clearly, will help all consumers to slow up if needed...pre-commitment can be selected for use as the gambler chooses, warning information can be given to every gambler BEFORE they gamble...and gamblers can self - exclude before they reach the suicide stage, more easily and privately. Moreover families may get earlier warning and can intervene earlier!

We have licences for all other dangerous pursuits that are legal...so why not a legal licence for pokies gamblers? Our weekend fishermen cope well enough with this?...as do our Sunday drivers? Do we protect our fish more than our people?

The 'nanny state' comments in the article are excellent...and they endorse my claim that licences are not always 'freedom-losing'...they are also very protective and they balance our rights. They can be 'freedom-increasing'! They can free us up from harm and pain...and they can protect others from losing because of us!

A recent Melbourne [Monash] study has shown that 2/3 of problem/pathological gamblers with mental health problems who were studied, were also on government income support schemes. HOW did these people ever spend enough to have a gambling problem? MUST our hard-working tax-payers also subsidize the gambling industry by providing the cash to play pokies? Why not create a voucher scheme for those on govt. incomes that is fairer to ALL citizens? Why must ALL pokies gambling consumers and ALL citizens lose rights...just for the sake of a MUCH lesser number of avid gamblers, avid gambling addicts OR the 'avid' gambling industry?

Libby Mitchell | 01 November 2011  

The clubs with pokies are not-for-profit clubs so apart from what they have to pay the government, they do not pay taxes on their profits. These clubs do not pay fringe benefit tax to who ever is getting a salary and BONUSES from pokies profits.
So it is little wonder there is so much noise to protect the largesse gained from problem gamblers.

The once upon a time folk model of a club with a few pokies to pay for the golf course etc is long gone.

Some of the big clubs take $100 million a year.

The time for reform to protect the weak from these profit takers is now.

Chris Hosking | 01 November 2011  

Sure, everyone loves to gamble. But, the person sitting next to you in church, the man in line at the grocery store, or one of your co-workers; any one of these could be involved with a gambling problem. Imagine your grandmother committing a crime to support her gambling addiction. I am a recovering alcoholic, gambler, and have recovered from other addictive behaviors. I published a book, Gripped by Gambling, where the readers can follow the destructive path of the compulsive gambler, a prison sentence, and then on to the recovery road.

I recently published a second book, Switching Addictions, describing additional issues that confront the recovering addict. If a person who has an addictive personality, doesn’t admit to at least two addictions, he’s not being honest. These are two books you might consider adding to your library. I also publish a free online newsletter, Women Helping Women, which has been on-line for more than ten years and is read by hundreds of women (and men) from around the world. (www.femalegamblers.info). I have been interviewed many times, and appeared on the 60 Minutes show in January 2011, which was moderated by Leslie Stahl.

Marilyn Lancelot | 02 November 2011  

No, i don't think that workers who are supported by gambling have a viable reason to continue in their jobs; families of gamblers want to spend money on the basic necessities and wise needs, and (should the gambling limit come into being,) much money will flow in our towns etc, just in better directions. And jobs will be fostered in the worthwhile areas where the money is spent.

Joan Mary | 04 November 2011  

I have struggled with a gambling and alcholic addiction for 6 years so personally understand the effects of this insidious harmful effect of poker machines. I have ruined my own life, and have hurt my family numerous of times. I have personally witnessed other people whose lives have been adversely affected by pokies. If casinos and clubs claim they give back to the community start by taking care of the welfare of all their members epecially those who display signs of addiction. Instead of waiting for members to self exclude club/ casino duty managers should be the link to these people getting help. Many problem gamblers tend to chase losses. Its this chasing that leads them further and further into debt. Its the shame and guilt that haunts them night after night week after week after these losses that spirals their lives out of control. Gaming duty managers would likely know or be aware of patrons who literally spend most of their lives in front of a pokie machine or inside the club regardless. Its not hard to spot the regulars of clubs and pubs. Membership cards are another indication of a persons spendage on the pokies another indication of addiction. If clubs were willing to show more of a human face they may be the key to help reduce problem gambling within their own venue. It could be a win win situation. Members need to feel the club cares for them as a person and not just the money they inevitabally and consistently lose. However from my own experiences this doesnt happen too often. So our gambling addiction as a nation will keep getting worse until something real is done.

The ugly truth | 25 May 2014  

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