Moral challenge for Catholic clubs


It is ironic that Clubs Australia President Peter Newell began his recent National Press Club speech against poker machine pre-commitment technology with a quote about truth from Abraham Lincoln, who is best known for his role in ending slavery in the United States.

Senator Nick Xenophon portrays gambling as a modern day form of slavery. 

'The poker machine lobby reminds me a bit like the slave owners of the 19th century in the United States, who say their whole way of life would be ruined if there were any changes bought about. That's how the industry is behaving.'

The Catholic Catechism agrees, stipulating that while games of chance are 'not in themselves contrary to justice', they 'become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement'.

Many gamblers lose their liberty to control the amount of money they wager because they are in a trance-like situation. Their discretionary powers are captive to a seductive playing environment, and usually alcohol. 

The pre-commitment technology would empower them to decide in advance — while they still have control of their senses — how much money they can afford to part with. It would remove the ill-gotten element of the profits of the pubs and clubs, in that the losses of gamblers will be the result of their rational decision to wager a specific amount of money.

What's wrong with that? The answer is that, if it works, the technology will have a severe impact on the profits of the pub and club owners and the jobs of their employees. 

We are about to be subjected to a massive advertising campaign that is likely to depict pubs and clubs as the heart and soul of the community, in other words a contributor to the common good and a moral asset. There is the convivial setting, the subsidised meals, as well as the contributions to charities and sporting clubs.

But these are largely built with funds supplied involuntarily by problem gamblers. A business or facility that is not economically sustainable without ill-gotten funds is surely not morally sustainable. The Catholic Catechism says:

The seventh commandment forbids … enterprises that for any reason — selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian — lead to the enslavement of human beings … It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit.

Of course use of the word 'violence' does require interpretation. The allegation would be that clubs are not kidnapping gambling addicts as such, but instead luring them into their premises by exploiting their mental health weakness.

The point is that it's not gambling itself that is wrong, but rather gambling that is out of control or enslaving. That is where pre-commitment technology comes in.  

Newell says the technology 'is unlikely to have a significant impact on the majority of problem gamblers, and may even exacerbate problem gambling'. If he really believes that it won't work, he wouldn't be worried about its impact on profits, especially as the cost of installing the technology could be outweighed by the increase in problem gambling he refers to. 

Newell quotes Dr Alex Blaszczynski of the University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic and Research Unit, who says pre-commitment technology is not the perfect solution for all problem gamblers. But even its strongest advocates do not claim the technology will eliminate problem gambling. Robert Chappell, the director of South Australia's Independent Gambling Authority and a strong advocate of the technology, calls it the 'air-bag' of poker machines. Air-bags in cars sometimes cause minor injuries, but they prevent many more deaths and serious injuries.

Prominent in the industry, especially in Sydney, are clubs that include the word 'Catholic' in their name, such as the Liverpool Catholic Club and the Campbelltown Catholic Club. They are officially sanctioned by Catholic Church authorities, and as such should be expected to exercise moral leadership in the area of protecting problem gamblers.

Now is the time for them to exercise such leadership. A good way to do this would be to publicly and immediately support pre-commitment technology and actively distance themselves from the campaign of Clubs Australia/Clubs NSW.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: problem gambling, Clubs Australia, Peter Newell, Alex Blaszczynski, Robert Chappell, Liverpool Catholic



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Existing comments

Well said Michael! I could also ask: what is Catholic about selling cheap alcohol?

Eugene | 11 April 2011  

Well said, Michael. And while a pre-commitment technology may not always be effective, at least some
gamblers will have a home to go to after a gambling bout. Like sleep, a little is better than no sleep at all.

Joyce | 11 April 2011  

Michael Mullins has a very major task of converting [OUR LOCAL BISHOP - ed] & his administration to a christian approach re club gambling proceeds. This diocese has accessed substancial moneys from the State Govt Gaming Fund.

For some of us who contributed substantially to the establishment of xxxx (house of Retreat, respite, council etc for families of xxx) it was quite shattering to have our efforts blended with money sourced from some of the very human frailties we hoped MH would help alleviate. Despite objections by some of us the financial strategy was not abandoned by powers. Sadly our Church, from Rome down is a dollars & centsless Institution.

John Kersh | 11 April 2011  

Michael you have successfully identified what is the main problem with the poker machines, that too many are prepared to turn a "blind eye" on a system that produces huge profits from people who are highly vulnerable to the seductive methods used. Pre-commitment will reduce the seductive powers of gambling.

Joan Smurthwaite | 11 April 2011  

Hi Michael,
A spot on response to the issue.The reaction from Clubs Australia has been very loud to say the least.While a member of a local 'catholic' club, I would not dream of playing the pokies as I have far better things to do with my money.

My response is that if the Clubs need such income to keep going and they are Catholic or at least claim to be, then she should shut their doors! To survive on other peoples weakness is morally repugnant.I agree with Eugene's comment too!

Gavin O'Brien Canberra | 11 April 2011  

I could not agree more, with the article and with all of these comments!

MBG | 12 April 2011  

Dear Uncle Phun,

Thought you might find this interesting article for your reading. Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP driving these reforms is very well respected amongst Australians for his stance on many Social Justice issue, he is a deep and forward thinking Catholic Christian deeply committed to his faith and social action.

You may find out more through google or/and wikipedia and visit the links below.

Sadly, Lidcombe Dooley's Catholic Club is one of those by which is part of a corrupted system of power both within and beyond the church. The Conservatives and backwards of the church is very much in support through its silence in consent to Club Australia's rather morally bankrupt campaign.

with peace,


Uncle Phun | 12 April 2011  

Gambling on horses or in card games needs in most cases some skill and one has full control of ones actions.

Poker machines are somewhat different. The machines are designed to encourage even normal well balanced people to deprive them of cash given them the illusion that they can beat the machine.

The results are fixed with most of the proceeds going to the poker machine companies, the clubs and Governments, not the pundits themselves. many years ago in N.S.W. they were described as "One Armed Bandits".

The real problem is that these days State Governments have to rely on gambling taxes to raise most of their revenue. They need constitutionally to be given a wider tax base.

john Ozanne | 12 April 2011  

Spot on!

I have always had a problem with the pokies in the Catholic CSCC here in Canberra. I feel uncomfortable about the gambling per se, but more particularly the 'problem gamblers', and the hardship that a proportion of these funds cause in providing cheap tucker and cheap grog to those who can probably afford to eat/drink elsewhere.

I know a part of the proceeds is distributed to worthy causes, but is that enough to justify the harm brough about with the connivance of the Catholic club?

I would like to see a response to Michael's article from a/the Catholic club(s), not a defence of the status quo but a way forward for Catholic clubs in dealing with gambling and its ills.

EdC | 12 April 2011  

While ever you maintain such a stance: "The point is that it's not gambling itself that is wrong, . . ." all the rest of your words, however well chosen, will come to nothing. How can a church engage in a variety of forms of gambling and plead that because it uses the proceeds to help boys, for example, is beyond me! Such duplicity is anti-Christian - full stop!

Wally Schiller | 18 April 2011  

Remove the name Catholic from these clubs. There is nothing Catholic about them.Catholics have no moral authority anymore and this is just a further denigration.

A. horan | 15 October 2011  

You are absolutely right!!! Every time I pass it on train I get our religion abad name especially when society see gambling as a bad thing!! but to use the churches name on top of that rely show no respect to Jesus: who came down to show us the right way.

Danilo | 24 April 2012  

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