The Presbyterian Church of NSW has addressed the State Govern- ment’s inquiry into gambling, presenting a detailed argument for tighter regulation of poker machines.
The Church’s Gospel, Society and Culture committee (GS&C) made a distinctively Christian submission to the Inquiry.
The report of the Upper House Inquiry into the Impact of Gambling was released recently and included comments from the church’s sub- mission. GS&C committee Convener, Dr John McClean, and researcher, Sheryl Sarkoezy, ap- peared at a formal Inquiry hearing.
Beginning with Jesus’ instruction “to love our neighbours as we love ourselves” (Matthew 22:36-39), the GS&C submission addressed the issue in two ways:
- It spoke against gambling in principle, be- cause gambling is motivated by a desire to gain something for oneself at the expense of another. The submission argued that in gambling, there is no expression of love for neighbour, because it promises financial gain for no productive work, and it encourages greed and covetousness; and
- It spoke for people vulnerable to addictive gambling. Addictive gambling impacts not just the gambler but also their families, friends and wider communities, who are deprived of their needs as a result of financial loss through gambling. The GS&C submission stressed the point that protection of the vulnerable is more important than protection of the vested inter- ests of an industry that profits only through the pain and loss of others.The submission said that because poker ma- chines contributed disproportionately to per- sonal and social harms from gambling, they should be subjected to tighter regulation than is the case at present.The GS&C committee recommended the in- troduction of legislation to enforce:
- Mandatory pre-commitment to limit in- dividual bets on poker machines to a maximum of $1;
- Limited access to cash withdrawals from ATMs at venues with poker machines.
- Cappedjackpotstominimise“theriskofinten- sified betting behavior”.Dr McClean also told the Inquiry that gam- bling advertising was a significant issue. “Con- cern about advertising actually seems to be the thing I hear people in our circles talking about the most – the intrusiveness of gambling adver- tising often in what seems to be obviously in- appropriate settings, especially associated with sport,” Dr McClean said.
The GS&C submission recognised the NSW Government’s responsibility to act in the best interests of its citizens and acknowledged the tension between this and the government’s ex- isting commitment to using revenue from gam- bling to promote social and economic develop- ment. However, the submission asked that the government begin to find other funding.
Dr McClean said he was encouraged by the way members and staff of the Government’s Select Committee were keen to involve the community in the development of laws that benefit everyone.
Sheryl Sarkoezy, commenting on the process, said: “Anyone with a well thought out opinion can make a submission to an Inquiry. The pro- cess is as easy as writing a letter. Inquiry sub- missions are often made by organisations and individuals with lots of experience, but the gov- ernment also wants to know what other citizens and community groups think about important issues. The fact that some of our comments became part of the final report shows that the Inquiry Committee was genuinely interested in our perspective on gambling in NSW. And that’s encouraging.”
The Gambling Inquiry’s aim was to seek comment and advice from the community on how gambling in NSW affects individuals, their families, and the wider community, and to explore what can be done to minimise the negative impact.
Gambling expenditure in Australia, calculated as net losses to gamblers, exceeds $20 billion a year. In NSW the expenditure is more than $7.7 billion a year of which poker machines account for $5.3 billion.
Ms Sarkoezy said: “We know that problem gambling is a serious social issue. In addition to financial loss, problem gambling is connected with depression, anxiety, breakdown of relationships, loss of employment, and substance abuse. And these consequences are not experienced by the gambler alone, but also to varying degrees by their families and the wider community.
The Inquiry Committee has made a number of recommendations to the NSW Government, including the reassessment of legislation, and the introduction of better community health initiatives and education about the effects of gambling. This will be debated in both Houses of Parliament.
Dr McClean said Christians should keep praying for good outcomes so that the vulnerable in our community are better protected from the risks and consequences of gambling.
More information about the Inquiry, including the submissions and the final report can be found at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au . Follow the links to Inquiry submissions and reports.