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The Best Bet Is To Put People Before Pokies

We need to reduce the odds of community harm from gambling addiction.

12/10/2016 10:32 AM AEDT | Updated 12/10/2016 10:32 AM AEDT
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"Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world."

This week the ACT Greens announced the most ambitious pokie reform plan in the country since the Wilkie-Gillard agreement was scuttled by the gambling lobby in 2012.

For too long, this issue has been in the too hard basket, and it is time we took serious steps to minimise the harm to our community from gambling addiction and losses. The ACT Greens have announced our plan to implement mandatory pre-commitment, $1 bet limits, and remove 30 percent of the poker machines across Canberra.

The Greens don't go looking for fights, but we don't shy away from them either. This is one that needs to be had. That why Senator Larissa Waters is part of the PokieLeaks campaign nationally, and why the ACT Greens have decided to implement real reform in the Territory.

Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world. We lose more money per person than any country on the face of the earth. Pokies are addictive and manipulative, and we cannot pretend that individual punters bear sole responsibility for the damage that these machines do to people, their families and the community.

In the ACT, a recent ANU study has shown that almost half of gambling revenue in the ACT comes from problem gambling. The people who spend and lose the most on poker machines are young, have lower levels of education and suffer from gambling problems.

Australia has the sixth highest number of addictive poker machines on the planet. And in the ACT we have even more poker machines than the national average.

The Greens believe that putting the community first means not being afraid to stand up to big business or to clubs or casinos. It means not taking donations from clubs that rely on pokies. Putting the community first means demanding that clubs and casinos take harm minimisation seriously if they want to be a part of our community. A business model that relies on revenue from problem gambling is a broken business model.

No amount of post-crisis counselling is going to be as effective as reducing the amount of cash that someone can dump into a machine every hour. And, while crucial, no helplines or support services are going to be as effective as reducing the prevalence of addictive poker machines in our communities.

That's why genuine reform to reduce problem gambling requires us to tackle it at its source -- poker machines.

I have no doubt that in the coming days the clubs will ramp up their attacks against the Greens in order to protect their pokie empire. In fact, a political party has formed in the ACT who are bankrolled to the tune of at least $100 000 by the clubs, in order to protect their poker machine interests.

For decades, the gambling lobby, like Big Tobacco, successfully blocked real reform. As a result, peoples' lives have been destroyed and families broken up. The only winners here are the gambling lobby and the politicians who accept donations from them.

But, the social license to profit from pokie addiction has expired. Just as the community has called for universities around the country to divest from dangerous polluting industries, and just as they successfully campaigned for Australia's Future Fund to divest from tobacco, it is time for politicians, clubs and casinos to listen to the community demanding action.

Clubs have a proud tradition in Canberra. As this young city took hold, they were an important social hub for many Canberrans. They still have that role, but somewhere along the way, they also became the cheer squad for the poker machine industry. It is time for our clubs to take the next step in their evolution.

Clubs play an important role supporting local sporting teams and charities. However, this cannot and does not justify the fact a large portion of that revenue was extracted from people suffering from addiction.

Putting the community first means putting people before pokies. That's why the time is ripe to stand up to the gambling lobby and protect our community from gambling harm.

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