“It’s time to act to prevent community harm.” This is the call from members of the newly formed Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance.
In the wake of recent revelations of the failure of responsible gambling measures and the devastating impact of this on the community, a local alliance of community organisations and individuals has been formed and is calling for major reform to gambling legislation in the Territory.
This group has seen firsthand the harm that addiction to gambling can cause. They include peak organisations such as ACT Council of Social Service and ACT Shelter, service providers including Anglicare NSW South & ACT, and Belconnen Community Service, as well as individuals working in this area. These are people who have attempted to work within the existing systems to reduce risks to the community and increase support. Today they have said frankly that Government is not doing enough to protect vulnerable consumers of products that are potentially dangerous and are designed to be addictive – particularly the pokies.
Jeremy Halcrow, CEO of Anglicare NSW South & ACT explains “Services such as Anglicare deal with the impacts of gambling every day. Instead of being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we want to see real change so that harm is prevented”.
The evidence is in regarding the harmful impacts of gambling. In 2014-15 alone, ACT residents lost $167 million on the pokies, with 44% of these losses coming from people experiencing gambling harm. This is something we need to address urgently.
Alliance members are sceptical about the effectiveness of current gambling harm prevention measures and believe the support to individuals impacted by gambling harm is both inadequate and poorly targeted. The Director of ACT Council of Social Service, Susan Helyar said today “For too long have we blamed individuals who have developed a gambling addiction without understanding the addictive power of these machines or putting in place basic consumer protection measures that would be demanded of any other product that can so easily cause harm. Industry led funding programs to improve prevention and recovery programs lack rigour and involve too many conflicts of interest.”
Local musician Chris Endrey noted “We recognise that the work of Clubs in ACT offer great benefits to the community. We just don’t think that these benefits should be so heavily subsidised by gambling addicts. Having a social license to profit from harmful products must include the appropriate regulation to protect users – and the evidence certainly suggests that we can all do better.”
The Alliance also includes Rebecca Vassarotti who up until recently was a board member of the Racing and Gambling Commission. She said today “The Commission is doing what they can but they are hamstrung by a system made up of ineffectual self-regulation, half measures and a failure by their political masters to introduce the measures that we know work. I resigned from the Board to work with others who believe that the community will support brave Governments that introduce real reform designed to protect the community rather than industry”.
The Alliance is calling for reforms including reducing the number of pokies by half within a decade, the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment for all venues, $1 bet limits on all machines, aligning the rules on EFTPOS machines with ATMs, as well as an overhaul of the community contributions scheme to improve social benefits flowing from pokies profits.
The Alliance is invited others to support the campaign: “We believe there is strong community support for real change regarding how we regulate pokies. We are inviting community organisations and individuals to join the Alliance and be part of the work to achieve change and protect Canberra citizens.” People can sign up via Facebook www.facebook.com/CanberraGamblingReformAlliance/
Media Comment can be sought from Alliance Members: Susan Helyar: 0448791987; Jeremy Halcrow: 0437321451; Chris Endrey: 0401441946; Rebecca Vassarotti: 0408668963