Church Feud on Poker Machine Reform
8 December 2011 at 10:26 am
The major Christian churches in Australia are at loggerheads with Australian of the Year Nominee, Fr. Chris Riley over poker machine reform.
The major Christian churches in Australia have reaffirmed their commitment to the Government’s proposed poker machine reform in the face of Catholic priest Father Chris Riley’s apparent support for what the Churches describe as the inaccurate, well-funded industry campaign.
Reverend Bill Crews, Chair of the NSW Churches Gambling Taskforce said he believes Father Riley has been misled on the issue of poker machine reform and his stance is a conflict of interest.
Father Chris Riley is the Youth Off The Streets founder and in November was named NSW Australian of Year 2012 in recognition of his dedication to helping disadvantaged Australians.
It has been reported that Fr Riley’s charity receives two per cent of its donations from registered clubs, and he believes education and counselling, not legislation, is the better way to help problem gamblers.
Reverend Crews said that while counselling is an important part of helping people overcome their addiction to poker machines, preventing the problem in the first place is essential public policy.
“The major churches provide around 70 per cent of all social services in Australia. Every day our agencies see people whose lives have been damaged by poker machine addiction – individuals, families and whole communities.
“Fr Riley’s comment is at odds with the Catholic Church which is a member of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce.
“The Clubs have capitalised on a conflict of interest here. Those who receive funding from the industry to run their services are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are committed to providing support to people already living with a poker machine addiction but do not want to jeopardise their funding.
“Under the reforms, all players will have to decide ahead of time how much they are willing to lose. This can be as high or as low as the individual chooses. In the cold light of day, away from the ‘zone’, problem gamblers are telling us they are able to make sensible decisions.
“Mandatory pre commitment will, as part of a whole range of measures, help poker machine addicts who are ready to help themselves. More importantly it will help people who are at risk, from developing a problem. And that’s good public policy.
“Many clubs provide benefits to their local communities. But forty per cent of profits come from people addicted to poker machines. Those clubs that can only provide this support on the back of someone’s gambling addiction need to rethink their business model,” Reverend Crews said.
Members of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce include the heads of Christian churches in Australia and the heads of their social services agencies nationally. Established earlier this year the Taskforce says it is united by a commitment to reduce the harms caused by poker machine gambling.
Anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello says Fr Riley's stance was at odds with the Catholic Church which was a member of the churches gambling taskforce that supported the reforms.
'The test is to find people who are independent, who are not getting any money.'
Rev Costello urged Fr Riley to learn more about the damage caused by pokies addiction.