Australia’s problem with gambling

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IT’S been called the national blindness comparable to America’s blindness about the impact of guns –Australia’s problem with gambling.

In every town and city in Australia the pokies are there. In just aboutevery pub and club they sit, with 12,000 poker machines in the Hunter alone.In every home where a television is turned to sport there is betting, and in every mobile phone and laptop there is the capacity to wager bets on just about anything you can imagine.

And yet our response in Australia is to tell individuals not to gamble too much or else they’ll end up with a problem.

As Knights legend Tony Butterfield wrote in a passionate opinion piece and wake-up call for rugby league administrators in April, there are apps where you can now lose your money quicker than you can say “Remember, gamble responsibly”.

“This technological revolution has well and truly brought this disease into the 21stcentury. This slope has become too slippery and the rules have changedto the extent our kids don’t stand a chance,” Butterfield wrote.

The statistics are staggering. In 2015 more than $6 billion was put through the Hunter’s 12,000 poker machines alone. Across the state the figure was $73 billion. That’s just NSW, and just poker machines.

In May we had Responsible Gambling Awareness Week where –and it’s no surprise –the message was directed at individuals to be “responsible”, while gambling opportunities infect everyday life to such a ubiquitous degree that we are blind to it.

Certainly major party politicians are deaf, dumb and blind to it, and the extent they’re captured by the gambling industry. Worse, they appearpowerless against campaigns by the gambling industry when even the mildest of gambling reforms are proposed.

Which is why Australians should be relieved to hear gambling reform will be on the federal agenda. Last week long-time reform advocateSenator Nick Xenophon andTasmanian Independent MPAndrew Wilkiesaid they would use their key crossbench positions in the new parliament to reignite debate on tackling the problem.

Reform could include banning sports betting advertising during G-rated TV broadcasts and $1 poker machine bets.

Thegambling industry will no doubt mount an aggressive campaign against the reforms. But like America and guns, in Australia there are none so blind as those who will not see.

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