Monday, August 6, 2012

A Pokie in the Gut

Something is always better than nothing. Right?

It doesn't take a great amount of human experience to know that this is not right. It applies to food, friends, music - in fact, nothing is better than something with remarkable frequency.

We all know this to be true. Which makes the announcement about the Salvos' deal with Clubs NSW all the more unbelievable.

The Salvos brand has taken a battering in the last year or so. They generally do outstanding work in the community, and should continue to be recognised for the counselling, crisis support and other community needs they service.

In September of last year the Eastern Territory Branch of the Salvos pulled its support for Wilkie's pokie changes. That was misrepresented as being the view of the Salvos in general (a claim taken apart by Tom Cummings on his blog) but it was nonetheless a pretty awful development.

Why on earth were the Salvos, of all people, supporting the Clubs NSW line?

Then, in June of this year, there was another media storm about the Salvos' position on homosexuality.
Full article here
Now, we have this:
Full article here
It shouldn't take any great insight to see what Clubs NSW are doing here.

They don't care about problem gambling - or, at least to the extent they do, they are happy to regard it as "collateral damage" in their determination to get the money in the door.

It is the only possible explanation for their constant obstruction of any meaningful reform of the pokie laws.

Let's be clear - if the clubs lobby actually wanted to make a difference in the fight against problem gambling they would get rid of their machines. Failing that, there are any number of measures they could take ($1 maximum bets, time limits on machines etc) that would reduce problem gambling but not affect the vast majority of "social gamblers".

So, in those circumstances, why have they agreed to have the Salvos involved in this Chaplain scheme? Easy.


Will this actually reduce problem gambling? Probably. A very little bit.

The deal struck over the weekend is for only 1 club on a 12-month trial basis. The Chaplain will be there 15 hours a week.

So, this means that for an average of 2 hours a day, in one club, there will be a Chaplain strolling round. This for a club that is open 7 days a week, and open 9am to 3am most days.

A club with 402 machines. Four hundred and two. One Chaplain, 2 hours a day.

The Chaplain will probably help a few people, and for that I am pleased.

But the price? For the next 12 months Clubs NSW gets to trumpet their New Chaplaincy Trial To Reduce Problem Gambling - another weapon in the fight against actual meaningful change to fight problem gambling.

Anthony Ball (head of Clubs NSW) has promised to roll out the scheme across the state if it is "successful".
Quote from the ABC
You can be the judge as to how likely that is.

So. Is something better than nothing? Not even close.

Not when your something means giving huge amount of undeserved credibility to an organisation who rips billions of dollars out of the community. An organisation who ruins lives, and then flicks a small percentage back so that we inexplicably tolerate it. Not when you are so foolish that you don't see or don't care that you are being taken advantage of, to the detriment of the community.

My final word? Said by someone else first:


  1. Your inference that the Salvo's should do nothing but wait and pray for the day when we enter the Promised Land and poker machines are vastly reduced in number, or capped at $1 bets,  or have some other significant restrictions imposed on them,  does nothing for those who are suffering  right now.

    The Salvation Army is an action oriented movement. Our work in homelessness began because one night in the late 19 century, The Salvation Army Founder William Booth was travelling home late from a meeting when he heard voices and shouting coming from beneath the bridge he was crossing.  Alighting from his cab, he was shocked to see hundreds of men sleeping along the banks of the River Thames.  The next morning he called his son  Bramwell into this office and demanded to know was he aware that people were sleeping along the banks of the Thames. "Of course" Bramwell said, "but what can we  do? We have no resources to help, it is a huge problem, how can our little organisation make a difference?"  Dismissing his long list of quite legitimate challenges, Booth said to his son, "Go and do something."  Bramwell found a cheap warehouse to lease and The Salvation Army's work amongst homeless people was born.

    "Go and do something"... those words still echo in the minds and hearts of The Salvation Army as we continue to face challenging issues in society today.

    That's exactly what we are trying to do through this initiative, something that will make a difference to the lives of individuals and families who are suffering,  and the people who we will meet in the Mingara Club over the next 12 months and support and help , may disagree with your comments that  we should do nothing but wait and fight for legislative reform. 

    The truth is that there is, and will be, no one solution that is the silver bullet for problem gambling.

    The Salvation Army Eastern Territory is not rejecting the need to reform poker machines, and our press release clearly says we remain in support of a trial of mandatory precommittment, and further exploring the viability and effectiveness of $1 betting limits on machines.

    But anyone who has worked with gamblers understands that problem gambling is not "all about the machines," as Nick Xenophon was recently quoted .

    This issue is still about people, many of whom are in great distress and pain and need a person to come alongside them with understanding, nonjudgmental acceptance, and skills, to point them to a new future. Whatever limits we put on machines, there are many other venues and ways of finding "relief" through other forms of gambling and addictive behaviour, and there will be many who still need significant help and intervention if they are to find a way out. 

    At its simplest that is what we are trying to do through the Club Chaplaincy initiative, be visible, be present, be available to people .


    1. Continued...

      It is evidence of how politicised and polarised this debate has become that even a small trial of a new idea, negotiated with pure motives, that has the potential to help some individuals who are struggling, is greeted with cynicism and derision by those we thought would have seen some merit in testing this intervention.

      This was a genuine attempt by The Salvation Army Australian Eastern Territory to help people. There were no back door deals being done to keep us quite, no agreements we have been required to sign to buy our silence. The Salvation Army deliberately chose to fund this trial ourselves to avoid any such inference or compromise. Yet we are still accused of selling out.

      Whatever you think of the Clubs, I would have thought the words you used were not so judgemental about a project that seeks to allow us to be close to people in their suffering, so we can ultimately build helping relationships with them.

      Can't you see the possibilities that could happen as the Clubs open their doors and allow good people into places where there is darkness and despair? That's what the Salvos do best. It's what happens as we walk the back streets of Kings Cross late at night. We go to dark places and bring light and hope, and guess what, people's lives change.

      So attack us, persecute us, question our motives and intelligence, cut off our donations, but we will still do SOMETHING to meet people and alleviate their suffering, and point them to a new future. That is our history and DNA, and I personally will sleep better tonight assured that doing something is much better than doing nothing,

      Paul Moulds (Major)
      Director Social Program
      The Salvation Army Australian Eastern Territory

    2. I don't think this story of William Booth really reflects your position on this issue. In fact, it is quite the opposite in regards to poker machines. Particularly in the last 2 years amid continual challenges from those who vigorously oppose any strong measures to rein in the machines (Clubs Australia/NSW being the most antagonistic). Despite a very obvious power imbalance in the debate, the Salvation Army Eastern division chose to speak a language that was music to the industry's ears. This Chaplaincy program is contentious when you consider how your organisation essentially denied support to those with the least power in the debate who wanted to see real change. I wonder what William Booth would make of this. As I said, the language is telling, no one I know thinks full pre commitment, $1 bet limits etc are 'silver bullets', yet (just like Anthony Ball) you persist with this terminology. Much of what you say (not just here) is what I would expect to hear from industry apologists. Another line you have in common "Whatever limits are put on machines, there are many other venues and ways of..." Well, two can play that game, as the same could be said about having chaplains hanging around the place - people just might move to the internet etc (not that I actually believe this would happen to any real extent in either scenario). Although you don't agree, Nick Xenophon is right. The nature of the machines is the core issue for a lot people and curtailing the actual product will bring genuine 'relief' to many.

  2. I also wanted to add - pardon me for being cynical, but 'negotiated with pure motives'? I could swallow this perhaps if who you were negotiating with (Clubs NSW/Aust) had not stooped so low in their attempts to maintain the status quo. You say you funded this trial to avoid particular inferences and compromise yet still copped flak. If you are comfortable turning a blind eye to all that has transpired you cannot expect others to do the same. Especially those who had a lot of hope (given the circumstances) that, at last, something significant would be done about the machines.