“Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)
“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless”. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Victorians love to gamble, but at what cost? It was revealed today that in the past financial year (2017-2018), Victorians lost $2.7 billion on the pokies. As the ABC has reported, this is the highest figure in a decade — “with punters in some of the state’s most disadvantaged communities losing the most money.”
There are areas in Melbourne that are losing $10 million every month to the pokies, and this isn’t taking into account all the other forms of gambling that are popular in our State, including betting on sporting events and the lottery. In fact, pokies account for less than half of all the gambling costs incurred by Victorians annually. According to responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au, “the average loss per adult in Victoria in 2015–2016 was $1235”. Given that many Victorians refrain from ever gambling, and many others bet on rare occasions, it doesn’t take long before realising that gambling is hurting thousands of Victorian families in significant ways.
While gambling leaves many Victorians destitute, it gives the State’s economy a sizeable boost each year. Over the course of the last financial year, the losses made at the pokies generated $1.1 billion in taxes for the State Government, and this does not include the revenue generated by the pokies at Crown Casino.
I’m sure many Victorians are appalled by these numbers. Building prosperity off the back of other peoples’ poverty shouldn’t be morally acceptable, but it has been the stars quo in the State of Victoria for many years. It’s hard to say “no” to money, especially easy money and free money. After all, who is bold enough to look a gift horse in the mouth?
While gambling is a huge social problem in Victoria, we are never going to overcome it while the Government accepts this revenue, protects Crown Casino, and while media and sports dilute the joy of the game for the sake of greater profits.
The situation has deteriorated to the point where parents are concerned about allowing the children to watch sport on television. When young children are watching the footy and gambling advertisements pop up every few minutes, they are not listening to those automated words, “gamble responsibly”. What they hear is the allure of making money. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to work for it. When a sporting hero tells them, give us $20 and we’ll magically turn it into $100, of course, kids will think, what a great idea.
Of course, the Government income profited through gambling is anything but free. Gambling is a powerful industry. When the NSW Government tried to ban greyhound racing in 2016, it backfired and resulted in the resignation of the Premier, Michael Baird.
It’s hard to turn away the promise of financial gain; it’s difficult for the gambler, and it’s herculean for a Government.
The thing is, we can’t claim to be for the working class family and to be concerned for the poor while we use their vulnerability to gambling as an economic driver.
Now, the picture is not all doom and gloom. My beloved Carlton Football Club may not be kicking many goals on the field this season, but off the ground they’ve been starring on a range of social issues. Last month the club sent out this tweet,
“Kids think you have to bet to enjoy sport. This round, remind them what foot is all about.”
“Love the game not the odds”
Such messaging is important, but it’s not enough, and it’s clearly not drowning out the clanging and cha-ching of the pokies and the alluring advertisements of gambling agencies.
We need the Government to have the moral strength to say no to billions of dollars. That means, we need Victorians to raise their hands, agreeing to forego some of our own economic demands upon the State.
It’s not so easy, is it?
Perhaps the Bible was right all along, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
We may not like gambling. We may hate the way gambling controls people and sends families into financial and social hell. What is clear, however, is that we don’t hate gambling so much and we don’t love our neighbours too much, that we would accept the cost of losing $100s millions annually.
It was Jesus who said (yes, the very same Jesus whom we’ve deemed redundant from our erudite and progressive culture),
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
It’s a condition we Victorians all share, both wealthy and poor alike. The promise of prosperity is harder to refuse than the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey. With all the pride in our moral sophistication, we are still practitioners of total depravity, selling our souls and trampling on the vulnerable, in order to grab hold of the prosperity’s mist.
If we want our Government to put an end to this blight on our society, then we need to check our own hearts and be willing to give up something as well