By Rev Tim Costello, Chief Advocate, Alliance for Gambling Reform
I was meant to preach at a church this Sunday, but that’s been understandably cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet if I want to go to Crown Casino and gamble away my life savings on the pokies that’s okay; rest assured precautions have been taken to protect the community’s health in the form of every second machine being shut down.
How on earth can Premier Daniel Andrews declare a State of Emergency in Victoria, yet still think it’s fine to have one of the world’s biggest pokies dens continue to operate? This would be laughable if the consequences were not so dangerous. I would ask similar questions of Premier Gladys Berejiklian in NSW, and the other state premiers.
The very nature of poker machines involves the repeated touching of surfaces that can never really be fully cleaned. They’re a germaphobe’s worst nightmare under normal circumstances, let alone with a pandemic in full swing.
Then there are the very real broader public health issues around how people cope with a crisis. People experiencing stress, anxiety and financial pressure may turn to gambling venues in a bid to try and gamble away their problems. They are certainly not a healthy place to be the last source of possible social interaction.
Finland took the sensible public health measure of shutting down all poker machines and the casino in Helsinki last week, along with Switzerland, yet here we are in Australia with the world’s highest number of poker machines per person taking baby steps in a pandemic.
Similar calls to ours have been made by public health and addiction experts, yet they appear to have not been heard.
We all know prevention is better than cure at the best of times, but most especially now.
It’s time for Dan Andrews to act like the premier of an actual state of emergency and put people before gambling profits, and for the other state premiers to take this issue seriously too.