NSW Premier Glady Berejiklian must answer as to why pokies-clubs and Star Casino are being treated differently to pubs in NSW as tougher COVID-19 restrictions are introduced in the state.
Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said the differentiation seemed incongruous given Star Casino was fined just yesterday for breaching social distancing rules.
“We want Premier Gladys Berejiklian to answer why clubs and the casino are not having the same restrictions applied to them as pubs now have as of today in NSW,” Rev Costello said. “I can hazard a guess: political donations and political influence.
“The Clubs NSW and casino lobbies are both notorious for their aggressive tactics when it comes to pushing their agenda to drain as much money as possible from the people of NSW.
“It was only six weeks ago that Clubs NSW was publicly boasting about “heavily influencing” the government's plan to reopen venues during the first wave of the COVID pandemic.
“Then we have Star Casino being fined what can only be described as a pittance for breaching social distancing rules, and then only after they were dobbed in for the breach. As many have pointed out, there were more than five times bigger fines for the KFC party in Victoria than the $5000 Star will pay off in less than two minutes of operating while risking public health.
“It has been obvious for decades how captured successive NSW governments of both political colours have been by the gambling industry. But it’s truly astounding to see this in action in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. It not only demonstrates how shameless the predatory gambling industry is, but also the extreme level of influence it clearly has on the NSW Government.”
Rev Costello said it was only sensible to close all gaming rooms until the pandemic eased, as has been proposed today by the Greens.
“It’s impossible to argue that gambling is an essential service in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
“If anything, gambling being on offer during a pandemic is yet another public health risk, one that is almost universally overlooked in a crisis. Given we are in a recession, it is a very risky time for people who are experiencing gambling harm.
“There have been reports about people using the superannuation they have withdrawn due to COVID-related hardship being gambled away. That has not only short-term but also major long-term consequences for individuals, families, and the Australian economy.
“Then there are the public health issues associated with gambling harm to consider, including mental ill-health, family violence and homelessness. These are of major concern, now more than ever.”
Rev Costello said he hoped the NSW Government would realise that protecting the immensely valuable hospitality industry should be a priority ahead of the gambling industry’s interests.
“It would be absolutely awful if pubs and clubs had to shut down again completely due to the spreading of the coronavirus via patrons who are gambling,” he said.
“It makes public health sense to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 as much as possible by shutting down gaming rooms for the foreseeable future to help the hospitality industry survive.
“It also makes economic sense. The hospitality industry is much more labour intensive than the gambling industry, with $1 million in turnover equalling 20 hospitality jobs versus only three jobs for the same revenue via gambling. In caving in to Clubs NSW, the government is making it even harder for pokies-free venues to survive, especially now. The NSW Government must stop prioritising a lazy, parasitic business model that causes tremendous harm.”
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