What's Wrong with a Little 'Flutter'?
There was a time when gambling was something which was donefurtively and was not quite 'respectable'. Then bit by bit, gambling started to become respectable and accepted, to the point where now about 90% of New Zealand adults have a bet once a month or more.
It all started with the 2/6d Art Union, which became the Golden Kiwi, then Lotto. Somehow in the 1980s the first gambling machines appeared: without legal justification, but nobody questioned them. They arrived a few at a time until now every pub and sports club seems to have a bank of them. The total number of licensed pokies in New Zealand is around 15,000.
Then we had Telebingo, sports betting, casinos and soon Internet gambling. Turnover increased from under one billion dollars per year in 1990 to over 6.5 billion dollars this year. This is more than we spend on health or education, and approaching the amount spent on the social welfare system.
The figures continue to increase as New Zealanders become obsessed with gambling. Such increases in spending cannot happen without having an effect on the economy and society in general.
A study in Australia showed that 36% of gambling money comes out of savings, about 10% from the proceeds of crime and the rest out of current spending. The money from savings generally means that retirement funds are being run down, or money set aside for a 'rainy day' is being misused. The proceeds of crime includes money stolen from employers or trust funds as well as that which comes from burglary or robbery. Money taken from current expenditure often means that children are going hungry or landlords are not being paid.
Here are some actual examples of how gambling affects the community:
· Retailers in less affluent areas report a downturn in trade when Lotto has a Superdraw. McDonalds buy fewer buns in those weeks and employ fewer staff.
· Most compulsive gamblers (over 60%) who come for treatment admit to stealing money in order to gamble, usually burglary and petty theft, though armed robbery is also committed.1
· Students have lost their entire student loans in one night in a casino. What is this doing to their futures?
· Elderly parents have mortgaged their homes to keep a gambling son or daughter out of jail and then lost their homes as their offspring continue to gamble.
· A school in Porirua organised Housie evenings to raise money to feed children coming to school hungry. They discontinued these evenings when they realised that the mothers coming to Housie were the same ones who were not feeding their children.
· The New Zealand prison system is now being overloaded with prison inmates with severe gambling problems. As the main recreation in prison is gambling, this does nothing to cure the problem!
· Gambling problems are more severe within Pacific Islands communities. Samoan community leaders in Porirua estimate one third of their people have a gambling problem. No treatment is available for them.
· The number of people with gambling problems was around 30,000 in 1991. It is probably around 100,000 now, but research to update the information has not yet been undertaken.2
· Compulsive gambling is a recognised mental health disorder overseas, but our Government makes no provision for treatment. A small and inadequate provision is made through a voluntary fund of $1.25 million provided by the gambling industry through the Committee on Problem Gambling Management.
· Maori have gambling problems at around three times the European rate and Pacific Islands people have problems at six times the rate.2
· Compulsive gambling is a progressive disorder: the longer one has been gambling the worse the problem gets.3
· It takes about seven years to develop an addiction to gambling if one only backs horses. It takes about three months to become addicted after regular playing of pub pokies. It can happen within one week in a casino.
· Normal and responsible people have gone on a business trip to a city where there is a casino and have come home as changed individuals who are obsessed with gambling and finding the money to continue. Suddenly, they are strangers to wives and families.
· Casinos are particularly addictive because they are open around the clock. Many people spend three days or more without sleep in a state of heightened emotion. In such conditions it is believed that a state similar to 'brainwashing' occurs and permanent personality changes result. So far no way of reversing the change has been discovered.
Anyone who thinks that a little flutter is harmless should visit a casino or pub and watch the expressions of those playing the pokies. Where is the joy? You will see only desperation. The longer the person gambles the greater the desperation.
Gambling has undeniable adverse effects on the community. There are very strong arguments to oppose it on the basis of the effects on the community alone.
Theological and spiritual arguments are also strong, given that gambling starts from greed, the desire to gain a reward where you have not sown, and coveting your neighbours' wealth. The gambling industry reaps enormous profits by exploiting the weaknesses of others. Should Christians contribute to this misery by having even a small flutter?
Peter Phipps is a lay minister of the Anglican Church and a registered psychologist. He has been active in opposing casinos since they were first proposed. In 1998 he will be organising a series of seminars over the country specially for Christians. For further information write to: Inter Church Gambling Seminars P O Box 50-560 Porirua.