Sunday, 9 October 2011

How can a Catholic Club oppose Mr Wilkie's gambling reforms?

There are reports that a Catholic club is attempting to amend its constitution to remove restrictions on its ability to lobby against proposed changes to the law on gambling.

How can that possibly be consistent with its catholic character?

Gambling vs problem gambling

There is nothing wrong with gambling as such of course: the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2413) states that "Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice."

However, it goes on:

"They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant."

Australians spend a cool $12 billion a year on poker machines out of $19 billion all up on gambling.  And according to the Federal Government website on the subject, one in six of regular pokie players has a severe problem, losing an average of $21,000 a year.  The probable impact on themselves and their families will be obvious.
A problem of our own creation
Australia's current level of gambling addiction is largely a product of the liberalisation of gaming in the 1990s.  And it saw a reaction under the Howard Government which introduced a number of measures to try and help addicts.  Based on the Productivity Commission's reports, those measures did have some, albeit limited, effect.
Yet there is strong evidence that problem gambling is still a serious issue with a devastating impact on many families.  So a measure that prevents people from spending more than they intended (pre-commitment) would seem to make sense.
In an ideal world of course, Clubs would implement such a measure themselves.
In a materialistic world driven by greed and self-interest this is never going to happen.
It was Governments, themselves driven by revenue considerations, that allowed the dramatic expansion in the number of poker machines, and so it is they that have a responsibility to prevent their misuse.
Support good policy
So why are Catholic Clubs - and the Opposition - opposing it?  Hard to see any reason apart from naked, immoral, self-interest.
While the reasons for Mr Abbott's position on this legislation are obvious and understandable, the precedent he is repeatedly setting of opposing even good policy initiatives in order to attempt to bring down the Government could have long term consequences for the stability of this country that don't bear thinking about.  The solution to a bad government, according to catholic principles, should not be to attempt to destabilise it - but rather to expose their mistakes now and win the next election at the proper time.
In the meantime, this one a "social justice" issue we should surely be lending our support to Mr Wilkie and the Government on, and lobbying any clubs we are members of to get real.


Anthony S. Layne said...

You note that it's a Catholic club ... but what kind of club is it? This may be one of those "Yank" things I don't immediately get.

Anthony S. Layne said...

Correction: this may be one of those things I don't get BECAUSE I'm a Yank!

Kate said...

Apologies I should have included a bit more explanation for non-Australian readers - clubs of this kind in Australia typically provide facilities for socialising - combination of restaurants, pub, light entertainment and social activities. Here's the website of the one in question:

Nick S said...

What is missing from the debate is personal responsibility. No club forces anyone to drop a coin down the slot, people choose to do it by their own free will.

We shouldn't have to have such restriction on people's gambling habits as gambling in itself has negative repercussions built into it, that is you gamble too much and you run out of money. People should just take care of themselves.

Kate said...

But Nick, isn't pre-commitment precisely designed to support individual responsibility?

It just makes allowance for the fact that gambling can be addictive, and enables the individual to decide how much they want to spend in advance - and helps them stick to it.

PM said...

Nick's views are perfectly acceptable if you are a disciple of Ayn Rand, but the last time I checked Catholics (at least outside the US) were not. You may not be your brother's keeper, but you are his brother.

There is a deeper problem here of insitutions which are Catholic in name only, which goes far beyond establishments like Dooley's.

Robert said...

One thing which I haven't seen emphasised in the literature (or, rather, in what little literature I've read) concerning current problem gambling levels, is the extraordinary variety of people whom problem gambling seems to afflict.

Since I never found gambling even remotely attractive myself - perhaps I've inherited anti-gambling genes from my Scottish-Irish Presbyterian ancestors! - I can't say that the whole issue ever interested me much. Until one day about a decade ago, in Sydney.

Somehow I'd been invited to a Sydney Catholic club for a meal, the other guests including a brilliant thinker whom I would regard as having one of the highest IQs I've ever encountered. He was so brainy, it was rather frightening.

Nothing memorable, or unpleasant, happened until, on our way out, we passed by the poker machines. Then we suddenly noticed that the brilliant thinker was no longer in our group.

We retraced our steps and soon found him. He was sitting in an almost cryogenic trance, feeding one of those blasted pokies with gold coins again and again and again. How we actually persuaded and cajoled him to prise himself away from the machine I can't recall, but it took at least 10 minutes of urging on our part.

So if it can happen to a fellow as staggeringly intellectual as he, it can happen to anyone.

Another vivid memory of mine from a somewhat earlier period is that of the great theologian, Tony Abbott, denouncing random-breath-tests as an intolerable infringement of his own personal freedom. He was temporarily silenced by an elderly lawyer present, who said that if Mr Abbott had seen as many drunk drivers in morgues as he (the elderly lawyer) had, the temptation to libertarian whining would be smaller.

Nick S said...

I am in no way a disciple of Ayn Rand, I find her selfishness for the sake of selfishness philosophy quite repugnant.

I am just against the lazy mentality that has permeated our culture whereby every time there is a problem in society, people's knee jerk reaction is "What is the government going to do about it?"

A better response is "What am I going to do about it?". I'm sure that most gambling addicts have family and friends who could assist them much more cheaply and efficiently than any government could. Christ told us to help the poor and marginalised, he never advised us to sit back and get the government to do it for us.