First it was no cats in greenfield developments, then no gas, now it could be no pokies.
Murrumbidgee Labor MLA and anti-gambling advocate Marisa Paterson has launched a new campaign, ‘Keep Molonglo Pokie-Free’, which aims to keep the one-armed bandits out of clubs that may eventually establish themselves in the rapidly growing district.
Dr Paterson said early discussions with the community had shown that it wanted clubs in the Molonglo Valley but not necessarily poker machines.
Now she has launched a four-week campaign with anti-gambling advocates and the clubs sector to enlist the community’s support for a ban on pokies in Molonglo and for residents to say what a club without pokies would look like.
“I’m proposing that if this campaign is successful, and it is something that the community wants, then I’ll be proposing legislation to say that poker machines can never establish here in the Molonglo Valley,” Dr Paterson said.
She said that if there was interest across the ACT in a broader ban, that would be something she would pursue.
Dr Paterson said research had shown that gambling harms increased the closer people lived to poker machines.
She said 2021 research from Victoria found that people living 250 metres from a gambling venue were six percentage points more likely to gamble than those living more than 2 km from a venue and five percentage points more likely to experience financial hardship than those living more than 2 km from a venue.
The effects of living close to a gambling venue were largest for more vulnerable populations, such as those with low income.
Advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform Kate Seselja said poker machine losses in the ACT amounted to $163 million a year, or half a million dollars a day.
“The fact that you can lose $10 every three seconds is $6000 in half an hour, so they can do an incredible amount of financial harm in a very short period,” she said.
Ms Sesleja said the clubs industry was moving away from poker machines and taking active steps to seek other revenue streams.
“That speaks volumes as an industry-led initiative, that once they become acutely aware of the harm they are causing their community, they’re not OK with it, and they want to make change,” she said.
“This is going that step further, to have a look at how we can create clubs and connection without harm.”
Alliance CEO Carol Bennett said gambling losses translated into enormous harm to individuals, families, workplaces and communities.
She said this needed to be addressed and Dr Paterson’s initiative offered a way to reduce the potential exposure to gambling and the harm that it causes.
“We know that we are way ahead of any other country in the world when it comes to gambling and its impact … do we want that future? Or do we want to make a decision?” Ms Bennett said.
“Clubs are an important part of the community fabric and they provide things other than gambling services, and that’s the way that many clubs are going.
“We’ve seen Yowani [Country Club] moving in that direction, and that’s the right model. That’s the way of the future.”
Dr Paterson said hers was a different approach from the current divestment program, which aims to wean clubs off poker machine revenue.
She hoped to achieve a nation-leading initiative where poker machines did not gain a foothold, but clubs could reimagine themselves.
“This is a great opportunity to have the conversation with the community to encourage clubs to Molonglo Valley but to envisage a new future where clubs are still the community asset that they are, but how do you build that without poker machines?
“Currently, I don’t think we have the right policy, legislative, regulatory environment to do that.”
Chair of Community Clubs ACT Athol Chalmers welcomed Dr Paterson’s initiative but said it was a massive challenge for clubs to maintain services as they attempt to pivot away from poker machines as the government would like.
He would be keen to know just what the community wanted.
“Do they want the traditional club, which has poker machines and a range of other services, or do they want a club out here that doesn’t have poker machines?” he said.
At least this would give the industry certainty about what kind of investment a club would make or not make in the area, Mr Chalmers said.
Markus Fischer from the ACT Gambling Support Service said that as a former gambler himself, banning pokies would not stop people seeking them out elsewhere. Still, the campaign was an opportunity to educate the public about gambling harms and to encourage stigmatised people to talk about their gambling addiction.
“My gambling career was over 35 years, and there was no education around gambling harms and the impacts of gambling and no supports available,” he said.
To learn more about the campaign, visit Dr Paterson’s website.
Is gambling affecting your life? Visit the ACT Gambling Support Service or call 1800 858 858.