Bishop Stuart Robinson of Canberra and Goulburn has welcomed the Federal Government’s commitments on gambling reform announced this week but says more are needed.

The leader of Anglicans in the national capital and surrounding rural areas of the ACT and NSW said the capacity of modern gambling machines to maximise revenue by nurturing addiction demanded a counter-technology to help protect the most vulnerable.

In a circular to clergy in his diocese, Bishop Robinson said much of the media coverage this week had focused on the politics of the Government’s decision to sever its deal with Independent Tasmanian MP Mr Andrew Wilkie.

The bishop said trust certainly was an important factor in leadership, but that it must not be forgotten that the Government’s job was to regulate the gambling industry to limit its impact on families and communities devastated by gambling addiction.

“On this scale of analysis, there are some bright spots in what the Gillard Government announced this week,” Bishop Robinson said.

“The Government should be congratulated for their commitment to introduce ‘a $250 daily withdrawal limit from ATMs in gaming venues (excluding casinos) by 1 February 2013’ and ‘Electronic warnings and cost of play displays on poker machines by 2016’.

“Over the past year, one criticism of the Government is that their focus on poker machines ignored the growing problems around online betting. So another welcome aspect of the package is that Government will extend pre-commitment to online betting services.”

Bishop Robinson said the public debate often ignored the fact that the old “one-armed bandit” was dead.

“I am advised that the modern poker machine is a sophisticated piece of computer technology designed to maximise revenue by nurturing addiction,” he said. “This scenario does demands a counter-technology that will help protect the most vulnerable.
“Australians need a Government that has the courage to pursue hard decisions that will benefit of the whole society. For gambling reform, this path would lead to real action on the Productivity Commission’s two key recommendations: a trial of mandatory pre-commitment technology and $1 bet limits.

“Many Anglicans are rightly disheartened that both sides of politics have stepped away from this level of comprehensive reform of the gambling industry in Australia.

“The Gillard Government rejected the $1 bet limit proposal from the beginning. Yet the Commission has pointed out that there are so-called high-intensity poker machines which encourage people to lose scandalously high amounts of money in a short period of time as they chase their losses. As a result, the Commission recommends that all machines have a $1 bet limit, with $20 restrictions on the amount a player could feed into the machine. This would bring average losses per machine to $120 for an hour.

“With the Liberals appearing to be less than enthused by both the Commission’s key recommendations, Anglicans and other people of faith who believe that gambling reform is long overdue must make this a matter of prayer and correspondence with their elected representatives in Government.”