$110,000 over three years
Who better to advocate for changes to the system than those most hurt by it?
The Alliance for Gambling Reform will work with an additional 50 people who have experienced the serious harm cause by gambling, and harness their storytelling skills as part of a strategy to reform the industry and prevent others experiencing similar trauma.
The Alliance’s Champions for Change program, which gives those with lived experience of gambling harm the confidence and platform to tell their stories, received a boost with a $110,000 grant from the Ross Trust to expand the program in Victoria.
With a focus on prevention and harm reduction, the Alliance adopts a public health model to strongly drive an agenda to reduce impact on individuals and families as Australians lose $24 billion to gambling every year. This is more per capita than any other developed country, with just over half going on poker machines.
The Alliance’s agenda is also driven by data which tells them that over 500,000 Victorians have been directly harmed by gambling with another million on top of that harmed by someone else’s gambling. The Alliance works with local partners who understand their communities and see gambling harm exacerbating issues such as family violence, financial stress, mental health issues and homelessness.
Alliance for Gambling Reform Executive Director, Tony Mohr, says the only thing standing in the way of change is political will.
Whilst the key decision makers will look at all kinds of intelligence to feed into policy decision making, often a story of personal experience will have an impact on how they approach the issue.
“We know many of the politicians who speak out for gambling reforms started on the journey with a personal connection to gambling and its impacts. We understand how powerful these stories can be,” Tony says.
“We want to bring politicians together with people who have lived through gambling harm and use the power of those face-to-face conversations.
“Part of the challenge is to work through with people the stigma and shame they may have about their gambling and how it has affected themselves and others, and they might have concerns about how speaking publicly might affect things like job prospects.
“Mostly they have a deep desire to ensure no-one goes through what they’ve been through.
“We work to give them the confidence and skill to engage in advocacy,” Tony says.
While there are gambling support programs in place, the focus of the Alliance is the upstream activities – changing policy and limiting access and supply.
In Victoria one of the key issues is the operating hours and the availability of poker machines in clubs and pubs.
The closure of pubs and clubs under pandemic lockdowns has given the Alliance some clear and compelling data to better illustrate their case.
Tony says estimates indicate $1.5 billion has been saved and more than $2.5 billion not spent by Australians during the lockdown, thanks to the closure of pubs and clubs stopping patrons from using poker machines.
This is a staggering sum and highlights what could happen if policies were to support poker machine restrictions. The Alliance is working for is a restriction to opening hours, whereby access to poker machines would be severely restricted – if not stopped – during the statistically most harmful hours of 12-3am.
They are also seeking an end to loyalty programs, which see venues roll out the red carpet to heavy gamblers. They also want to change public attitudes to the way we understand gambling.
“In the past we’ve tended to think of gambling harm as an individual responsibility, largely ignoring the responsibility of the industry that profits from it” Tony says.
“We need to shift the public focus to one where we see that the industry is highly motivated to make money and is working hard to make a profit, so we need to change the policy and laws that regulate them.”
Tony says there is nothing unique about Australians that makes them inherently predisposed to gambling.
“What has allowed us to gamble this way is the availability. In other countries worldwide, slot machines have been banned or restricted. Gambling has been encouraged here.”