Home » Columns

Sorry, Labor, you’ve got a drink and gambling problem

5 January 2023 96 views No Comment


High-risk gambling and high-risk drinking overlap greatly.

  The distribution of consumption is very similar, with a minority of consumers accounting for most of the demand.Plusthere is a huge over-representation of vulnerable groups in those addicted to gambling and to alcohol.

 The enormous social costs of gambling in Australia are still not fully understood.

 But many studies accurately demonstrate that gambling imposes a heavy burden, especially on low-income groups and some ethnic populations. They and their families not only lose loved ones from suicide but many families and relationships are destroyed by the mental illness and financial disaster caused by addictive gambling.

  In Australia, uncontrollable gambling is very common among high-risk drinkers, and those who misuse other drugs. Many people struggling with poor impulse control and gambling debts also smoke heavily.

  Addiction problems tend to be “sticky”. Many people who have one of these problems also have a second problem, and sometimes even a third.

 Addiction problems also tend to be very “lumpy”. This is because a small minority in the community consume disproportionately large amounts, while the majority of consumers account for only a small proportion of the total consumed.

  We know with alcohol that the heaviest 10 per cent of drinkers account for 50 per cent of the alcohol consumed, while the heaviest 20 per cent of drinkers account for 70 per cent of the alcohol consumed. These heavy drinkers are at much greater risk of chronic problems. But without these heavy drinkers, the drinks industry would struggle to be so profitable.

  The distribution of consumption of gambling is roughly the same. So, to be enormously profitable, the drinks industry and the gambling industry both need people unable or unwilling to control their consumption. The same lumpiness of distribution of consumption probably occurs with illicit drugs, although currently we lack accurate data to assess this.

 The drinks and gambling industries also have in common the severe risk of, what Sydney-based Dr Alex Wodak terms, “an addiction by revenue earners” to the incomes they derive from these industries. This makes it extremely hard for governments to do the right thing.

 On the one hand, governments are well aware of the vast health, social and economic costs of alcohol and gambling addiction to the community. On the other hand, governments are loathe to interfere with the goose that continues to lay the golden eggs of financial and political support.

 What should be done in relation to problem gambling?

 As with psychoactive drugs, policy makers responding to gambling addiction have three options: to reduce supply; to reduce demand; and to reduce harm. Combinations of these three works better than relying on only one or two strategies. But while harm reduction is often cost-effective and safe, it is usually overlooked because it’s a hard sell politically.

 Like the use of alcohol and other drugs, gambling will always be with us. But, if they wish, governments can significantly reduce the nature of gambling consumption and thereby reduce the extent of its harm.

 For decades, our governments largely ignored their responsibilities to restrain gambling.

 This has resulted in the unfortunate fact that Australian gambling consumption is among the highest in the world. Governments earn substantial revenue from gambling turnover and, in my opinion, this has primarily explained their past reluctance to exercise their responsibilities.

 However, in recent years, restraining gambling harm has become a political issue in Tasmania, Victoria and now in New South Wales. Three months before a state election, the Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet admirably is battling against reluctant members of his own party and the state’s Labor leader, Chris Minns.

 As a direct result of Perrottet’s unambiguous commitment to immediately introduce cashless credit cards for all people gambling on poker machines in the state, the gambling industry is again using community organisations which benefit from its largesse to fight proxy battles on its behalf.

 A prime example is that the RSL & Services Clubs Association in NSW is now backing the state Opposition Leader’s position to delay full implementation of cashless credit cards, because of the alleged need for “more information.” This is particularly disappointing, because most of the addicted gamblers in NSW live in Labor electorates. Unsurprisingly, the RSL clubs in NSW and the Australian Labor Party are both large beneficiaries of the gambling industry.

 Recent official inquiries into gambling and casinos have demonstrated the obscene extent of regulatory capture by the gambling industry. Governments often claim to have zero tolerance for illicit drugs, while simultaneously generally displaying wilful blindness to gross corruption and pervasive community harm from gambling.

 When political parties depend on their income to run election campaigns from developers, and from the drinks and gambling industries, it doesn’t take long for unseemly but often secret practices to become deeply entrenched. Public funding of election campaigns by political parties would help overcome some of these thorny issues.

 As Australians are beginning to develop a greater appetite for integrity in government, this is an effective reform that requires active consideration.

 Gambling can usefully be described as, in effect, a tax on the most disadvantaged. These include Australians of low socio-economic status and of lower education, some of whom remain innumerate.

 It’s high time governments began seriously considering pragmatic reforms to reduce the huge health, social and economic burden on our communities resulting from the gambling and drinks industries.

 These industries in Australia hold most governments captive. But in NSW, the current Premier deserves praise and the Opposition Leader condemnation for the positions they have adopted.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University. Professor Fitzgerald’s most recent publication are the co-authored political satire,The Lowest Depths; a memoir Fifty Years Sober: An Alcoholic’s Journey and My Last Drink: 32 stories of recovering alcoholics, coedited with Neal Price and published by Connor Court in Brisbane.

The Australian, January 5, 2023, p 9.

Addressing gambling harm requires bipartisan approach

Ross Fitzgerald says policymakers responding to gambling addiction have options to reduce supply and demand and reduce harm (“Sorry, Labor, you’ve got a drink and gambling problem”, 5/1), but the only way to reduce harm is for political leaders to take a bipartisan approach to policymaking. Without a bipartisan political approach, industry lobby groups move their war chests of funding to vote out governments that try to regulate and reduce harm. This is already happening in the run-up to the NSW election, as pointed out by Fitzgerald. A bipartisan political policy approach will give the industry lobby groups nowhere to go. So let our political leaders get serious on policymaking to reduce harm.

David Muir, Indooroopilly, Qld

It is hard to reconcile why the NSW Opposition Leader, Chris Minns, does not support the introduction of cashless gaming cards. In theory, Labor should be a shoo-in to win this year’s state election. However, gambling and alcohol addiction impacts families of all political persuasions. Minns thinks he is adopting a small-target strategy. But in reality his non-policy is up in headlights and potentially could cost the ALP another unloseable election. There is still time to change his position and most voters would respect an about-face.

Riley Brown, Bondi Beach, NSW

Ross Fitzgerald’s contribution (Commentary, 5/1) is convincing and timely. Permit me to add to it the enormity of gambling advertising. It was outlawed for cigarettes, why not for gambling? One only needs to see the ads on television to be reminded how sick this slickness is.

Leni Paul, Unley, SA.

Letters, The Australian, January 6, 2023, p 8.

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.