Holy help for clubs

THE face of the new poster boy for the licensed clubs' fight against poker machine reform, Father Chris Reilly, will soon be appearing in your letter box.

The founder of the Youth Off the Streets organisation has come out in support of the clubs' campaign against a Federal Government plan to limit the spending of poker machine addicts.

Yesterday Clubs Australia announced Fr Riley's face and comments supporting the clubs' stance will be sent to more than 77,800 households on the North Coast.

In the letter Fr Riley says neither mandatory pre-commitment or lowering betting amounts will help problem gamblers.

"I've witnessed problem gambling in the community and I believe the only way to treat it is through counselling and education," Fr Riley said.

"I'm greatly concerned that in making clubs spend $3 billion to install the technology, all the Gov- ernment will actually achieve is to put people out of work and strip money from the charities and sporting groups that clubs support."

His stance has attracted criticism from the major Christian churches in Australia which have reaffirmed their commitment to the Government's proposed poker machine reform.

The chair of the NSW Churches Gambling Taskforce, Reverend Bill Crews, said he believes Fr Riley has been misled on the issue of poker machine reform.

Rev Crews said that while counselling is an important part of helping people overcome their addiction to poker machines, preventing the problem in the first place is essential public policy.

"Fr Riley's comment is at odds with the Catholic Church, which is a member of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce," Rev Crews said.

"The clubs have capitalised on a conflict of interest here. Those who receive funding from the industry to run their services are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are committed to providing support to people already living with a poker machine addiction but do not want to jeop- ardise their funding.

"Under the reforms, all players will have to decide ahead of time how much they are willing to lose. This can be as high or as low as the individual chooses.

"In the cold light of day, away from the 'zone', problem gamblers are telling us they are able to make sensible decisions.

"Mandatory pre commitment will, as part of a whole range of measures, help poker machine addicts who are ready to help themselves. More importantly it will help people who are at risk, from developing a problem. And that's good public policy.

"Many clubs provide benefits to their local communities, but 40% of profits come from people addicted to poker machines. Those clubs that can only provide this support on the back of someone's gamb- ling addiction need to rethink their business model."

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