An estimated 1.39 million Australian adults experienced one or more gambling-related problems in 2015.
The effects of problem gambling are often compounded by the co-occurrence of other issues, such as excessive alcohol consumption, use of illicit drugs and mental health issues.
A public health approach to gambling rather than solely focusing on services for individuals includes investment in prevention and harm minimisation, as well as treatment.
Harm minimisation efforts include regulating and restricting the availability and distribution of gambling products, de-normalising gambling and regulating its marketing and promotion.
Also important are regulating the nature of gambling products and addressing the features that encourage gambling.
Despite the more than $6 billion annual total gambling turnover in this state, only around $1 million is allocated by the Problem Gambling Support Services Committee annually to fund research and to promote and provide counselling and support services.
West Australians are entitled to protection from the harm caused by problem gambling. It is the responsibility of our government to properly regulate the gambling industry, and to ensure that adequate and effective harm-minimisation measures are funded, implemented and monitored to reduce problem gambling.
It is therefore incredibly concerning when decisions about gambling are not being made transparently and we cannot be assured that they are being made in the public’s interest.
In order to minimise the harms caused by gambling we need our government to prioritise public health and consumer protection – and for this to happen there needs to be total transparency, and clear motivations.
The government’s coffers benefit from gambling. This is a problem. In the 2017-18 total gambling turnover in WA was $6.28 billion.
And government revenue from gambling in WA that year totalled a whopping $362.9 million!
There is an inherit conflict between the government’s role as gambling regulator and its position as a financial beneficiary of the industry.
Adding to this conflict is the fact that the industry is a significant donor to the major political parties.
Since 2012-13, more than half of all money donated by Crown to political parties in Australia has come to parties in WA.
Crown has spent nearly $800,000 in WA alone, with WA Labor raking in $312,430 and the WA Liberals taking $437,509.
And that’s just the money we can see. The weak political donations laws we have in WA provide no real transparency or accountability around who is lining the pockets of those in power.
We know that there is a lot of dark money donated to political parties that goes unaccounted for.
The goal of the gambling industry is to make money – the greatest profit it can.
The goal of governments should be to look after the community’s best interests.
Yet the WA government’s decision to include Trackside in the sale of the TAB demonstrates they are more concerned about profit than people.
And more interested in commerce than public health. And if there is one thing that the pandemic should have taught us-it is the importance of following public health advice.
Close links between state government MPs, staffers, and officials and the gambling industry are simply unacceptable.
Gambling operators should not be providing financial support to political parties. Proper regulation requires a total ban on the gambling industry donating to political parties. And adhering to public health advice shouldn’t be selective.
Alison Xamon is the leader and gambling spokeswoman for the WA Greens.