OPINION: The Anglican Church was obviously in an awkward position as it tried to reconcile its views on problem gambling associated with pokie machines with the fact that it also sought funds from trusts funded by revenue raised by the machines.
The money available from the trust funds could be used to support buildings, food banks, counselling services and the many other good works the church seeks to do in the community. But the church, or some parts of it at least, believe that pokies are a blot on their communities, providing a lure that some gamblers cannot resist and preying upon them.
To go on accepting money from pokie trust funds clearly left the church open to accusations of hypocrisy. Equally clearly, an easy way to avoid such a charge is to stop taking the money. The Christchurch diocese of the Anglican Church has decided to do just that.
According to Rev Jolyon White it is a matter of principle. New Zealanders, he says, are losing $2 million a day, mostly in poorer communities. A quarter of those who gamble regularly develop an addiction, White believes, and that the industry is "completely predatory".
White further believes that the trusts that administer the pokie funds have become a pro-pokie lobby. In accepting applications from the Anglican Church for the funds, he says, the trusts were trying to stop the church speaking out on the issue and buying its silence.
With such a view of the issue, the diocese's stand is indeed one of principle, even a moral one. It is the kind of stand that one could expect a church to make. Indeed, one might wonder why it took the diocese so long to arrive at its new position. Whether it is necessary may be arguable.
To start with, while problem gambling is undoubtedly a problem for those few individuals affected by it, for most players it is not. White's figure of a quarter of regular pokie gamblers becoming addicted appears similar to the Department of Internal Affairs figure that one-fifth of regular gamblers "experience problem gambling at some point in their lives".
Problem gambling, however, is defined generously to include harm that may arise from just one gambling session.
There is, of course, a case for saying that any regular gambling on pokie machines is problem gambling because the odds are so loaded against the punter that it does not make sense. But that goes for many other forms of gambling too. And the fact is that for the vast majority of pokie-machine players the gambling is no more than a cheap occasional amusement.
An entirely hard-headed view would say that the Church should continue to both apply for pokie-fund money to support its good causes and to speak out against what it sees as the pokies' role in problem gambling.
While the church should not allow the pokie-fund money to compromise its public position, there is no reason why it could not take the money, the great majority of which would not come from problem gamblers, and use it for the greater good.
It may seem circular, but it could indeed put the money to good use by helping those few people who are addicted to gambling and so reduce problem gambling.
The decision of the Christchurch diocese may cause other organisations to wonder about the ethical validity of their continuing to take pokie-fund money. Few are likely to be inclined to follow the diocese's lead.
The Anglican Church has long had a mildly censorious attitude towards gambling anyway. While not as outspoken as some churches, it tends to regard all gambling as problem gambling.
It is not clear how much the diocese got each year from pokie funds. Whatever it is, the loss of that income from the diocese's stand may be a difficulty for a while, but it will also probably turn out to be temporary.
Many doomsayers forecast that the end of tobacco sponsorship would bring hard times to many sports, entertainment and other such organisations. As it turned out, however, the money was soon made up from other sources.
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