The gambling industry is up in arms about the Gillard government’s proposed poker machine reforms; of course they are. Clubs NSW is leading the charge; understandable. But what about the Catholic clubs?

You see, there’s several registered clubs in NSW that are known as the Catholic clubs. They were started years ago, generally by prominent Catholic businessmen or parents from the local Catholic school, and grew to a point where they took on a life of their own. They are well respected, very successful and, as far as I know, still hold true to their original Catholic ideals.

There are five Catholic clubs in NSW that I’m aware of, and four of them are online. Those four have grown to become very successful indeed, and they are The Catholic Club (also known as The Castlereagh Club), the Campbelltown Catholic Club (also known as King of Clubs), Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic Club and Liverpool Catholic Club. All four of these clubs have poker machines, and plenty of them.

Now I’m not going to say that there’s anything hypocritical about linking Catholicism with gambling. Bingo, anyone? There’s nothing wrong with gambling, in and of itself, and it certainly isn’t a sin. But what about problem gambling?

Remember, church groups across the country are concerned about problem gambling. Both the Victorian InterChurch Gambling Taskforce and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce support the Gillard government’s reforms and have repeatedly expressed their dismay with the tactics employed by the industry, Clubs NSW and Clubs Australia in particular, in fighting these reforms.

Many gambling counselling services are faith-based, and there is no doubt that the Catholic Church, like so many other religious organisations in this country, has seen its fair share of human carnage as a direct result of poker machine addiction.

But these clubs …

The signs say “Catholic” but their bosses are Clubs NSW. All four of the Catholic clubs I listed above support the “It’s Un-Australian” campaign.

This was on the “What’s On” page of The (Castlereagh) Catholic Club website:

This was on the front page of the Campbelltown “King of Clubs” Catholic Club website:

This was on the front page of the Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic Club website:

And this was on the front page of the Liverpool Catholic Club website:

Am I the only one who is appalled that these clubs, founded on Catholic ideals, are actively supporting a campaign that portrays its opponents as un-Australian? That places the blame for gambling problems squarely on the shoulders of poker machine addicts and absolves the industry? That plays politics with people’s lives?

Or for these clubs, is the word “Catholic” simply a remnant of a bygone time … a reminder of where they came from, but by no means an indicator of where they’re heading?

For me, it’s troubling on a personal level. Regardless of what I am now, I was born and raised Catholic. I went through the Catholic school system, participated in Catholic youth groups, heck I was even a lay minister for a while. I understand Catholicism.

But I don’t understand this.

There’s a famous story from the Gospels, about how Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. I think these clubs have it the wrong way around.

*Tom Cummings, a gambling survivor, blogs about gambling reform and problem gambling awareness. This post originally appeared on www.cyenne.com.

Peter Fray

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