BY TESS KELLY
A former gambling addict who was jailed for stealing money has joined a chorus of voices to call for gambling reform in the City of Casey.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform is a collaboration of organisations and local councils that aims to reform the gambling industry to reduce the harm it causes, particularly in local communities.
Ms Crawford was charged with stealing $400,000 from her previous employer over a period of seven years. She used the money to play the poker machines in the Casey area.
“I had become addicted…the money I took went into those dreaded machines,” she said.
Ms Crawford said gambling in Casey is at an extremely dangerous level with hotels and clubs operating for 20 hours per day, prior to COVID-19.
“It’s just awful and really needs to improve.”
“Before I went to prison, I would go to numerous clubs and hotels and couldn’t remember a time where I didn’t see the same people day after day,” she said.
By joining the alliance, Ms Crawford said the council would have more power to slow and stop the increase of poker machines being installed at gambling venues.
“If we can all fight this battle and at least stop one person ending up the same as me I would be very happy.”
The alliance’s executive director Tony Mohr has called for the City of Casey to join the alliance as a leadership council, working alongside 22 other local councils to advocate for state and national gambling reform.
“No level of government is closer to the devastation poker machines cause than the local council,” he said.
Mr Mohr said gambling is especially devastating in the City of Casey with $132 million being lost to these machines per year. This is the second highest loss for any council area in Victoria, falling just behind the City of Brimbank.
The alliance is seeking $25,000 from the City of Casey to fund support to councils to prevent gambling harm, and continue research and awareness for its damaging effects.
“The alliance also works with leadership councils on local priorities such as community education, improving council policy and raising awareness of gambling harm through local advocacy,” Mr Mohr said.
Ms Crawford said, if the City of Casey were to join the alliance, it would show they cared for their residents.
“Any council fighting the battle against any increase in pokies in the area should be very proud of themselves and I hold any council doing this very warmly in my heart,” she said.
Alliance board member Tom Cummings also fell victim to gambling in Casey when he relapsed in 2014.
Mr Cummings said venues in the area would offer cheap bistro meals with gambling as the “after dinner entertainment”.
“There isn’t a lot else on offer…it seems a contradiction, but the pokies are an attractive entertainment option to people with little to no money to spare,” he said.
Mr Cummings said the gambling problem in Casey was largely to do with financial pressures on young families living in new developments.
“Financial pressure can take its toll…the machines themselves are inherently unsafe and prey upon the most vulnerable members of our society,” he said.
If the City of Casey were to join as a leadership council, Mr Cummings said the alliance would provide resources and guidance when dealing with applications for poker machines and provide strong community support for those suffering from the harms.
As a member of the leadership council, City of Frankston councillor Glenn Aitken said the alliance had provided them with detailed research to help the fight against poker machines in Frankston.
“We see the damage first-hand…it strips all the barriers of normality away from people who get addicted,” Cr Aitken said.
He encouraged every council in Victoria to join the alliance, not only the City of Casey.
“It needs to be a really big voice and a widespread voice on the issue of gambling to deal with it.”
Several gaming venues in the area were contacted for comment, but declined to respond.
COUNCIL SAYS IT WILL JOIN ALLIANCE
More than a month after the City of Casey was contacted to ask if it would consider joining the Alliance for Gambling Reform, manager city planning Keri New provided a written statement.
"Council is currently reviewing the Electronic Gaming Machine Strategy 2015-2020 to identify our key directions moving forward, including if we need further external support for advocacy," the statement read.
"Until this time, council is happy to become an Alliance for Gambling Reform supporter and will review over the next 12 months whether this should increase to become a financial member."