when numbers hurt

Some days, numbers are wonderful things.

When your favourite band hits #1. When your favourite athlete gets a high score. When you run or ride or walk a personal best. When your newborn has their longest non-stop sleep. When the number signifies an important anniversary or birthday.

Some days, numbers are wonderful.

And some days, numbers hurt.  Today it seems to me is one of those days.

The number killed and injured in a highrise building fire in London climbs inexorably higher, and itself is outweighed by the number killed in a Bangladesh mudslide.

The number attached to the Australian government’s legal settlement with Manus Island detainees is a reminder of the horrors of the conditions those asylum seekers are treated to, at the hands of the country we call home.

Some days numbers hurt.

This morning I had the privilege of sharing a breakfast table with World Vision‘s Tim Costello, in Brisbane to speak at an annual Churches of Christ gathering today.  The conversation ranged far and wide, but again it was a couple of numbers quoted in different parts of the conversation that left me startled.

At one stage we talked about gambling in Australia, and poker machines in general. Costello is a passionate advocate for managing this insidious, addictive blight on our society.  The number in question was 20%.  Australia, home to just 0.3% of the worlds population, hosts more than 20% of the worlds poker machines. 20%. Machines that are specifically designed to take money away from those who use them. And that are most often located in communities that can least afford that loss. 20%. If you want to see some more numbers about poker machines that hurt, go here. Oh, and I was also reminded that one of the biggest profit-makers from pokies in Australia is Woolworths….that’s right…the fresh food people.

And then we talked about South Sudan and Uganda.  Australia, one of the richest nations on earth has since 1947 accepted something like 800 000 refugees. It’s a big number. And if it wasn’t for our recent record it could make us feel all warm and gooey inside. Uganda, at the other end of the global rich list has willingly accepted 1 000 000 refugees from South Sudan in the last 7 months. 1 000 000 in 7 months. And provided land to build a home and grow crops, and access to education and hospitals (such as those things are in Uganda).  Together with NGO’s like World Vision (supported, it has to be said by the generosity of ordinary Australians) they’re tackling what seems like (and may well yet prove to be) an insurmountable problem.  It’s an extraordinary effort, but for all that the effort is amazing, the numbers still tell of a world of pain and brokenness.

I don’t post this today to start a political debate. Simply to say that some days, numbers hurt….and today those numbers remind me that in our country, and in our world, we have a long way to go, many challenges to overcome.

Hopefully those same numbers can motivate us to act.

betting the grocery money

Tasmania has a population of around 500 000 people.  It’s a relatively small place.

Staggeringly, so far in 2010, we have collectively lost over $100 million on poker machines.  $100 million.  That’s $200 for every single man, woman and child.   Something like 120000 of the population are children, so that bumps the per adult loss up to the vicinity of $260 each.  There are obviously a lot of families who don’t gamble at all…..so the picture for those who do, and those who are ‘problem’ gamblers with serious addictions just keeps getting worse and worse.

Those stats are the tip of a horror story. It’s nothing less than frightening that as a state we’ve lost $100 million from family budgets to poker machines in just six months. That’s not including losses at gaming tables, betting on horse racing or other sporting or community events.

How many families are on the edge because of gambling addiction? How much crime is gambling related? How many relationships are damaged or destroyed?

I’m declaring myself not to be a wowser. I don’t mind the odd raffle ticket to support a community initiative, or maybe an office Melbourne Cup sweep, but how far do we let our collective addiction to gambling go?

Right now you can bet on anything you like.  Julia Gillard for PM? You’ll currently win $1.52 for every $1 you bet.  Meanwhile David Wirrpanda is at $26 for a $1 bet to win Dancing with the Stars.  Daily news and sports reports will let you know the odds for your football, basketball, cricket or european handball team.  Every day. Time after time.  Encouraging you to lose your money, your family, your groceries. I can only imagine how much the internet gambling companies pay our commercial news providers to include that information in impartial news bulletins.

We’ve invited gambling into our lounge rooms – not just via the internet, but on the evening news.

If I’m frank, I’m appalled by it.

But the pokies still seem to be the big issue, at least here in Tasmania.  Everywhere poker machines are installed, gambling revenue goes up.  In lower socio-economic areas the pokie losses are higher that other places.

And the state government? They earn almost $90 000 000 each year from gambling taxes. Think they’ll do much about it? Wanna bet?

What does it say about us as a community? A society?

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be letting my community leaders know that I’m very concerned about the costs of gaming machines and gambling for our families, our communities, our state.