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Should Methodist Missions accept gambling money?

By Paul Titus

It’s not often that Methodists end up on the front page of a major daily newspaper but that was the case last month when The Press got wind of the Christchurch Methodist Mission’s decision to stop applying for grants from the local casino or gaming machine trusts.

The Press believes the Methodist Mission is the first large social service provider in NZ to take this stand. Their story was subsequently picked up by television, radio, and print media around the country.

Christchurch Methodist Mission superintendent Rev Michael Greer says the decision was prompted by Mission staff, who more and more often must deal with people in crisis because of gambling. Gaming machines in particular are a major problem.

“In October last year we gave a submission to the Christchurch City Council when they reviewed their moratorium on the transfer of gaming machine licenses. Council officers initially took the view that the moratorium should be lifted and market forces should dictate where gaming machines are used,” Michael says.

“But the overwhelming voice during the submissions was against the spread of gaming machines. People told stories of the catastrophic damage done to them, their families, and their businesses because of gambling.

“The city council voted to maintain the moratorium. The submissions caused us to reflect more deeply our own consistency and integrity. If we were to continue to critique the industry and raise our concerns about its impact on those least able to afford it, we felt we could not be the beneficiaries of casino funds and pub charitable trusts.”

Michael says he understands why other organisations do accept money from gambling trusts, and does not condemn their stance.

“We don’t want to be on a high moral ground. There is another valid point of view on the issue. We are not trying to create a widespread policy. It is simply that for us and where we are at, refusing the money feels more consistent.”

Superintendent of Wesley Community Action (WCA – the Wellington Methodist Mission) David Hanna says his organisation has accepted gaming machine money and it has provided funds for initiatives it couldn’t have carried out otherwise.

David says it may appear contradictory and the WCA faces a dilemma over the issue because it has identified gambling as a major concern.

“We are supportive of Michael and the Christchurch Mission, and we encourage the debate. Gambling is an inefficient way to get money for funding innovative programmes versus direct grants.

“There are other ethical issues around fundraising. We do not use professional fundraisers, for example. Some of them take 60 or 70 cents out of every dollar that is gifted for the cause they are promoting.”

The real issue, according to David, is the difficulty of finding adequate money to deal wit the complex, in-grained and inter-generational issues – unemployment, mental health, and family histories – that beset the people the Missions work with.

“There has been a transfer of responsibility from government onto the community sector. This is combined with an economic rationale that has hollowed out communities.

“The government approach with social service providers used to be a social contract. Now the model is to purchase services with the emphasis on efficiency. I am not anti efficiency but it often comes down to assessments and predicting outcomes and families are not like that.”