The Ballina-based co-founder of anti-pokies group Kickin’ The Punt, Ben Hamilton, has just returned from Sydney.
He and his film crew went to Dee Why RSL on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, confronted ClubsNSW, and met with the family and friends of builder Gary Van Duinen, who tragically lost his life due to a pokies addiction in 2018, after a 13 hour gambling binge at Dee Why RSL.
In July, the venue was fined $200,000 after it was found to have encouraged Mr Van Duinen’s gambling with perks and free drinks, and ignored his wife’s pleas to stop him gambling.
Dee Why RSL was told to employ gambling marshals to look out for dangerously addicted individuals, and give family and friends of those individuals the ability to exclude them, but they are appealing this decision.
The Why Just Dee Why? campaign seeks to have similar safety provisions extended to other venues across the state, and country.
Outside the venue, Mr Hamilton spoke to the waiting media. He said, ‘Our main mission with Kickin’ the Punt is to change the way society views gambling, and to give people a place where they can come and speak about this sort of stuff, and not feel the stigma and embarrassment that’s attached to addicts in general, but also gambling addicts.
‘I’m a reformed gambling addict. I tried to suicide in 2018. Thankfully I’m still here. I decided that I needed to do something to help people. I remember what happened to Gee [Gary Van Duinen].
‘I watched it on the news, and that had a profound impact on my life. So we started Kickin’ the Punt.’
How’s it going?
‘It’s grown steadily,’ said Mr Hamilton. ‘We’re just having an honest conversation about gambling. We’re trying to help people, but also hold the industry accountable. In my opinion the industry is very predatory, and Gary’s story really highlights that.
‘The main reason we’ve come down here this week is to film a documentary on Gee, and just showcase who he was, his struggles.
‘Joy [his mother] has been kind enough to invite us into her life and we feel really humbled to try and do this for Gary. Like Joy said, “if we can save one person it will be worth it.”
‘The two main issues with the way the industry conducts itself is, they do make it very easy to facilitate your gambling habit, but they’re also very clever in their narrative and rhetoric that they put out there to the community and to our society, in that they really try to put that stigma back on that person that’s struggling with the addiction.
‘Terms like problem gambler. That just means I’m the person that has the problem,’ Mr Hamilton said.
‘At the end of the day – now that I am reformed – you’ve got to have an accountability within yourself, but the industry’s also got to be accountable as well for what they do.
‘Gary’s tragedy is an example of what the industry does to people.’
The Why Just Dee Why campaign
Ben Hamilton would like to see the reforms at Dee Why RSL extended much further than one club in Sydney.
Mr Hamilton said, ‘Anything at this point is a step in the right direction, any kind of reform.
‘Logistically, it might be difficult for some of the smaller venues to implement this kind of stuff, but look at the size of this venue, the turnover of this venue, they can afford to have someone on their floor trying to identify people who are struggling and intervene.
‘The thing is though, they make most of their revenue from machines, and that revenue comes from people like me, who spent over ten years of my life throwing away my money, and throwing my life and energy through these machines.
‘It’s a good campaign, it’s a start, and we’ll be supporting Joy and [Clubs NSW whistleblower] Troy [Stolz] and Andrew [Wilkie] as well, the whole way through it.’
One small step
Mr Hamilton says he’s not surprised it has taken so long for even this first tentative step to be taken against the pokies in NSW.
‘Since entering this space of reform and advocacy, you learn a lot about the industry. Nothing really surprises me any more. We shot a lot of footage here yesterday [at Dee Why RSL]. The know who I am.
‘We also went to the ClubsNSW head office yesterday. They didn’t want to engage with us. It’s cowardly behaviour. They wouldn’t talk to us.’
Ben Hamilton said Dee Why RSL has got a long way to go with its community relations and responsibility.
‘We were in there for all of ten minutes before security surrounded us and one of their managers came and asked us to leave with no pretence. We weren’t intoxicated or anything like that.
‘They can identify me in ten minutes, how can they not identify Gary and his struggles for the better part of two years, burning his life away in their venue. To me, it’s not acceptable.’
Stay tuned for the first Kickin’ the Punt film, which will be releasing soon with crowdfunding support.
If this story has brought up issues for you, please call Lifeline on 131114 or visit them on the net. The Northern Rivers Gambling Counselling Service is here.