22 April 2020
Today Australia will pass an astounding $1 billion saved from being fed into poker machines at pubs and clubs since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown.
It has taken less than one month to pass that $1 billion savings mark in pubs and clubs alone, with the figure approaching $1.5 billion if gambling losses in casinos are also counted.
Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said these huge figures demonstrated just how big of a scourge poker machines are in Australia.
“That’s more than $1 billion that can instead be spent putting food on tables, paying for medical bills and utilities, rent and mortgages,” he said. “That’s not just making a difference to the lives of people and their families, it will also be helping our economy during these difficult times.
“And beyond the personal financial benefits and those for our economy, this current poker machine shut down will be significantly reducing gambling harm. The impacts of gambling harm takes many forms, not just the loss of money -- these can include mental ill-health, homelessness, family violence and even deaths by suicide in some cases. Those are serious issues inevitably escalating through this crisis, but minimising gambling harm as a contributor to these issues is a good thing.
“That’s why I am completely behind a move by the ACT Government to support community clubs in surrendering poker machines in exchange for $15,000 per machine that must go towards retaining and supporting staff. What a visionary policy! Imagine if all the other states and territories made similar moves. In South Australia crossbench MPs are supporting a similar move already.”
Rev Costello said the COVID-19 crisis presented Australian society with an opportunity to rethink the way we socialised, especially at the many valued clubs around Australia.
“Football, RSL and other clubs that are meant to serve our communities should be doing just that -- serving communities, not draining them of money via poker machines,” he said. “They should be safe places for people to gather, have a meal, catch up with friends and family, and see live entertainment.
“Imagine if we come out of this crisis with a return to community entertainment and a move away from poker machines. All of those musicians and comedians and other artists currently out of work would have stages on which to perform and help our communities heal as we come together again.
“Even the pubs that operate poker machines will find that they contribute much more to local economies without poker machines. Research suggests it is far more productive to invest in hospitality than gambling, where we know for every $1 million spent on food and meals 20 jobs are created. Contrast that with a mere three jobs for the same amount lost to gambling.”
Former poker machine user and gambling reform advocate, Anna Bardsley, said she knew of many people who had been helped by the shutdown of poker machines.
“I was speaking to one woman the other day who used poker machines a lot before they closed. She said for the first time in many years she actually was able to buy Easter eggs for her children as that money hadn’t been fed into a poker machine,” Ms Bardsley said.
“I almost cried when I heard that. That’s how addictive poker machines can be; so addictive that a loving mother would effectively gamble away her children’s Easter eggs.
“While this crisis has prevented us from seeing family and friends, it has also closed off most of an industry that doesn’t care about us, that doesn’t care about the community. I hope our leaders seize this opportunity to help us create a healthier and happier society, free from those awful machines.”
Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or [email protected]