Ballina takes historic first steps to minimise local gambling harm - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Ballina takes historic first steps to minimise local gambling harm

25 July 2019

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has congratulated Ballina Council for taking steps today to act on gambling harm in its community. 

The council agreed to write to the Minister for Liquor and Gaming and local members of parliament to request that Liquor and Gaming NSW increase its efforts in electronic gaming machine monitoring and compliance activities, with the aim of minimising the harm resulting from such machines in Ballina Shire. 

The Alliance’s Rev Tim Costello spoke to councillors about the impact of gambling and encouraged them to act.

Council staff prepared a brief report of options for the councillors to consider, noting that the state government does not give any power to local councils to reduce the number of poker machines in their area, which limits the actions a council can take to reduce gambling harm in its community.

Notorious Woolworths’-owned  pub Westowers Tavern is in West Ballina. This is one of the hotels where staff are alleged to have provided free alcohol to gamblers and to have been recording gamblers’ behaviours in order to maximize returns. The hotel has been referred to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority for disciplinary action. 

The Alliance agrees with councillors that there is room for concern about the compliance and enforcement capacities of the Department of Liquor and Gaming, and is very concerned about the small penalties handed out when venues are found to have broken the law.

Ballina local government area currently has 564 poker machines and is ranked 48th in the state for losses in clubs, and 46th in the state for losses in hotels. Every single week, $514,000 is lost through poker machines in the Ballina area, which is an increase in losses compared to 2017, despite machine numbers falling slightly.

“We must not forget that poker machines lead to the loss of much more than money. In extreme cases, poker machines cause the loss of lives due to suicide. Then there is the loss of homes, families, relationships, jobs, cars and much more because of gambling harm,” Rev Costello said.

“Pokies dens are designed to fleece people regardless of socio-economic background or geography, and especially target people who may be feeling isolated or lonely. That’s predatory behaviour.

“The Royal Commission into Financial Services exposed predatory behaviour in the banking industry and the community has rightly been up in arms about it. Ballina residents, and NSW residents more broadly, should be shouting from the rooftops about how the poker machine industry preys on people and seek an end to this exploitation in their state.”

Rev Costello said poker machines sucked money out of the community without returning any real benefits.

“Imagine if the people of Ballina were spending more than half a million dollars a week on goods and services in the area instead of just feeding that money into a machine designed to addict them,’ he said.

“It’s time the NSW Government took gambling harm seriously and acted to minimise harm. The people of Ballina and NSW deserve to no longer be exploited by this toxic industry.”

Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or rebecca@agr.org.au