Major concerns as Victorian pokies reopen - Alliance for Gambling Reform

Major concerns as Victorian pokies reopen

09 November, 2020

The Alliance for Gambling Reform holds major concerns about the return of poker machines in Victoria as the state eases out of lockdown, with the experience of other states showing increases in poker machine harm are all but inevitable.

Losses increased by more than 30 per cent in Queensland, compared to the same months last year, when poker machines returned, and NSW and Tasmania also recorded jumps in losses. 

As with COVID, it’s hoped Victoria doesn’t undo its work in reducing gambling harms during lockdown.

“Victorians saved more than $1.8 billion from being lost to poker machines while in lockdown,” said Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello.

“These savings have been nothing short of extraordinary in some council areas, such as Brimbank where more than $100 million has been saved from being lost on poker machines, along with Casey and Whittlesea with savings well over $90 million. That’s money that will have circulated in their local economies at a time when it has been most needed.

“But it’s not just the financial impacts on local economies that have been so remarkable; gambling harms people and families on a daily basis, and there will have been lives saved and massively improved while poker machines were shut down. Those positives can’t be underestimated.”

Rev Costello commended the Victorian Government as the only one to implement a staged reopening of poker machines, critical to avoiding the wave of harm seen in other states, but more must be done. 

“We’re glad there are such tight restrictions on how poker machines can operate, and how many people can use them right now, both from a COVID point of view and for harm reduction,” he said.

“We’re hopeful the Victorian Government will learn from this experience and recognise how much it has helped people to have poker machines off. It would be a real loss if things returned to so-called normal at the end of this in terms of gambling harms in Victoria.

“Victoria has the longest opening hours around Australia, at up to 20 hours. We’d like to see the government commit to permanently reduce operating hours to 10am to midnight, which is a much more sensible and safe approach while still allowing plenty of opportunity for gambling.”

The reopening of Crown Casino in Melbourne was extremely disappointing given the investigation underway in NSW that has exposed money laundering and other illegal activity, Rev Costello said.

“Given what has come out in NSW about Crown, to the point it looks like they will not be granted a casino licence in Sydney due to not being ‘fit and proper persons’ to hold such a licence, it would have made sense to keep Crown closed and let the Victorian gambling regulator do a thorough deep dive into the casino’s operations,” he said.

“It has been immensely disappointing to see NSW so thoroughly investigate Crown Casino before they even open in the state, while Victoria has all but turned a blind eye to its operations.”

Gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley joined Rev Costello’s calls to keep Crown closed.

“I lost too many years of my life to poker machines at that place, and it has been nothing short of astonishing to read and hear about the stuff they have been allowed to get away with,” she said.

“Knowing Crown, and all poker machine venues, were closed during COVID was a tremendous relief for me and thousands like me who have been harmed by the cruel and calculating gambling industry. COVID has hurt us all in Victoria, but reduced gambling harm has been its true silver lining. We can’t lose the good that’s come out of COVID -- we’ve given up too much already.”

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

A PDF version of the Media Release is available here