30 September, 2021
Download the PDF version here
It’s imperative the NSW and Victorian governments take a cautious, tapered approach to the reintroduction of poker machines post-lockdown to avoid the huge losses spikes seen in 2020, says Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello.
With losses increasing up to 30 percent around Australia when poker machines returned in 2020, there is a serious danger of another public health issue to be dealt with in the form of a massive increase in gambling harm when machines return in NSW and Victoria, Rev Costello said.
In the letters, Rev Costello highlights what was an effective experiment in reducing gambling harm in Victoria last year thanks to a tapered reintroduction of poker machines to the state.
“When lockdown ended in November 2020, the Victorian Government very sensibly introduced measures that helped prevent a spike in poker machine losses, including reduced operating hours and restrictions on the number of machines that were available to gamblers,” Rev Costello said.
“This worked! The daily losses average in Victoria in November 2020 was lower than for November 2019. That was a real time, real life experiment showing that gambling harm is reduced when opening hours are shortened.
“Then only a few weeks later, the restrictions were lifted and poker machine losses spiked in December 2020 compared to 2019. The increase was as high as 23 percent in some council areas.
In the first week of operation after lockdown NSW Clubs fleeced $56.2 million and pokie pubs a further $35.4 million from the people of NSW.
“That’s $91.6 million not spent on food and beverages at a time when we most need it. Almost $92million dollars a week lost to poker machines is $92 million that would have been much better spent on small businesses struggling to stay afloat after lockdown,” Rev Costello said.
“And that was after a shorter lockdown with many less COVID cases and thus less stress than is currently being experienced in Sydney and other parts of NSW. Victoria is also dealing with more coronavirus cases through this outbreak than it did last year, and complicated by the fact multiple lockdowns have since occurred.
“The stress, exhaustion and frustration that people in Victoria and NSW are experiencing right now will inevitably lead to far too many people gambling when poker machines return, risking their livelihoods and mental health. Research shows gambling increases in times of crisis, it's a fact.
“The NSW and Victorian governments owe a duty of care to their residents to not only protect them from COVID, but to effectively reduce the risks associated with gambling harm and help local economies bounce back.
“The evidence is there from last year that reducing poker machine hours will work, and that’s why I have written to Premier Berejiklian and Premier Andrews and their relevant ministers about this.
“I look forward to hearing that Victoria will once again take a safer approach and have a tapered reintroduction of poker machines post-lockdown, and for NSW to do the same in Sydney and other locked-down areas. It makes sense from a public health and economic point of view.”
Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or [email protected]
See here for a gambling language guide for journalists.