17 March 2020
The Alliance for Gambling Reform has echoed calls from leading public health and addictive behaviour researchers to temporarily shut down poker machines during the declared Covid-19 pandemic.
Alliance Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said a temporary shutdown of all electronic gaming machines (EGMs), along with casinos, was a sensible public health measure to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 virus, and to prevent gambling venues from profiting from people experiencing high levels of stress.
“Poker machines by their very nature involve the repeated touching of buttons and screens on surfaces that are known to retain the virus for some time,” Rev Costello said.
“Finland has already taken the sensible public health measure of shutting down all EGMs and the casino in Helsinki.
“People experiencing stress, anxiety and financial pressure as a result of the pandemic should not also be put at risk of gambling harm by allowing gambling venues to continue to operate. Now is the time to support each other.
“During the bushfire crisis we were heartened to hear stories of some pubs turning off their poker machines, putting the community before profit in a time of need. We need that to happen again during this crisis.
“We all know prevention is better than cure at the best of times, especially now.”
Former gambler and gambling reform advocate, Anna Bardsley, said temporarily closing gambling rooms and the casino was a necessary step to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and prevent serious gambling harm.
“When I was gambling I would frequently lose track of time and get into a zone where nothing else mattered,” Ms Bardsley said. “The machines are designed to do that to you. I had no concern for my own health or the health of others while I sat in front of a poker machine. Pokies venues are a germ fest at the best of times. I was constantly sick when I was gambling in those places.
“Poker machines were a form of escape from the issues I had in my life, and that is so common. The thought of vulnerable people, especially older people and those with other risks for Covid-19, sitting in a room spreading germs, touching things and losing money to escape from these difficult times makes me incredibly sad.
“We’ve had libraries and theatres closing voluntarily because of this issue, I don’t understand why gambling venues can’t support their communities and take similar action off their own bat.
“For some people the government stepping in and temporarily closing gambling rooms while this Covid-19 pandemic is active is the only way they will be able to protect their health and limit their risk of gambling harm. There is an official State of Emergency in Victoria, with more states likely to follow soon, and unprecedented steps like these are needed to protect us all, especially the most vulnerable.”
Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or [email protected]