The $1.5 billion COVID-19 silver lining - Alliance for Gambling Reform

The $1.5 billion COVID-19 silver lining

The $1.5 billion COVID-19 silver lining

5 May 2020

Today Australia passes a COVID-19 milestone worth celebrating: $1.5 billion saved from being fed into poker machines at pubs and clubs around the country since the pandemic forced a shutdown.

It has taken less than a month and a half to pass that $1.5 billion savings mark in pubs and clubs alone, with the figure ballooning to more than $2 billion if gambling losses in casinos are also counted.

Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said these huge figures demonstrated the blight poker machines are on Australia, both on our economy and our communities.

“It has been awful reading about the lives lost to COVID-19 in Australia, and my heart goes out to the people who have been affected,” Rev Costello said.

“We also feel tremendously deeply for the people who have lost their jobs through this devastating crisis. But the shutdown of poker machines in Australia has undoubtedly saved lives too, while also improving lives for many people for the better.

“We’re hearing some great stories of how people are no longer worrying about how to pay their bills because they now have money in their bank accounts instead of them being bled by poker machines.

“I know of one mother who is finally breathing a sigh of relief knowing her child can no longer blow his income on the pokies. He's finally eating and putting on weight as his depression is much improved since the pokies shutdown.

“This is the reality of the devastation poker machines wreak in Australia. They are machines of addiction designed specifically to drain money from people, and also our economy.”

Rev Costello said that in addition to that $1.5 billion savings from poker machines, there would also be significant public health savings from reduced gambling harm, further supporting the bottom line of our state governments when they need all the budget help they can get.

"Pokies do the majority of gambling harm in this country because there are just so many of those machines plaguing our nation -- roughly 200,000 of them. Western Australia has got it right -- they only have poker machines in the casino and accordingly they have significantly lower rates of gambling harm,” Rev Costello said.

"COVID-19 is presenting us with a unique opportunity to rethink the dire situation Australia has gotten itself into with the prevalence of gambling. Australians lost $25 billion gambling last year, the highest rate of losses per head in the entire world. 

"We can come out of this crisis with a real positive if we can significantly reduce gambling harm. That will not only save families and individuals from inordinate pain -- including family violence, mental ill-health and homelessness -- it will provide billions of dollars to be spent in our economy at a time when we need it most. We want to #BuildBackBetter from all this. We want to see pubs and clubs thriving once more with people gathering for a meal with loved ones, and watching music or comedy.

"Pubs, and importantly clubs, 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.

“We never thought we’d see airlines and other industries shutdown for the sake of public health, but that’s a tough reality we have faced and worked through. The benefits of keeping poker machines switched off are myriad, far outweighing any supposed benefit in turning them back on.”

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