The $1 billion COVID-19 silver lining in NSW - Alliance for Gambling Reform

The $1 billion COVID-19 silver lining in NSW

The $1 billion COVID-19 silver lining in NSW

18 May 2020

Today New South Wales passes a COVID-19 milestone worth celebrating: $1 billion saved from being fed into poker machines at pubs and clubs around the state since the pandemic forced a shutdown.

It has taken less than two months to pass that $1 billion savings mark in pubs and clubs in NSW alone, with the figure ballooning to more than $2 billion when including the rest of Australia.

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

“That $1 billion in savings in NSW alone is an astonishing figure and is not only a standout in Australia, but also around the world,” Rev Costello said.

“Poker machines are that big of a scourge on communities in NSW that more than 35 percent of the world’s pub and club poker machines operate in the state.

“This is not a leader-table that NSW should want to be on top of. There are stories behind every dollar lost on poker machines, and few of them are happy.

“That’s why we have been hearing some great stories since the COVID-19 shutdown of the pokies, 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 has improved that much since the pokies shutdown. These are real people suffering real harm when pokies operate.

“This is the very sad reality of the havoc poker machines wreak in NSW. They are machines of addiction designed specifically to drain money from people, and also the state’s economy.”

Rev Costello said that it was time NSW treated gambling harm as the public health issue it is.

“We’ve seen Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her government handle the devastating public health crisis that COVID-19 is tremendously well after listening to the advice of experts,” he said.

“Undoubtedly lives have been saved thanks to measures introduced by the NSW Government under trying circumstances. More lives will be saved if gambling harm is reduced in NSW.

“Gambling harm has enormous public health impacts from burdening the mental health system through to all the issues associated with family and domestic violence, and even homelessness.

“Then there are the budgetary pressures those public health impacts bring. It makes sense for the NSW Government to seriously consider real gambling reform to not only reduce the societal impacts of gambling harm, but the financial ones too.

“Based on data released in March, the losses on poker machines in NSW clubs alone in 2019 could finance the NSW Government's entire COVID-19 support package, estimated at $3.3 billion whereas $3.968 billion was lost on poker machines in NSW clubs.

“Clubs and pubs are the lifeblood of our communities, but should be safe places for people to gather, have a meal, catch up with friends and family, and see live entertainment. Imagine if we could come out of this crisis and #BuildBackBetter with a return to community entertainment and a move away from poker machines. All of those musicians, comedians and other artists currently out of work would have stages on which to perform -- they could help our communities heal as we come together again.”

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