3 September, 2020
Thirteen councils are calling on the Victorian Government to urgently enact reforms to prevent gambling harm when poker machines are inevitably turned back on in the state.
As of today, an estimated $1.25 billion has been saved from going into poker machines since the 23 March COVID lockdown, helping people experiencing gambling harm and the Victorian economy.
Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said it was imperative Premier Daniel Andrews move now to prevent a potential tsunami of gambling harm in Victoria. He urged the Premier to heed repeated public health advice and other expert recommendations and act on the reform sought in the open letter seeking the closure of local gambling venues at midnight until 10am.
“The early hours of the morning are when an awful lot of gambling harm occurs, especially with people most at risk. With unemployment at record highs and the general stress around COVID-19, many more people are and will be vulnerable to gambling harm,” Rev Costello said.
“Closing venues from midnight to 10am is a simple, yet effective, measure to reduce gambling harm. I congratulate these councils for taking a stand on behalf of their residents to support gambling reform.”
Rev Costello said Victoria only needed to look to Tasmania to see what harm could occur if no gambling reform measures were taken when switching poker machines back on.
“Poker machine losses increased by a staggering 26 per cent in July 2020 compared to the previous July, equalling to $20 million lost on pokies with a small population like Tasmania,” he said.
“That’s money that should be circulating through the Tassie economy in much more productive ways. And that’s not to speak of the inevitable gambling harm associated with those tremendous losses. We know that many people turn to gambling as a form of stress relief, especially during times of economic crisis. That’s why reducing the dangerous hours available for people to use pokies is imperative.
“Premier Andrews is due to announce a way out of COVID-19 for the Victorian economy any day now, and one place he should have a serious look is at poker machines. The $1.25 billion saved in the few months since shutdown shows how much benefit could be derived from Victorian gambling reform.
“Local businesses are doing it particularly tough right now. Every dollar lost to poker machines is money extracted from local economies. Pokies are an effective economic drain on our state, not only taking money out but costing public health billions every year to repair the damage they do.”
Gambling reform advocate and former gambler, Carolyn Crawford, said she wanted Premier Andrews to speak to people who have benefited from poker machines being shut down during lockdown.
“Not having poker machines on during COVID has helped people experiencing gambling harm who may have been in recovery by easing stress, people who may not have realised they had an issue by helping them go cold turkey, and of course the family and friends of these people,” Ms Crawford said.
“I implore Daniel Andrews to take this unprecedented opportunity to reform gambling in Victoria, and specifically to reduce the opening hours of pokies rooms from the extraordinary 20 hours a day they are currently allowed to operate, and instead shut them from midnight to 10am.
“No good is happening in front of a poker machine at 3am. There’s no real hospitality operating, just people experiencing gambling harm feeding money into a machine that’s designed to addict them.
“We shouldn’t have to be fighting for something that is a sensible public health measure. The gambling industry should have to justify why they want machines on at 3am. The only reason is because some of the people using those machines are their best customers; they’re addicted and suffering immeasurable harm so wealthy individuals can make more money. It’s a disgrace.”
Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Councils signed on to the letter are: