May 31, 2021
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Victorians lost $8 million a day on poker machines in April 2021, a staggering 11.7 percent increase compared to the same month in 2019, causing the Alliance for Gambling Reform to call for an immediate reduction in poker machine venue operating hours after this current COVID lockdown.
Alliance Chief Advocate, the Rev Tim Costello, said it was past time that gambling harm be addressed as a serious public health issue, and it should be given immediate attention to reduce its impact.
“Here we are in lockdown number four in Victoria where we are being constantly told by Acting Premier James Merlino and others that they are listening to the advice of public health experts, as they should be, and we are glad of that,” Rev Costello said. “But where is that attention being paid to public health experts when they give advice on reducing gambling harm?
“We shouted from the rooftops that losses would increase after lockdowns eased. We knew it would happen because the evidence shows gambling harm increases in a crisis, whether it’s a pandemic, an economic downturn or a natural disaster. We raised this with the Victorian Government and implored them to heed public health advice and reduce venue opening hours.
“They briefly did that in November 2020, and it worked! We saw a reduction in daily losses for the few weeks that hours were reduced last year. That was a real time, real life experiment showing that gambling harm is reduced when opening hours are shortened. Now losses are spiking at appalling, unsustainable levels that will lead to significant harm to people, to families, and to our communities.”
Poker machine losses increased in all but four municipalities across Victoria in April 2021. The highest increases were in Melton (24%), closely followed by Hume (21%), Brimbank (20%) and Greater Dandenong (18%), totalling $240 million across the state.
“These are all stressed communities that cannot afford these kinds of losses,” Rev Costello said.
“To prevent this economic and social damage we are calling for poker machines to be closed between midnight and 10am daily around Victoria. Surely 14 hours a day is enough for pokies to operate?
“It’s simply absurd that Victoria has the worst pokies opening hours in Australia at a ridiculous 20 hours a day. We cannot ignore the harm they are doing any longer, our communities cannot afford it.”
Gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley, who lost ten years of her life to poker machines, said it was imperative that the Victorian Government learned from the pandemic.
“I’ve been in poker machine rooms in the early hours of the morning. I can tell you, no one is having fun at 3am there. It’s a sad place to be. Closing these rooms between midnight and 10am makes sense. The only argument to keep them open is for the gambling industry to exploit people,” she said.
“This pandemic has cost us Victorians too much already, and it continues to hurt us with lockdowns stopping us from seeing our families, people losing their jobs, and our communities suffering.
“The Victorian Government is doing its best to keep us safe from COVID, but it fails to keep us safe from gambling harm. Why is that? Why won’t they listen to public health experts on gambling harm?
“We can’t trust the industry to help. The current Crown Royal Commissions are showing us that the gambling industry has no consideration for people -- they view us as profits to be exploited and maximised. They just want to stripmine us for our money and care nothing for the damage left behind.
“Gambling harm has so many close connections to public health issues such as mental ill-health, domestic violence, homelessness and other stressors such as family breakdowns. It’s devastating.
“It’s time some real action was taken. We know reduced pokies hours equals reduced gambling harm. We need some good news, and this could be it. All Victorians benefit when gambling harm drops.”
Media contact: Rebecca Thorpe on 0491 209 436 or [email protected]
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