Experts fear Geelong residents could spend up big at poker machines
Victoria’s gaming machines have been switched on again after months of lockdown forced the closure of venues.
The Geelong Advertiser reports that poker machine losses in Geelong hit record lows this year as the coronavirus pandemic stopped gamblers losing $82 million in six months.
Experts fear the reopening of machines could see gamblers return to old habits and spend even more money than they did before lockdown.
New Alliance for Gambling Reform data estimates gamblers in Greater Geelong and Queenscliff saved $82,227,399 over 238 days of lockdown from March 16 to November 8.
Bethany Community Support manager of therapeutic and children’s services Tracie McPherson said referrals to the centre’s gambling program had fallen dramatically during the pandemic.
She said some gamblers who had asked for help had, for the first time, confronted the drivers behind their addictions.
Ms McPherson said clients had had to find new ways to fill in their time, had been in linked out community support services and found new ways to connect with their families.
But Ms McPherson said while coronavirus had been a circuit breaker for some, there were fears some gamblers could quickly revert to old habits.
Alliance for Gambling Reform chief executive officer Reverend Tim Costello said there were “definite concerns” about the reopening of poker machines across the state.
“Poker machines being switched off was a real silver lining of COVID for all Victorians, not just gamblers,” he said.
“An estimated $1.8 billion was not lost on poker machines during Victoria’s lockdown, which would have had a tremendous benefit on our local economies at a time when it was needed most.”
Reverend Costello said when machines were switched back on after Queensland’s lockdown there was a 30 per cent rise in losses compared to the same time last year.
“There were also big jumps in Tasmania and NSW,” he said.
“Victorians saved $1.8 billion while poker machines were off, which is money that would have been doing a power of good circulating around local economies, including in Geelong, instead of lining the pockets of a wealthy few.”
Reverend Costello said Queensland’s data suggested people could gamble away even more money than before, with evidence indicating people often gamble more during and after a crisis for many reasons including as a method of self-soothing.
He urged the government to reform the industry and to stop allowing gambling harm to occur.
Ms McPerhson urged anyone who was struggling with gambling addiction or wanted to seek help for a friend or relative to call Bethany gambler’s help on 1800 858 858.
Queanbeyan poker machines do a roaring trade
While poker machines were closed in the Australian Capital Territory, just across the border, trade was roaring.
The Canberra Times reported in October that profits from pokies in neighbouring Queanbeyan more than doubled each month after ACT clubs stayed closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, when compared to the year prior.
Following reports Canberrans rushed across the border to gamble when NSW venues opened on June 1, the 15 venues in the Queanbeyan-Palerang local government area took in $7,384,845 from gaming that month, up from $3,462,833 in June 2019.
While ACT gaming machines stayed switched off to comply with early stage-three restrictions in July, Queanbeyan’s gaming profit shot up more than 150 per cent on the same time last year.
The NSW gaming data revealed a more moderate increase of 84 per cent in August, with Canberra gaming venues switched back on in the second week of that month.
ClubsACT chief executive Gwyn Rees fought hard to bring Canberra in line with its border state, claiming clubs were losing about $5 million in revenue per week during restrictions.
“The ACT was the last jurisdiction to provide a COVID recovery roadmap, last to get relief out, slowest to reopen business and is the worst performing on business support,” Mr Rees said at the time.
With Canberra clubs reopened throughout September, gaming machine profit from Queanbeyan’s eight clubs and seven hotels dropped to $45,321,528, still up 27 per cent on last year.