Pokies spend spikes despite COVID-19 restrictions

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Geelong punters lose millions as pokies reopen

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into poker machines as Australians have emerged from COVID-19 enforced lockdowns.

News.com.au reports that pubs and clubs across Queensland raked in almost $300 million July alone, despite social distancing restrictions drastically reducing the number of patrons allowed inside at one time.

It was the Sunshine State’s biggest monthly spend on gaming machines in the past three years and came as soon as the state government eased coronavirus measures.

Punters in New South Wales also spent big when they emerged from lockdown, losing more than $571 million in June, up more than $40 million on the same period last year.

Tasmania’s 520,000 residents expended a whopping $19 million on pokies per capita in July, $5 million more than was offloaded in February and equating to more than $612,000 a day.

Gamblers in South Australia drained their wallets of more than $73 million in the same month, compared to $62 million in 2019.

Victoria remains in lockdown, but its more than six million people spent $235 million on poker machines in July 2019.

Gaming machines are only permitted in casinos in Western Australia.

Alliance for Gambling Reform advocate Anna Bardsley said the figures highlighted a concerning upward trend.

“The money that wasn’t lost in those few months when lockdown was on instead went to small businesses, it went to supermarkets, it went to putting food on the table,” she said.

Ms Bardsley said while lockdown has helped some people break the cycle of addiction, it wasn’t enough for most.

“I know from my own experience it took longer than a few months to rewire my brain.” She said.

“I will literally not give poker machines another dollar, but the recovery has been long and hard.”

A Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation spokeswoman said it worked with industry and gaming help services in the lead-up to pubs and clubs reopening, to ensure those at heightened risk had support.

“This included the option for patrons who may want to continue their break from in-venue gambling to exclude from a venue, or multiple venues, through a gambling help service, without physically attending a venue,” she said.

However, OLGR confirmed the amount of money put through poker machines was 32 per cent higher than the same time last year.

OLGR continues to monitor these figures closely while engaging with industry and gambling help services to monitor any potential increase in gaming-related harm, to ensure suitable support options are available,” the spokeswoman said.

Tassie pokies spend skyrockets

Tasmanians are pouring money into poker machines at record levels, according to the latest Treasury data.

7hofm reported in August that there has been a 28 per cent increase in pokies revenue in the Apple Isle compared to pre-pandemic revenues, with nearly $20 million in player losses throughout July.

This equates to $626,761 a day.

Nelson Upper House independent member Meg Webb said the state government hasn’t heeded the warnings, after June figures showed $2.6 million was poured into machines, just five days after venues reopened.

“It’s an increase of 23 per cent from July 2019 and a 17.5 per cent increase on the daily figures for the first five days in June 2020, which were horrifying enough,” she said.

Ms Webb argued vulnerable Tasmanians who’ve gained early access to superannuation, JobKeeper and JobSeeker are being allowed to throw their money at a time when they can least afford it.

“That’s what we saw during the Global Financial Crisis and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Tasmania’s Premier Peter Gutwein was quizzed about the dramatic rise in electronic gaming machine profit last week.

“Hotels and clubs were closed for a period of time. People have had increases in their discretionary income depending on their circumstances from not going overseas or interstate and they have spent them,” he said.

“Problem gamblers make up 0.6 per cent of the Tasmanian population and I’ve got no information to indicate that’s increased.”

Ms Webb is also suspicious as to the timing of the release, given last month’s data was put out on the 22nd and this month’s wasn’t released after parliament had sat for the week.

“I’d hate to think the government is trying to hide or bury this data at a time when it doesn’t have to take responsibility for it.”

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