South Australians flock back to pokies 

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
NSW gambling card supported by Bergin inquiry

The temporary closure of South Australia’s pubs in July to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the state has led to residents flocking to the machines since restrictions have eased.

Adelaide Now reports that South Australian’s spent $73.21 million in July, the highest monthly spend since August 2007.

The spending for the first four months of the financial year has raised concerns about the impact of machines on vulnerable South Australians.

The figures have been downplayed by the hospitality sector, who stressed the spending was a consequence of South Australians being unable to access venues for three months to do something they enjoy.

New figures from the industry and government against Consumer and Business Services showed that in the first four months of this financial year, South Australians embraced the reopening of pokies venues after they had been closed for three months in response to the pandemic.

The average monthly spend was $68.81 million, starting with $73.21 illion in July and gradually tapering to $65.46 million in October.

Poker machines at the Adelaide Casino are not included in the statistics.

SA Council of Social Services chief executive Ross Womersley said the figures are concerning.

“From our perspective, it’s much worse than going back to normal, it has gone boonta,” he said.

“The withdrawal from poker machines for many people with real gambling issues was a God send, because for the first time in ages, they were in positions where they were not spending that money and they were able to have it available to pay for their life requirements.

“We do know that there was some drift to other gambling activities but the real concern for us is if people are putting even more back in that has to be a reflection of a real increase in potential harm.

Spending won’t last – AHA state chief 

Australian Hotels Association state chief Ian Horne said the spending was a reflection of venues opening back up.

“People who like playing pokies did not play them for three months so there’s a little bit of pent-up demand,” Mr Horne said.

“But it is hard to see how it is sustainable because as other things are opening up all the time, it will be on the wane.”

Mr Horne said the heavily taxed sector, where almost 40 per cent of revenue is handed back to the state government, has been on a downward trajectory since 2006/07, when revenue peaked at $792 million.

“Taking into account inflation and CPI, we are millions of millions of dollars down on where we were previously and that is never coming back.

“This year, we have been down $170 million in the financial year because of COVID.

“There is pent-up demand but as with many other industries, people could not go interstate for a trip, they could not go overseas to see people, so they were desperate to spend.”

South Australians gambled a record $552 million on lotto tickets in the last financial year, up from $539 million in 2018/19.

In May, data from Google Trends showed searches for online casinos Australia and online poker had quadrupled since the pandemic was declared.

The biggest spike was recorded on March 22, the same day that thousands of clubs and gaming facilities were forced to close their doors in response to the federal government’s stage one lockdown.

Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said any South Australian who needs help with gambling addiction is urged to call the 24/7 free and confidential gambling helpline, where they will be able to speak with trained counsellors.

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