Whittlesea pokies among Victoria’s biggest losses

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
Cashless gaming meets staunch opposition 

Pokies venues in Whittlesea are among the top ten for poker machines losses in Victoria during the past financial year.

Star Weekly reports the figures released by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation show Epping Plaza Hotel recorded the highest losses of any venue in 2019-20, with $15.29 million lost on its poker machines.

Plough Hotel in Mill Park came in at number two with $15.04 million lost.

Excelsior Hotel, with $13.12 million lost and Bundoora Taverner with $12.87 million lost were also in the top 10.

Overall, the Whittlesea Shire recorded the sixth-highest losses in the state, with an overall tally of $83.7 million.

Venues and machines were shut from April to June.

Whittlesea council panel of administrators chair Lydia Wilson said while there were big savings made while machines were closed, it was essential measures are put in place to reduce the harmful effects of gambling.

“It is very alarming and a huge concern that the two top venues for gambling losses, which amounts to more than $30 million from 200 poker machines across these venues, are in the City of Whittlesea,” Ms Wilson said.

“This only reinforces council’s commitment to ongoing advocacy for change to the poker machine industry.

“Some gaming venues are open until the small hours of the morning. Unemployment and stress caused by impacts of COVID-19 are at a record high, putting added pressure on vulnerable people succumbing to gambling harm.

“We are also advocating for the state government to consider a poker machine buyback scheme, which is already underway in the ACT.

NSW poker machines fire up once more

Punters have flocked back to poker machines in New South Wales, with data revealing turnover is at pre-COVID-19 levels despite social distancing restrictions in pubs and clubs halving machine number and limiting numbers in venues.

During the first week in June, New South Wales Clubs took slightly more than an average week in June last year, while hotels turnover was up by 31 per cent more than last year, data from gaming machine monitoring service MAX shows, using a sample of machines across the state.

Online betting also grew during the coronavirus lockdown as people with children reported spending more on gaming over the internet.

Clubs and pubs were shut for 10 weeks, hitting their main revenue source in an industry that earned $6.5 billion last year.

Justine Channing, a gaming industry specialist with 25 years experience, said clubs and hotels in both city and regional areas had positive results, on average.

“I suspect we’ve got a honeymoon, as people who enjoy gambling want to get out there and have a go,” Ms Channing said.

While big clubs might still be struggling due to debt and restrictions on patron numbers, medium-size clubs are doing quite well, she said.

“If you’ve got 200 people in Bankstown sports club then you’re about 2500 short of what you need,” Ms Channing said.

“[Meanwhile] a medium-size RSL club is doing as well now as they did last June.”

Clubs responded to the restrictions by removing underperforming games, she said.

Superannuation withdrawals of up to $10,000 per person allowed under the government’s early access program for people struggling with coronavirus-related financial hardship have reportedly been frittered away by punters on gambling sites and online wagering.

Alliance for Gambling Reform executive director Tony Mohr said after the global financial crisis when $1000 cheques were posted to people to stimulate the economy there was a big spike in gambling and it may be that people are using early access to superannuation in a similar way.

“When there is more disposable cash at a time of crisis people are simultaneously under more financial stress and more vulnerable to trying to escape their concerns,” Mr Mohr said.

“What is surprising is the scale of it, for them to be seeing an increase is mind-blowing.

“We’ve saved $2 billion while the pokies were turned off, which you can think of as a stimulus package in itself.”

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