Pokies reform is long overdue

18th January 2023
In just 92 days last year, poker machines in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle pubs and clubs made almost $100m

¿ In just 92 days last year, poker machines in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle pubs and clubs made almost $100m profit.

¿ Statewide, over the same period, pokie profits hit a record $23m a day, and punters’ losses rose by 11% to $2.1 billion. In just 92 days.

¿ Bear in mind also that the NSW Crime Commission estimates that billions in dirty money is being laundered through poker machines by crime syndicates.

¿ This is why my Independent colleagues and I have supported major reform to the gaming sector including cashless gaming cards as recommended by the NSW Crime Commission.

¿ The evidence cannot be any clearer that things have to change.

¿ Our clubs and pubs are a vital part of local communities and indeed our local economy, but they’re also a vital part of the solution.

¿ The latest figures are contained in today’s Sydney Morning Herald HERE.

By Lucy McCormack and Ben Cubby, Sydney Morning Herald

Gamblers lost more than $2.1 billion on poker machines in fewer than 100 days last year – the highest losses in NSW history – an outlay critics labelled an obscenity that reinforced the need for reform.

Daily profits for pubs and clubs from poker machines hit $23 million a day, as punters’ losses rose 11 per cent last year, Liquor and Gaming NSW quarterly figures show.

Machines in pubs now account for 44 per cent of all losses, despite housing only 26 per cent of the state’s poker machines.

Wesley Mission chief executive and gambling reform advocate Reverend Stu Cameron said the losses were obscene and highlighted the need for Premier Dominic Perrottet’s push to turn gaming machines cashless.

“People across NSW lost $2.4 million more a day to poker machines in pubs and clubs. Two billion dollars lost to pokies is unthinkable when people are struggling with escalating food, fuel and energy prices,” he said.

Across the 86,568 poker machines in NSW clubs and pubs, the highest profits were generated by machines in western Sydney, Liquor and Gaming NSW figures show.

Gaming machines in Canterbury-Bankstown made $182 million in the third quarter of 2022, those in Fairfield made $174 million and those in Cumberland $124 million.

Blacktown’s poker machines took in $100 million, while machines in the City of Sydney local government area made a profit of $96 million. In Penrith, machines captured profits of $64 million.

Machines in regional NSW also claimed multimillion-dollar profits, including $85 million at pokies on the Central Coast, $53 million in Wollongong and $51 million in Newcastle between July and September.

An analysis of the figures by Wesley Mission found the average poker machine in NSW now claims almost $100,000 a year in losses. It is estimated between 900,000 and 1.7 million people in NSW are harmed by problem gambling.

The top 10 metropolitan local government areas claimed $980 million in profits during the period, or $9.5 million a day, while the top 10 regional areas took $362 million, or $3.9 million a day.

Wesley’s general manager Jim Wackett said the record figures should embolden both major parties to commit to genuine reform.

“The numbers tell us two things: that overall gambling harm is increasing and that it is more and more concentrated in areas of lower social economic advantage, where people are most vulnerable and more likely to be targeted by these machines,” he said.

“Behind these numbers are human beings suffering at greater levels than they ever have in NSW history. It is contingent on governments to stand up for the people of NSW and reduce harm.”

The cashless gaming debate has gathered steam since late last year, when Perrottet said he would roll out cashless gaming on all machines in NSW to address money laundering and problem gambling.

It followed a highly anticipated report from the powerful NSW Crime Commission last year, which found a “significant amount of money” being put through the state’s poker machines is the proceeds of crime and recommended the introduction of cashless gaming cards.

The premier this week said his government was still preparing the cashless gaming policy he planned to take to the March election, while Labor last week released its pitch to reduce the number of poker machines in NSW and to launch a mandatory cashless gaming trial of 500 machines.

Rebecca Jenkinson, manager of the Australian Gambling Research Centre at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said research showed people had returned to poker machines to spend more than before the pandemic.

“It’s essentially the same people gambling, but now they’re spending more money. Some of them are people who’ve lost their savings or lost their job in the pandemic, and they’re seeing this as a way, and they’re looking to try and make some money back.”

The key factors behind the sustained high usage of gaming machines were their wide availability and a lack of measures to restrain people using them, such as caps on spending, Jenkinson said.

A 2021 report by the Australian Gambling Research Centre found that between 7 and 8 per cent of the population used gaming machines at least once a month, with the average user spending $157 a month on machines in 2018.

Australians have the largest per capita losses to legal forms of gambling in the world, the report found.

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