Calls for Aussie gambling harm regulator

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Despite the pandemic lockdowns, Australians lost more than A$11.4bn (€7.8bn) in one year on slot machines, says national newspaper The Age in an article today.

It said the average player in the state of Victoria alone lost A$2800 (€1,900) annually and that it has prompted calls for a national gambling harm regulator.

But it also stated that slot machine losses in Victoria – and in neighbouring New South Wales – had fallen by 17 per cent due to closures and restrictions during the pandemic.

However, losses were higher in the states of Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania compared with 2018/19. In total Victorians lost over A$2.2bn in 2021/22 (€1.5bn).

The figures had been compiled by the Gambling and Social Determinants Unit at Monash University and they included slots at pubs and clubs, but not in casinos. Most of the figures would have come from the use of machines in local private members’ and community clubs.

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Tim Costello, chief advocate at the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said that slots, known in Australia as poker machines, were booming after the lockdown and he expected losses to grow despite people facing cost-of-living pressure and declining real wages.

“It goes up under stress,” he said. “People literally either get some relief from sitting in the zone in front of the machine, or they have a belief ‘’m stuffed anyway, I can’t pay the rent or the mortgage anyway, but the pokies are maybe a shot’.”

Researchers also used surveys on gaming machine usage to determine the approximate number of pokies players in each state and arrive at an average loss per user. Western Australia is not included because it does not have poker machines in pubs and clubs.

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Charles Livingstone, the head of Monash University’s Gambling and Social Determinants Unit, said some losses in particular areas were attributable to tourism and money laundering, but there was no doubt poker machines “came back big time” once lockdowns lifted.

“For whatever reason, people decided to get back into the clubs and spend lots of money,” he said. “My hypothesis is it’s a consequence of the stresses and strains people have been living under.”

Costello called for the federal government and the states to establish a national gambling harm regulator to set out the financial, social and health consequences of poker machine addiction in Australia, which has 75 per cent of the world’s pub and club pokies.

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