Calls for gambling reform after Victorians lost record sums on the pokies in March


Victorians lost a record sum of $257.3 million last month as gambling losses increase around the country, according to the Alliance for Gambling Reform.

Although recent data from other states is unavailable, it is part of a nationwide trend of gamblers returning to poker machines.

“Machine gambling has picked up quite a bit since the end of the pandemic,” Monash University gambling researcher, Associate Professor Charles Livingstone, told The New Daily.

“Venues were closed for an extended period in Victoria and when they reopened, they had a big kick up, and that’s happened in most jurisdictions, actually.”

According to the Australasian Gaming Council, Australians lost more than $12.5 billion to poker machines in pubs and clubs in 2017, which is more than double the next-biggest losers overseas.

Despite the record losses this year, the proportion of people using gambling machines has actually decreased.

“What that suggests, unfortunately, is that we’re seeing more money being spent by fewer people,” Associate Professor Livingstone said.

“Which means the rate of harmful gambling is very much on the increase.”

The Reverend Tim Costello, chief advocate at the Alliance for Gambling Reform, told TND that state governments are slow to combat this issue.

“We should be dismayed by this figure, not surprised,” he said.

Reverend Tim Costello is “dismayed” by an uptick in pokies losses. Photo: AAP

Reverend Costello pointed to a slew of other health and social issues that affect people experiencing gambling issues and those around them.

“It’s preying on people with mental health issues. It’s intensifying domestic violence and suicides, and bankruptcy and crime,” he said.

“Our courts are clogged with pokies crimes because of the nature of addiction.”

Winners and losers

According to 2019 data, there are more than 190,000 electronic gambling machines in Australia – more per capita than almost any other major jurisdiction, aside from Nevada.

Associate Professor Livingstone said Australia is unique because although casinos have poker machines, there are many more in pubs and clubs spreading far into the suburbs where people are already experiencing financial stress.

“What we’re looking at is a colonisation of hospitality spaces in disadvantaged areas by poker machine business,” he said.

Associate Professor Livingstone believes the gambling industry exerts excessive control over the Liberal and National parties, particularly in New South Wales.

But Reverend Costello also accused the Victorian Labor government of “completely failing” their traditional constituents in working-class areas, which are among the worst affected by gambling.

“When you hear high-minded social justice statements from Labor, you should laugh in their face till they act on pokies,” he said.

The solution

Victoria and Western Australia have held royal commissions into Crown casinos.

The recommendations made by Ray Finkelstein in Victoria call for more independent oversight of casinos, plus restrictions on just how much money gamblers can lose.

To that end, Reverend Costello outlined several regulations he’d like to see to combat predatory poker machines.

They include limiting bets to $1, and instituting a cap of $120 in losses per hour.

He also called for a nationwide ‘lock in your losses’ scheme, where gamblers must set their maximum bets and play time before they begin.

Finally, he’d like to see gambling areas closed at midnight.

“Nothing good happens between 12am and 5am with lonely people who often have mental health issues or might be drinking too much,” Reverend Costello said.

“That’s just utterly irresponsible.”

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