The extensive engagement of Australians with poker machines, also known as “pokies” has continued after the coronavirus lockdown, too, with local residents spending hundreds of millions of dollars into the terminals and prompting renewed calls for stricter actions against licensed premises to tackle the increasing gambling addiction rates.
According to reports, Australian pokie machine gamblers lost a total of AU$800 million in just one month after the country’s Government relaxed the restrictions of casinos and pokie clubs and pubs. The majority of poker machine premises resumed operations on June 1st when the lockdown restrictions in Australia were lifted.
The customers of Queensland pubs and clubs spent almost AU$300 million on poker machines in the state in July 2020 alone, although the imposed social distancing measures affected the number of patrons who were allowed to enter at the premises at one time. This was the largest monthly spend on the state’s poker machines over the past three years.
Punters in New South Wales (NSW) spent even more after the ease of the Covid-19 lockdown, losing more than AU$571 million in June. The spending reflected more than AU$40-million increase compared to the one registered during the same period a year earlier. Poker machine gamblers on the territory of South Australia spent more than AU$73 million in July 2020, in comparison to AU$62 million spent in July 2019. Residents of Tasmania, on the other hand, lost AU$19 million on pokies per capita in July.
In Western Australia, poker machines are only allowed to be operated in local casinos. The state of Victoria remains in Stage Four lockdown for the time being, which prevents its residents from using the pokies.
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Anna Bardsley, Alliance for Gambling Reform advocate, described the upward trend in gambling spending as concerning. As she told a local media, the money that had not been lost on poker machines in the few months while the lockdown was on, went to small local businesses and for covering some everyday expenses of households across the country.
According to Ms Bardsley, the imposed lockdown in the country had helped some Australian people take control over their gambling addiction. Unfortunately, the measures did not turn to be enough for most people to break the cycle of problem gambling, as it usually takes longer than a few months to do that. As shared by long-time anti-gambling advocate Tim Costello, record-high unemployment rates, combined with stress around the coronavirus pandemic, could make more people vulnerable to gambling-related harm. Apart from that, Mr Costello shared that every dollar spent on pokies is money that could have been spent on local economies, with poker machines being “an effective economic drain” on the state.
A spokeswoman for the Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) explained that the gambling watchdog of the state worked in collaboration with the industry and some organisations and services providing help to gambling addicts in order to make sure gambling-harm support is provided to anyone who might need it.
The gambling regulator, however, also confirmed that a 32% increase in the amount spent on poker machines in July in comparison to the spending on pokies a year earlier. The spokeswoman of the OLGR explained that the watchdog would continue to closely monitor the figures while remaining engaged with the regulation of the industry to see any potential increase in gambling-related harm.