Australian pokies operators down $1.5bn due to COVID-19 restrictions
Australian gamblers have saved upwards of $1.5 billion due to the closure of pokies venues during the coronavirus lockdown.
That figure comes from the Alliance for Gambling Reform, which believes the real number could be as high as $2 billion if the country’s 12 casinos are taken into account.
Australia is home to around 200,000 licensed gaming machines that have sat idle since COVID-19 lockdown measures came into effect towards the end of March.
While the nation’s pubs and clubs are bleeding, the Reverend Tim Costello sees a silver lining in the coronavirus cloud.
“It has been awful reading about the lives lost to COVID-19 in Australia, and my heart goes out to the people who have been affected,” said Rev Costello, the chief advocate for the Alliance.
“But the shutdown of poker machines in Australia has undoubtedly saved lives too, while also improving lives for many people for the better.
“We’re hearing some great stories of how people are no longer worrying about how to pay their bills because they now have money in their bank accounts instead of them being bled by poker machines.
“They are machines of addiction designed specifically to drain money from people, and also our economy.”
For many decades, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory were the only places in Australia where bars, clubs and hotels were allowed to operate pokies games.
By the turn of the millennium, Queensland (1991), Victoria (1991), South Australia (1992), Tasmania (1997) and the Northern Territory (1998) had all legalised electronic gaming machines in licensed venues.
Western Australia is now the only state or territory where pokies are restricted to casinos – a model that Rev Costello believes the rest of the country should look to follow.
“Pokies do the majority of gambling harm in this country because there are just so many of those machines plaguing our nation – roughly 200,000 of them,” he said.
“Western Australia has got it right – they only have poker machines in the casino and accordingly they have significantly lower rates of gambling harm.”
Defenders of pokies venues point to the significant impact they have on the Australian economy, with state governments pulling in billions of dollars a year in revenue from gambling taxes.
However, Rev Costello believes pubs and clubs can make a much bigger contribution to their communities by ditching their gaming operations and redoubling their focus on hospitality.
“Pubs, and importantly clubs, that operate poker machines will find that they contribute much more to local economies without poker machines,” he said.
“Research suggests it is far more productive to invest in hospitality than gambling, where we know for every $1 million spent on food and meals 20 jobs are created.
“Contrast that with a mere three jobs for the same amount lost to gambling.
“We never thought we’d see airlines and other industries shutdown for the sake of public health, but that’s a tough reality we have faced and worked through.
“The benefits of keeping poker machines switched off are myriad, far outweighing any supposed benefit in turning them back on.”
Australian punters lose upwards of $20 billion each year on all forms of gambling, with pokies machines accounting for the majority of that figure.