Queensland pokies spend reaches record high
Data from the Queensland government reveals that when poker machines were turned back on in July after the state’s three month lockdown, Queenslanders spent nearly $300 million in a single month.
The ABC reports that a surge in poker machine use was noted in the figures, which saw a 31.5 per cent spike on money spent in July 2020 compared to July 2019.
Since then, poker machine earnings have consistently been higher, month on month.
Comparing the same months in 2019 and 2020, August’s figures were up 21.3 per cent, September’s soared 20.1 per cent and December’s rose 20.7 per cent.
In January 2019, nearly $215 million was lost in machines, a 12 per cent increase compared to 2019.
In February, losses rose by 13 per cent at $203 million, while the most recent month of June also saw a $211 million loss, 10 per cent more than the corresponding period in 2019.
In the past 12 months, Queenslanders lost $2.8 billion in the state’s poker machines, the highest loss for a financial year since records began in 2004.
Relationships Australia community educator and reformed gambling addict David McAnalen said he believed the stress of job uncertainty, along with government COVID-19 payments, might have fuelled high rates of gambling.
“It’s a comfort to go and gamble. For people with a poor relationship to gambling, they gamble for the effect. They don’t gamble to win money,” he said.
Welfare payments left cash surplus for many – expert
Central Queensland University gambling researcher Alex Russell said government welfare payments in the form of JobKeeper and JobSeeker increased discretionary spending, which flowed on to gambling.
“When a lot of venues reopened, money went straight into pokies,” Dr Russell said.
“Australia is a bit unusual in that we have pokies in pubs and clubs whereas most countries don’t.
“So it was very easy to go to the club, catch up with a mate and then go and spend some money on the pokies because a lot of other recreational things were not available.”
Dr Russell said while there were many forms of help available for people experiencing harmful levels of gambling, by the time many people sought help, they had a major problem.
“A lot of people think they have it under control and then something really bad happens and by the time they realise they need help, it’s already a bit too late,” he said.
“Imagine there’s a dangerous situation, say it’s a cliff. We can put a fence at the top of the cliff to stop people falling off it, or we can let people fall off and fix them up at the bottom.
“At the moment, we have an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We wait until people have problems and fix them up after.”
Queensland urged to follow Victorian approach
Dr Russell said by the time a gambler gets to that point, many other people have experienced the negative impacts of the addiction.
Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello said Queensland leads the nation in pokies losses, with a 20 per cent spike in 2021.
He said the Victorian government made changes that helped reduce a sudden increase in poker machine usage when revenues reopened.
“The Victorian government reduced opening hours, but opening hours in Queensland are still 18 hours per day,” he said.
When it reopened, the Victorian government only allowed every second poker machine to be used.
“The difference in figures looks quite dramatic in terms of far less losses, far less community health issues, domestic violence, mental health issues,” Mr Costello said.
“It’s less than 25 per cent of Australians that even play the pokies, but 50 per cent of those playing are addicted.”
“Fifty cents of every dollar going through a poker machine comes from a person who has a problem gambling and they affect 10 other people – committing crimes, kids going hungry, mental health and domestic violence issues.”