South Australian gamblers flock to poker machines

by William Brown Last Updated
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Coming out of COVID-19 lockdowns, South Australian gamblers lost a near record amount on poker machines, a new report has revealed.

ABC News reports that pokies users lost a total of $769.87 million for the year to July, the highest figure in 15 years.

It represents a near 13 per cent increase on the last full trading year prior to the start of the pandemic.

The losses equate to $434 for each person in the state.

The figure comes despite a continued reduction in the number of poker machine entitlements, which are gradually retired as part of regular trading rounds.

The $769 million net figure includes the takings of poker machines, minus the winnings returned to gamblers.

The figures do not include Adelaide Casino, which has more than 1000 gaming machines and in December, opened a multi million dollar expansion.

There are 11,697 machines in 486 venues in the state.

The gambling data, published by Consumer and Business Services, shows $320.44 million of that money went to the state government in tax, while the remaining $449.43 million remained in venues.

The near-record revenue by South Australian gamblers was a major turnaround on the previous financial year, where months of coronavirus shutdowns prompted a huge hit to pokies revenue.

$511 million was recorded in net gambling revenue in 2020-21, down from a consistent figure of about $680 million for the three preceding years.

Pent up demand likely fuels big pokies spend – Australian Hotels Association 

State government enforced coronavirus restrictions saw gaming venues off limits for much of March, April, May and June 2020.

Pokies spending rebounded strongly when revenues reopened, with gamers losing more than $70 million each of July and August.

Major changes to the poker machine industry took effect in December, with operators now allowed to accept bank notes of up to $100 in machines.

The changes, supported by both the state government and opposition, saw new harm reduction measures, including barring periods and the introduction of facial recognition technology.

The Australian Hotels Association’s chief executive Ian Horne said the high result was driven by several factors, including “pent up demand” during the pandemic and the replacement of a number of old gaming machines.

“I think it’s fair to say that this last 12 months has been quite unique, never happened before,” he said.

“Gaming in South Australia has been on the decline for the last 14 years. This is the first uplift.

“Time will tell, but a lot of it will be the fact that we were in a COVID-19 pandemic year, which broke all the rules, where people did get extra income from various government support but also had nowhere to spend it.

“And that’s why it’s reflected in sales, not just in gaming, not just in gambling, but in many retail sectors.”

“Whether it’s sustainable or not, I guess we have to wait year-on-year.”

Advocacy groups question effectiveness of harm minimisation strategies

South Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Ross Womersley said the increased revenues showed attempts to mitigate problem gambling had not been successful.

“You really have to ask, given the amount of additional money that has been ploughed into the machines in such a short period of time, whether or not the gambling sector has actually been doing its work to make sure that it’s behaving responsibly,” he said.

He said gambling venues needed to be more open about the information they collect around problem gamblers.

“We think there should be publicly available data about the total number of gamblers they’ve identified to be displaying risk behaviours, the referrals they’ve made and the effectiveness of those referrals to actually helping to intervene and reduce gambling harm,” Mr Womersley said.

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