New data revealing Griffith residents lost $21.3 million playing gaming machines in 2016/17 has sparked renewed calls for greater regulation of pokies in the MIA.
The data follows the release of a research paper by think tank the Australia Institute, which shows Australia is one of the few countries in the world that still allows non-gambling venues – pubs and clubs – to have gaming machine.
The report states while Australia has just 0.3 per cent of the world’s population, it has 18 per cent of its poker machines.
NSW Department of Industry figures show nine clubs and five hotels in the Griffith Local Government Area recorded $21.3 million in net profit from 468 gaming machines.
Net profit is the combined profit from gaming machines, including pokies, and is the most accurate indicator of money lost by players.
Yvonne Wilson, who has been a social worker for 40 years in the Griffith area, says she often sees the devastation gambling addiction can inflict on families.
“I have sat with many people, women, youth and men who may have families to support and who have very confronting stories, however they are so caught up in the never ending circle of gambling and very few see any hope of change...”
“Whilst poker machines themselves do not cause a problem to the community the fact that they are so freely available in such numbers and across many outlets is. They are very accessible, visible, colourful and bright and designed to encourage people to play them”.
“The fact that the poker machine outlets always have ATMs freely available is another problem. There is no limits set in how much can be put through the machine at any one time”.
Ms Wilson said an answer could be requiring the registration of users, and imposing limits set for time and amount; and/or the banning of habitual addicts.
But she says the MIA’s gambling problem is wider than just pokies.
“Young children become obsessed with Candy Crush on their phones, this may lead to games online that has rewards for winning, online betting on a wide variety sports encourages money being thrown towards the reward of winning more are no different to poker machines”.
Garry Tucker, who manages Griffith Exies, which contain poker machines, also highlighted the range of gambling options available in presenting his view.
“To me, there are a lot of different gambling choices both in venue or online at home. Life is full of choices we have to make about where we spend our money, so I don’t believe you can target one stream of gambling.
“Clubs these days are a lot more than just poker machines and we have certainly proved that through the sponsorship of various sporting groups and our ‘Yambil Hub’ community project.”
Pokie venue Griffith Leagues Club also highlighted their community contributions.
“Whilst the Griffith Leagues Club does derive income from a range of gambling services, this should not overshadow our significant and ongoing support of our local community. The Club is proud to offer employment to approximately 90 staff with annual wages in excess of $2.7 million”.
“Additionally, we provide donations and sponsorships of approximately $110,000 per annum and maintain sporting facilities at an expense of $120,000 each year”.
Nevertheless, Ms Wilson wants to see more restrictions the use of poker machines; while others want to go further.
Tasmania’s Labor opposition leader, Rebecca White, has promised to ban poker machines if she wins the upcoming state election.