Pokies Popular in NSW as Restrictions Lifted

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Gamblers flocked back to New South Wales gaming venues in the latter part of 2020, with record amounts wagered in the state.

Business Insider reports that according to state government data, gamblers fed $2.17 billion into gaming machines between June and November 2020, making for a seven per cent increase compared to the same period in 2019.

The data reportedly shows the greatest losses in local government areas in Western Sydney.

Club pokie machine profits saw year-on-year growth of $10 million in Fairfield, ultimately leaving gamblers $197 million out of pocket.

The story is similar across Canterbury-Bankstown, Blacktown and Penrith, all of which saw increasing losses compared to 2019.

Clubs, hotels and casinos were ordered to close in March 2019 in response to the pandemic, but venues reopened in June.

In August, a preliminary report from the University of Sydney found nearly three in four respondents reported gambling less frequently during shutdowns, but most respondents expected to return to their pre-pandemic gambling patterns when restrictions fully lifted.

Speaking to the ABC, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, who led the University of Sydney report, said the uptick in poker machine profits could reflect the impact of JobKeeper and the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement, combined with lingering unemployment and free time for those without work.

While academics suggest a perfect storm of social and economic factors may have lured gamblers to the pokies, peak industry body ClubsNSW said those pokie machine profits lagged behind other sectors emerging from the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Geelong punters lose millions as pokies reopen
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The latest gambling figures from the Victorian regulator reveals Geelong residents lost $4.23 million in a matter of days after pubs and clubs were reopened in late 2020.

The Geelong Advertiser reported in January that when pokies were reopened to the public from November 9, Geelong’s 1346 machines swallowed $4.23 million by the end of the month.

The region, which includes one Borough of Queenscliffe venue, recorded the fifth largest loss of Victoria’s 57 municipalities with electronic gaming machines.

But the losses are well behind the $10.23 million lost in November 2019 with venues still facing COVID-19 restrictions.

The November reopening was the first time pokies venues were allowed to operate their gaming rooms since they were closed on March 16 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure stopped the region’s record breaking run of pokies losses in its tracks, after topping $120 million in losses in 2018/19 and heading towards beating that total in 2019/20 prior to the impacts of COVID-19.

The November pokies reopening came as the Alliance for Gambling Reform released estimates that the seven-month closure saved Geelong gamblers from losing $82 million.

Alliance for Gambling Reform chief executive Tim Costello voiced concerns the reopening of gaming rooms across the state would lead to a surge in losses.

Poker machines being switched off was a real silver lining of COVID for all Victorians, not just gamblers,” Mr Costello said in November.

“An estimated $1.8 billion was not lost on poker machines during Victoria’s lockdown, which would have had a tremendous benefit on our local economies at a time when it was needed most.”

The return of pokies to Queensland, Tasmania and New South Wales following similar closures resulted in a rise in losses in those areas, Mr Costello warned.

The Victorian Greens last month called on the state government to waive licensing fees for clubs and venues that wanted to phase out poker machines.

William Brown

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