AN economic downturn has hit Hunter clubs harder than elsewhere in NSW, as belt-tightening punters cut the amount of money going in to poker machines, research shows.
The drop in gambling expenditure comes despite new findings that Australians who live in regional or rural areas are more likely than capital city dwellers to play the pokies.
A Roy Morgan Research Gambling Monitor report said that in the year to March, 31per cent of Australians living in regional or rural areas played the pokies in the past year, compared with 22per cent of capital city dwellers.
People in regional or rural areas were also more likely to place a bet, buy a lottery ticket or scratchie, and play Keno at a club, pub or casino.
But playing the pokies was becoming less popular, Roy Morgan Research found, with national expenditure on poker machines falling sharply in the past year.
ClubsNSW data shows the state bucked the trend, with poker machine revenue growing 3.2per cent in the past year, except in the Hunter.
Pokie revenue in the region has stagnated at about $276million a year, decreasing from $329million five years ago, before indoor smoking bans were introduced.
ClubsNSW Newcastle regional councillor and Hexham Bowling
Club secretary manager Jon Chin said the downturn in poker machine revenue in the Hunter was due to people tightening their belts.
‘‘Because really, times are tough,’’ he said.
‘‘Look at petrol averaging $1.50 a litre. Bills have gone up. Food prices have gone up.’’
Mr Chin said while patrons were still coming to clubs, they were spending less and staying for a shorter time.
He said a greater propensity to play the pokies in regional and rural areas than in capital cities might be because there were less attractions and entertainment outside major centres.
ClubsNSW media relations manager Jeremy Bath said gambling was an activity that prospered in good times and struggled when people were feeling insecure about the economy.
‘‘There is no doubt that people right across the state and particularly in the Hunter are cutting back on their discretionary spending and that of course affects poker machines,’’ he said.
But the economic slow-down was also bringing people to clubs, as patrons looked for an affordable night out for meals or concerts, Mr Bath said.