HUNTER poker machines turned over $4.5billion in the year to March, with the most profitable machines found in some of the region’s most disadvantaged suburbs.
Exclusive figures obtained by the Newcastle Herald reveal that pubs and clubs pocketed $407 million net profit in the year to March from 10,046 poker machines – a jump in profit of about 10 per cent since 2010.
Overall, pokie turnover for clubs and pubs jumped $500 million in the past three years.
The O’Farrell government was the second biggest winner from the gambling spree, collecting more than $50 million in taxes.
According to the data, punters plunged more than $12.5 million every day on the machines in the Hunter, or $8682 a minute.
Experts warned some gamblers could be trying to win their way out of financial trouble with soaring utilities and cost of living hitting hard across the region.
A region-by-region analysis of the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing figures reveals Newcastle pokies were the Hunter’s most profitable with the council area’s 3206 machines taking an average of $44,963 each – or $144,153,762 a year.
The second highest was Maitland with its 779 pokies taking on average $43,861 each – or $34,168,175 a year.
Wests at New Lambton was the most profitable club, followed by Belmont 16 Foot Sailing Club, Wests at Mayfield and Wallsend RSL and Community Club.
Hotel Jesmond topped the list of pubs, followed by the Bay Hotel Motel at Bonnells Bay, the Bellevue Hotel at Tuncurry, The George Tavern at East Maitland, Jewells Tavern and the Iron Horse Inn Hotel at Cardiff.
Research by University of Adelaide gambling expert Associate Professor Paul Delfabbro found three-quarters of problem gamblers used poker machines.
Women were found to be extremely vulnerable, with nine out of 10 problem female gamblers indentifying poker machines as the cause of their problem.
Anti-gambling campaigner Reverend Tim Costello said about 40 per cent of poker machine revenue came from addicts.
“The social costs are high, including relationship breakdown, mental health issues, unemployment, debt, financial hardship, theft and other crime, social isolation and all too often suicide,’’ he said.
“Money spent on the pokies is money taken from too many local economies. The ripple effects cause job losses and community breakdown.’’
According to the federal government up to 500,000 Australians are at risk of becoming or are already problem gamblers.
Research conducted by the Productivity Commission in 2010 found one in six people who played pokies had a serious addiction.
Problem gamblers lose on average about $21,000 a year, or one-third of the average salary.
Gamblers can lose more than $1500 an hour on some machines.
People aged 18 to 24 spend more on pokies than any other age group.
Clubs NSW Newcastle and Hunter representative Jon Chin said revenue at many Hunter clubs had been falling since the 2007 smoking ban.
Mr Chin, Hexham Bowling Club secretary-manager, said he was at a loss to explain the increase in net profit because many clubs were doing it tough.
He said clubs were a vital part of the region’s economy, employing thousands and contributing millions in taxes.
‘‘Consumer confidence in our area is pretty low, members are coming and not spending as freely as they used to,’’ he said.
‘‘Visitation in our gaming area has dropped considerably and we are looking at if we have a few too many machines.’’
Mr Chin said the increasing popularity of online gambling was having an impact on local clubs.
He said figures comparing the quarter to May with the same time last year showed club revenue was down 1.8per cent and pub revenue was up 6.1per cent.
‘‘Whichever way you look at it our figures have gone backwards and it’s fair to say a good deal of other clubs are going the same way,’’ he said.
‘‘Perhaps the big clubs are doing well, because the small clubs are not doing so well.’’
Samaritans chief executive Cec Shevels said there needed to be a cap on the amount people could lose.
‘‘Some people will get in strife so they try to gamble their way out of trouble and obviously they don’t succeed,’’ he said.
‘‘The people we really worry about are the people on low incomes who lose their weekly money in one afternoon on the poker machines, it’s very sad and very destructive.
‘‘They tend to put the most machines in the poorer areas.’’
HUNTER’S TOP 10 CLUBS BY REVENUE
1. Western Suburbs Leagues Club, New Lambton
2. Belmont 16 Foot Sailing Club
3. Wests Mayfield
4. Wallsend RSL and Community Club
5. Nelson Bay RSL Memorial Club
6. Forster Tuncurry Memorial Services Club
7. East Maitland Bowling Club
8. Toronto District Workers Club
9. Cardiff Panthers
10. Maitland City Bowls, Sports and Rec Club, Rutherford
TOP 10 HOTELS BY REVENUE
1. Hotel Jesmond
2. Bay Hotel Motel, Bonnells Bay
3. Bellevue Hotel, Tuncurry
4. The George Tavern, East Maitland
5. Jewells Tavern
6. Iron Horse Inn Hotel, Cardiff
7. Stag & Hunter Hotel, Mayfield
8. The Lake Macquarie Tavern, Mount Hutton
9. Mattara Hotel, Charlestown
10. Warners Bay Hotel