Hunter gamblers put $4.4 billion through pokies

HUNTER punters put more than $4.4 billion through pub and club poker machines in the 12 months to the end of August last year, part of a state-wide mania that put more than $80 billion through the one-armed bandits.

Hunter clubs made net profits on their machines of $262 million and hotels $114 million, meaning Hunter players lost more than $376 million out of statewide losses of about $8 billion.

Nine of the top ten gambling areas were in Sydney, but Central Coast local government area was number six, with a turnover of $3 billion and punters’ losses of $261.8 million. Newcastle came 14th, with 3091 pokies turning over $1.73 billion and returning $143.7 million in profits.

Newcastle is at “relatively high risk of gambling related harm” according to the NSW government’s own rating of poker machine harms.

NSW Greens gambling spokesperson Justin Field said NSW poker machine turnover had risen by more than $11 billion since 2013-14.

“Poker machine financial data purchased from the government by the Greens show the extent of harm caused by poker machines in the community,” Mr Field said.

“Poker machines are designed for addiction and to strip billions a year from the NSW community. This is money taken out of people’s pockets and away from the benefit of families, communities and local businesses.”

The Coalition government’s tax take from pokies, revealed in last year’s budget, shows revenues rising from $1.3 billion in 2014-15 to $1.5 billion in 2016-17 to an estimated $1.7 billion in 2019-20. The tax take from clubs is rising at 3.1 per cent a year, and from hotels at 4.9 per cent, reflecting a push from publicans to install more gaming machines.

The Productivity Commission says 40 per cent of pokie losses come from problem gamblers.

In the Newcastle local government area, more than $1.7 billion was put through 3091 pokies in 96 venues, for net profit of $143 million and a tax take of $30.6 million.  More than $1.2 billion went through 2162 machines in 31 registered clubs, while 929 machines in 65 hotels turned over $501 million.

In Lake Macquarie, $1.15 billion was gambled, with punters losing $102 million and the tax office taking $18.9 million. The lake’s 37 clubs had 1992 pokies taking $843 million (and keeping $74.3 million): its 27 hotels had 448 machines that kept $27.8 million of the $305 million wagered.

Although the $4.4 billion gambled is only 0.7 per cent above the $4.37 billion gambled in 2015-16, it’s the sheer size of the industry that disturbs Mr Field, who joined the NSW Legislative Council in August 2016.

“The cost of poker machines is not only financial, these addictive machines ruin the lives of individuals and families,” Mr Field said.

He said the Coalition government should protect people from gambling harm rather than protect the “vested interests of the industry”.

“The government must remove dangerous features of poker machines, introduce $1 maximum bets and cap the losses that the community faces from these addictive machines,” Mr Field said.

Under NSW gambling laws, pubs and clubs wanting to add more pokies must complete a liquor impact assessment that satisfies the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority that the extra pokies “will have an overall positive impact on the local community”.

This is increasingly done by promising extra donations to community organisations or to state hospitals, as Fairfax Media reported last month.

At present, two Hunter premises – the Australia Hotel and Peden’s Hotel – have applications pending to increase their poker machine numbers. The Australia wants to add six machines for a total of 20 and is promising $30,000 each to Cessnock Hospital and Cessnock Minor Rugby League on top of the $23,000 in cash and $26,000 in kind it says it donated in 2016-17.

Peden’s Hotel wants to go from 12 machines to 20 and is offering $30,000 to Cessnock Palliative Care Services and $20,000 to Cessnock Rescue Squad, saying it had already donated $8000 in November “alone . . . to local charities”.

 The Australia Hotel application says there “may be some intangible negative effects created . . . in relation to problem gambling” but its $60,000 donation to “organisations that provide support to people dealing with problem gambling” would be “offsetting any potential negative impacts that could arise from the approval”.

The Institute of Public Affairs says the amount of problem gambling is “overestimated”

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