Lambton hotel owner believes pokie cap won't solve gambling problems

Back to basics: Justin Harris, publican at The Mark Hotel and former detective, got rid of the pokies at his Lambton pub last month. Picture: Simone De Peak
Back to basics: Justin Harris, publican at The Mark Hotel and former detective, got rid of the pokies at his Lambton pub last month. Picture: Simone De Peak

Two weeks after making his Lambton pub pokie-free, Justin Harris says he hasn’t looked back.

The former detective, who’s been in the hotel game for the past five years, got rid of The Mark Hotel’s 10 gaming machines last month. He says he’s had no complaints.

Mr Harris has seen the impacts of problem gambling, such as further addiction, financial ruin and suicide, in communities throughout his career – the way it “blows the whole family”. But he says a state government cap on the number of pokies in some areas won’t do much to curb the scourge.

“Obviously hotels, generally, have all the schemes in place for problem gamblers but the majority of the time they use techniques to keep punters there – they make the pokies [area] fully smoking, they have table service for people playing on the poker machines,” he said.

“They have all sorts of stuff to promote people to stay in the venue and to gamble as much money as possible.”

Mr Harris said the cost to run and maintain gaming machines at his venue, as well as the tax the government charged, meant there was little financial advantage of having pokies on site. 

He said the government should make more significant changes if it was serious about addressing problem gambling.

“If it’s that bad then why haven’t we gone like WA and just left it to the casinos to have [pokies]?” he argued.

NSW racing minister Paul Toole announced on Tuesday that no additional pokies would be allowed in “high risk” communities across the state – including Belmont South/Blacksmiths, Beresfield/Hexham, Cessnock, Kurri Kurri/Abermain, Maitland, Mayfield/Warabrook, Mt Hutton/Windale and Raymond Terrace.

A raft of reforms was introduced to parliament this week, which was welcomed by Clubs NSW and Australian Hotels Association.

But the NSW Greens said it would be “business as usual” for the gambling industry.

“Any pokies plan that fails to rapidly reduce the total number of machines in NSW continues to lock in increasing harm to people and communities,” upper house member Justin Field said.

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