Queenslanders lose record $2.4 billion to poker machines

Queenslanders lost more than $6 million a day, or a staggering $4572 every minute, to poker machines in clubs and hotels last year.

The year delivered a dark record for the Sunshine State, with $2.4 billion in total lost during 2018, the highest losses on record, with the data going back to 2004.

Losses on pokies in Queensland have reached a new record of $2.40 billion in 2018.

Losses on pokies in Queensland have reached a new record of $2.40 billion in 2018.CREDIT:VIRGINIA STAR

Alliance for Gambling Reform director Tim Costello said losses kept rising because machines were becoming more addictive and due to sophisticated loyalty schemes.

Mr Costello called on the Queensland government to reduce the maximum bet from $5 to $1, cut machine numbers, reduce trading hours and for councils to be given more powers over the approval process.

Queensland councils last year voted to ask the state government for greater powers to approve the location and number of gaming machines.

Mr Costello said rising pokies losses were causing misery across Queensland.

"Particularly in more vulnerable communities, adding to crime, homelessness, family breakdowns, suicide and bankruptcy," he said.

"Imagine how many more jobs and economic activity could be generated if $2.4 billion a year wasn't being wasted on thoroughly unproductive poker machines."

In 2017-18, the Queensland government received $718 million in revenue from gaming machine taxes.

That was expected to rise to $750 million in 2018-19, according to budget papers.
Pokies were king when it came to losses from all types of gambling.

Queenslanders lost $2.2 billion on pokies in clubs and hotels in the year to November 2018, $868 million at casinos (including pokies and Keno in casinos), $422 million on the lottery, $248 million on wagering and $93 million on Keno.

Brisbane sucked up the most cash from pokies last year, with $531 million down the drain.

That was followed by the Gold Coast at $336 million, Moreton Bay at $212 million, Logan at $164 million and the Sunshine Coast at $151 million.

There were also more pokies, but in fewer places.

In July 2004, there were 38,265 operational poker machines in Queensland at 1353 sites. In December 2018, that number was 42,290 at 1124 sites.

Mr Costello said pokies were deliberately designed to trigger the pleasure centre of the human brain and often provided an escape for vulnerable people during periods of stress.

"Such a dangerous addictive product should not be available in 1124 Queensland venues when there are only 493 pokies venues in Victoria," he said.

Clubs Queensland communications manager Laura Bos said clubs actively promoted responsible gambling.

"The vast majority of people who do have a cheerful flutter on the machines if they're at their local club or pub do it in a responsible manner but we are very mindful of those who may be having a problem and obviously do what we can to to support," she said.

"Our staff are highly trained ... we make sure that we refer anybody who we sense is struggling."

Ms Bos said Queensland clubs returned about $850 million a year to the community.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said the Palaszczuk government provided more than $6 million every year to deliver free, confidential problem gambling counselling and support.

"The Palaszczuk government also supports the comprehensive self-exclusion model in place to support people to exclude or ban themselves from venues," she said.

In 2017-18, there were 3031 self-exclusions and venue-directed exclusions, up from 2575 in 2016-17.

Ms D'Ath said Queensland's maximum bet for club and hotel gaming machines was the equal lowest nationally and lower than New South Wales and the ACT.

"Furthermore, there is a statewide cap on the total number of gaming machines that can operate in Queensland's hotels and clubs," she said.

Ms D'Ath said the government was working to finalise the state's strategic gambling policy framework but the Queensland Household Gambling Survey showed an increase in the percentage of adults who did not gamble.

The survey revealed 24.7 per cent of adults used pokies in 2016-17, while total problem gamblers had remained stable at 0.51 per cent, the second-lowest rate in the country.

In 2009, the number of pokies in clubs was capped at 24,705, with the number in hotels reduced to 19,500 in 2012.

Greens MP Michael Berkman said Queenslanders lost triple the amount they spent on visits to the GPs and the dentist combined, which was $780 million according to the latest data.

"We're losing more on these dangerous, addictive machines, that we know to cause suicide, family violence and poverty, than we're spending on basic health services," he said.

"There's something seriously wrong with that picture."

Mr Berkman, who led a campaign against pokies being installed at Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, said pokies in pubs and clubs should be phased out.

However, Ms D'Ath last year said Queensland would not follow Tasmanian Labor's pledge to ban electronic gaming machines.

Support is available for people worried about their gambling through the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.

 

Felicity Caldwell, Brisbane Times, 18 February 2019

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