Pokies clean up

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong Council will be joining a pre-election fight against pokies, as losses top $120 million over the past year.

The council is part of the multi-council Alliance for Gambling Reform, which launched proposals aimed at reducing “gambling harm” on 23 July.

The proposals include reducing maximum bets from $2 to $1, reducing venue opening hours from 20 to 14 hours a day, and reducing venue ATM withdrawls from $500 to $200 a day.

The region has been highly targeted by poker machines despite a regional cap.

Greater Dandenong (957), Monash (954) and Casey (908) council areas have among the highest numbers of poker machines -and losses – in the state.

In raw terms, Casey and Greater Dandenong rank second and third for most pokies losses. Per capita, Greater Dandenong tops the table with more than $120 million in 2017-18.

Greater Dandenong councillor Matthew Kirwan said the AGR proposals would have positive economic impacts because “pokie venues actually are job-killers”.

“With a pokie machine you are installing an employee that earns you an average of around $100,000 a year, takes no leave and only needs electricity. 

“The only jobs that pokie machines produce are health and welfare workers to deal with the issues they cause.”

A “very small amount” of clubs may fold as a result, he said.

“Isn’t that a case that the reason they originally existed may now no longer be relevant and they have chosen not to re-invent themselves?”Greater Dandenong was particularly afflicted by pokies losses because of the appeal of a “quick win” in low socio-economic areas and the addictive nature of the machines.

“Currently approximately 40 per cent of pokie machine revenue comes from 4 per cent of gamblers.”

Community Clubs Victoria said the AGR didn’t acknowledge the “clear majority of recreational gamblers do not have a problem with their gambling”.

“We are not convinced there is evidence that supports the AGR proposed reforms would have on reducing problem gambling, but it is likely to inconvenience many,”a spokeswoman said.

“It is hard for those who don’t enjoy playing gaming machines to understand why others do-but they do, and why should these people be continually made to feel inferior for their entertainment choices?”

She warned that reforms could dent employment as well as social dividends to sports clubs and groups such as Springvale Benevolent Society and Noble Park CFA.

“It is hard to see how limitations on trading hours would not have a negative impact on employment in the local area.”