By Brendan Rees
Punters hoping to hit the jackpot in Greater Dandenong lost more than $121 million last year – prompting Australia’s gaming watchdog to say “poker machines are deliberately designed to addict gamblers.”
The latest figures from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation revealed the Keysborough Hotel, which is owned ALP Group/ Woolworths, ranked as the sixth worst in the state for gaming losses with players squandering away more than $18.32 million last year.
Berwick Springs Hotel, which is owned by Zagames, ranked as the second worst in the state for gaming losses with players squandering away more than $19 million last year, while Hampton Park Tavern also recorded a whopping of $13.78 million in losses, up 13 per cent from 2017.
Cranbourne Information and Support Services executive officer Leanne Petrides said gambling harm led many people seeking their help to pay for food, petrol, medication, counselling, and assistance from their case workers.
“Sadly, we have seen gambling related harm decimate household budgets and ruin relationships and lives,” she said.
Casey manager of city planning Nicola Ward said council wanted the State Government to extend a cap on the number of Electronic Gaming Machines (EGM) on the municipality.
“A city-wide cap would provide certainty to the remaining parts of Casey to keep the EGM density consistent across the municipality,” she said.
Council was recently successful in opposing an application by the Lynbrook Hotel, which is in the capped area, for an additional 25 EGMs.
“Council remains concerned about gambling losses being experienced by Casey residents, particularly given many are from vulnerable communities already experiencing relatively high levels of socio-economic disadvantage,” Ms Ward said.
Bad Bets Australia spokesman Rowan Wenn said it was “embarrassing” the State Government and Casey Council weren’t “doing more about” gambling harm.
He said Casey Council had a “real opportunity” to hold the gambling industry to account, which “deliberately targeted” vulnerable people and distressed families “looking for an escape.”
“Things are only going to get worse unless we actually call out what is going on…as a society we’re going to have more suicides, more domestic violence, and more crime,” Mr Wenn said.
Alliance for Gambling Reform director and spokesman Tim Costello said the “surge” in losses at The Berwick Springs Hotel “coincides with attempts by the Zagame family to sell its pokies empire.”
“Hopefully the new owner will operate the venue more responsibly, and manage down the losses with reforms such as not running it the maximum 20 hours a day,” he said.
Mr Costello called on the State Government to “commit to reforms such as $1 maximum bets, reduced operating hours and less addictive machine design.”