- Victoria residents lost $2.7bn on gaming machines in 2018
- That broke the previous record by $58m
- Parties are calling on politicians to slash the max bets on these machines
- Australians are by far the heaviest gamblers in the world
Pokies are extremely popular in Australia. They are poker and slot machines and they are popular all across the country in various establishments. Victoria, the second most populous state in the country, last year broke its record losses by citizens playing pokies.
The final figure for 2018 losses was $2.7bn (£2.0bn), an increase of $103m (£78m) over 2017, according to a press release from the Victorian Commission for Liquor and Gambling Regulation. There are long-standing concerns about problem gambling in the country, and this report adds more urgency to these concerns.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform is a body that is looking at problem gambling figures. Their calculations show that there was an increase of $58m (£44m) over the previous record loss for the region, which was $2.6bn (£2.0bn) in 2009.
The worst losses were in Brimbank, which was the first council in Victoria to have more than $140m (£106m) in losses in a year. The worst month for Victorian pokie players was August when they lost $246m (£186m), which is the second largest monthly loss ever.
What was the response?
Following the release of these figures, the director of the Alliance for Gambling Reform Tim Costello said that the political parties in the country urgently need to establish new rules.
That would be along the lines of what is happening in the United Kingdom. Fixed-odds betting terminals are very addictive, so the UK government has dropped the max stake on these machines from £100 ($132) to £2 ($2.64).
Costello is calling for a maximum bet of $1 (£0.76) on the pokies, to make the designs less addictive, and to curtail the opening hours of pokie establishments.
He said: “It has now been 14 months since the Victorian parliament passed legislation issuing new 20-year pokies licenses and Victorians have suffered the biggest losses in history over that period.
“The major parties should be ashamed of themselves for working together to increase losses at a time when the community is calling for political leaders to tackle Australia’s world record levels of gambling losses.”
Biggest gamblers in the world
Australia is in the grip of a serious gambling problem. The Queensland Government Statisticians Office released a report showing that Australians wager more than any other nationality. In 2016 and 2017, they made wagers of around $210bn (£159bn).
They are miles ahead of the second country in the rankings, Singapore. In the period of the report, Australians lost nearly $24bn (£18.2bn). That averages to $1,251 (£948) for each adult in the nation.
The biggest generators of these losses are pokies and casino games. Issues with racing and sports betting are also on the increase. Many point towards the availability of gambling as being a major reason for these deepening troubles.
Gambling is now part of daily life in the country because people can gamble anywhere using their mobile devices. It is easy to fall into a hole and to start trying to chase losses. A significant amount of blame is placed on the operators themselves.
Their widespread gambling campaigns are controversial and they often glamorize gambling. Celebrities and sports stars promote their offerings. This is particularly an issue with younger people, who are deeply impressionable.
It normalizes gambling and makes it appear that it is a normal daily activity. A lot of the major sports teams and organizations in Australia have gambling sponsors. This includes the National Rugby League, the Australian Football League, and Cricket Australia. Therefore, everywhere you look, you are facing ads for gambling.
Changes on the way
Some are making moves to curtail gambling advertising. Live sports events on Australian television are not allowed to show any ads relating to gambling. Victoria has also levied higher taxes.
They are targeting, in particular, operators that are offshore and not paying taxes in the country, which has an 8% tax on the net wagering revenues for online operators. This point of consumption tax targets the operators on the location where the bets are made rather than where the operator has a license.
Talking about the tax rate, the treasurer of Victoria, Tim Pallas, said: “Essentially, you’ve got a situation applying at the moment where online gambling operators are effectively avoiding tax — they don’t pay a cent of tax when they are providing product into this state. They are not paying their fair share and have an unfair advantage against the domestically based product.”