Profits from poker machine gambling in NSW clubs surged despite the COVID-19 pandemic, State Government data obtained by the ABC has revealed.
- Clubs reopened in June 2020 after NSW’s coronavirus lockdown
- A leading expert says there could be several reasons why profits surged after that
- ClubsNSW argues the increase was less than spikes seen in other industries
Gamblers across the state lost $2.17 billion to poker machines in clubs from June to November 2020, up 7 per cent on the same period in 2019.
Punters in Western Sydney lost the most cash — in the Fairfield local government area (LGA), profits surged to $197 million, while in Canterbury-Bankstown they hit $187 million.
In Blacktown, pokie profits were up 16 per cent to $96 million, while in Penrith they increased 11 per cent to $68 million.
The 7 per cent statewide increase represents a major bounce back, after clubs in NSW were closed between March 23 and June 1 due to the state’s COVID-19 lockdown.
It’s the biggest year-on-year increase in the four years of available Liquor and Gaming NSW data.
Sally Gainsbury, the director of Sydney University’s gambling treatment and research clinic, said there could be several factors behind the bounce.
Among them was an increase in pandemic-specific government stimulus payments like JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and the fact some people who were out of work would have more time on their hands.
“The venues being reopened did occur during welfare payments being made and stimulus payments,” Dr Gainsbury said.
“We have seen in historic patterns … that this does lead to similar spikes in poker machine revenue.
“It’s not unusual for there to be bumps in gambling during recessions.”
Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury is a leading gambling psychology researcher.(Supplied)
ClubsNSW, the body representing the interests of clubs across the state, said the 7 per cent lift in net profits was smaller than the bump experienced by other industries.
“A modest increase in gaming machine revenue … is not unexpected given the 10-week industry shutdown that preceded this period,” a spokesperson said.
“Club gaming profits in the period fell well short of the growth in overall NSW retail sales for the same period, which rose more than 10 per cent.”
Not everyone headed for gaming rooms when NSW’s lockdown ended.
Ross Davey lost $890,000 to pokies over three decades and said his gambling addiction destroyed his life.
“(My addiction) means I never got into the real estate market, it means I was never a viable option as a partner because I never had any money, it means I didn’t engage in the commerce of everyday living,” he said.
“Everything I earned went through the machines.”
He credits last year’s lockdown with “saving” him — it’s been 10 months since he played the pokies.
“I had a lapse, it was quite a nasty one,” he said.
“And then the lockdown happened, it was like a joyous moment for me, it was just like, I’m saved. I can’t go even if I want to go.”
If you or anyone you know needs help:
The NSW Government is drafting reforms to the laws governing gaming machines that could see venues forced to identify and ban problem gamblers.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform said the changes would stop clubs from profiting from the most addicted gamblers.
“Our policy settings should be aimed at reducing and preventing harm from gambling and not at supporting an industry,” Kate da Costa said, a campaigner at the advocacy group.
“It’s not the misuse of gambling that creates harm, it’s using it as designed.
“Once we get that fundamental cultural change in the departments that regulate … I think we’ll get a better outcome in our community.”