Community campaigners in New South Wales’ Hunter region are urging residents to set the example for the rest of the nation in regards to the pokies reform.
The calls come after statistics released by the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) revealed pokies losses in the Hunter region were at $423 million in the year ending August 2016 – an average loss of $682 per person per year.
Newcastle was the worst culprit, contributing $156.6 million to the regions pokies losses over its 3079 poker machines.
Reverend Tim Costello paid a visit to Newcastle last Thursday to speak on behalf of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, describing the City of Newcastle as “the belly of the beast.” The Alliance was in the area campaigning against a controversial development application for a new pub with pokies facilities in the suburb of Huntlee.
Reverend Costello labelled the amount of pokies in the region as shocking. He said NSW houses 10% of the world’s electronic poker machines, with one machine per every 47 adults in Newcastle alone.
Anti-gambling advocate and community spokesman Tony Brown was on hand to support Reverend Costello. He now wants the Hunter region to show the country how it can reduce pokies related harm by taking a similar approach to programs like the Last Drinks Campaign, enforced to reduce alcohol related violence in the area.
Mr Brown said, “Whilst Newcastle is now leading the world very proudly in reducing alcohol-related violence we are probably the worst location in the world for poker machine harms, and that really is outrageous in terms of promoting Newcastle and promoting the Hunter Valley. By substantially reducing poker machine harms through sensible modest controls we can achieve the same.”
Mr Brown likened pokie machines to vampires: “They prey on the most vulnerable in the community, sap the lives and souls from people.”
The Alliance for Gambling Reform will be lobbying in Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Port Stevens to help educate the community about pokies related harm, while also providing high school teachers with anti-gambling educational resources.
Regional Coordinator for The Alliance, Jules Miller, would like to educate the community to be able to take a stand against poker machines, as has been done in some Victorian communities.
Ms Miller said, “We want to empower communities to take control of their actions themselves. We’ll be approaching all of the councils to start considering the implications poker machines are having on the local communities. We see it as an area we need to take some fundamental steps to educate our children, to educate our public as to the problems that poker machines in particular can cause and the harm that they can cause to families.”
The Alliance is in full support of the Productivity Commission recommendations including slowing down the spin-rate of machines and capping spin limits to $1 per bet.
We are in full support of the Alliance providing educational resources to better inform members of the public about how pokies work and how to support responsible gambling practices. If education is the key to reducing pokies related harm, then by all means people should be armed with all the knowledge they can. Whether or not this will actually reduce pokies expenditure is a different story – with so many machines available in the area only time will tell if education proves the antidote.