Xenophon calls Victoria’s pokies reform a “slap in the face”

Senator Nick XenophonAnti-pokies crusader Nick Xenophon has lashed out against the Victorian government, calling the state freeze on the number of pokie machines a “slap in the face” to Geelong residents who are struggling with gambling addiction.

Earlier this month, Victoria’s Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz announced the current number of 27,372 electronic gaming machines allowed to operate in the state would be frozen until 2025, meaning there could be no new pokies in Victoria until at least 2045.

Ms Kairouz said, “Not a single extra gaming machine will be allowed in Victoria for the next 25 years, helping limit gambling-related harm in our community.”

But Senator Xenophon isn’t buying it, saying the move will do nothing to help Geelong residents who are struggling with the social and economic impacts of the pokies.

He said, “This move is a slap in the face to the people of Geelong. If the will of the people is such that a future state government wants to reduce the presence of poker machines in our community, they will be hindered by this decision.

“Why should one state government get to determine how another acts on an issue in 10, 15 or 20 years time? These machines are doing enormous damage.”

Geelong hosts a higher number of pokie machines than any other municipality in Victoria, with over $9.3 million lost to Geelong’s pokies in May 2017 alone. During the 2015-2016 financial year, pokies losses in Geelong soared, with punters losing $113.24 million to the machines over the year.

As part of the governments pokies reform, gaming operators will also have their machine licenses extended from 10 years to 20 years. Along with the freeze on the number of pokie machines, Ms Kairouz says pub and club owners will be able to better plan for the future.

Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Kelvin Thomson condemned the reforms, calling the license extensions “undemocratic” and saying MPs should ask themselves if they want this decision to be their legacy.

Thomson said the increase to a 20 year licensing system, “Condemns another generation to family violence, financial wreckage, family breakdown and emotional trauma caused by the poker machine industry.”

At a press conference in Canberra, Senator Xenophon said the Nick Xenophon Team would not be running in next year’s state election but that he’d be “happy to back strong independent candidates, particularly those who are working to curb the problems caused by pokies in our community.”