Council joins call for pokies reform

Whittlesea City Council is calling for changes to the poker machine industry before COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and venues re-open after a report showed four of the top 10 venues for pokie losses in Victoria are located in the City of Whittlesea.

Since the pandemic caused gaming venues across the state to temporarily close in April, expenditure figures on poker machines are down $1 billion across Victoria.

Closer to home, $36 million has been saved from going into pokies located in venues across the City of Whittlesea.

City of Whittlesea administrator panel chairwoman Lydia Wilson said it was pleasing to see the money saved from going into machines but urged the State Government to make changes to stop the city’s high gambling rate from returning when restrictions were eased.

“While it is pleasing to see $1 billion saved from poker machines in Victoria, this is obviously due to venues being closed during COVID-19 restrictions and we must ensure measures are in place to reduce the harmful effects of gambling before Victoria re-opens,” she said.

In 2019-20, the City of Whittlesea was the sixth highest local government area for poker machine losses with a staggering $83.7 million being spent on pokies in the 12-month period.

Epping Plaza Hotel, Plough Hotel, Excelsior Hotel and Bundoora Taverner appear in the top 10 venues where people lost more than $10 million in nine months, between July 2019 and March 2020.

“It is very alarming and a huge concern that the top two venues for gambling losses, which amounts to more than $30 million from 200 poker machines across these venues alone, are in the City of Whittlesea,” Ms Wilson said.

“This only reinforces council’s commitment to ongoing advocacy for change to the poker machine industry.

“Some gaming venues are open until the small hours of the morning. Unemployment and stress caused by impacts of COVID-19 are at a record high, putting added pressure on vulnerable people succumbing to gambling harm.”

The City of Whittlesea has joined other Victorian councils by calling on the State Government to close gambling venues at midnight when COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

“We are also advocating for the State Government to consider a poker machine buyback scheme, which is underway in the Australian Capital Territory,” Ms Wilson said.

“A similar program in Victoria would allow poker machine operators to invest a financial package into supporting and retaining staff and transforming venues into family friendly locations.”