Pokies and their dramatic economic impact | OPINION

In the financial year 2016-2017 more than $54 million was spent on pokies in the Victorian rural city of Ballarat.

I am going to pause there for a minute so that figure sinks in.

This amount equates to each adult in the municipality spending more than $700 on poker machines a year, more than $100 above the average for Geelong and Bendigo.

Imagine the potential good that $54 million could do. How many paramedics, nurses, rural doctors, and public dental clinics could that fund?

It is unclear why the amount is so high in Ballarat. There is no obvious difference from other rural Victorian cities. There are 663 machines across the shire.

There is a limit on the amount which can be withdrawn from EFTPOS as a venue to $500 per day. Even if an addict only went to one venue per day, s/he could withdraw $3500 per week.

Whilst cashing cheques at gaming venues is banned, the potential for an addict’s family income for a week could easily disappear down the throat of a poker machine.

What is clear is the highly addictive nature of the poker machine to the gambler. Combine this with the very powerful nature of this industry and the revenue also gained by governments make it difficult to challenge the entrenchment of these machines.

These machines generate good income for hotels and clubs and provide taxes upon which the government relies.

The amount that South Australians slotted into poker machines dropped by more than $38 million in the same financial year – the biggest fall in a decade.

The figures for 2016-17 show spending dropped to $680 million – $112 million lower than the state’s peak poker machines spending a decade ago.

The number of venues with poker machines also dropped from 524 to 511, alongside this, the number of machines fell from 12,337 to 12,210. The total tax hauled in by poker machines was just below $265 million – the lowest level since 2002-03.

When I was much younger, bus trips to places like Wentworth on the New South Wales-Victoria border were popular so that you could play the pokies. It was a novelty and it is a pity it hadn’t remained a novelty rather than an atmospheric takeover of our most popular public spaces.

Still, when I visited Las Vegas in 1979, there were poker machines in supermarkets. You could play them anywhere! – moira.neagle@bigpond.com