Lockdown didn’t affect Brimbank residents’ love of the pokies, new Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation data has revealed.
Gamblers were quick to return to gaming venues when they reopened in November following a seven-month closure as a result of COVID-19.
In November, nearly $6.7 million was lost on poker machines in Brimbank, which was more than $700,000 more in losses than the next highest municipality.
The figure was more than $2 million more than Casey, which recorded the second highest losses for a second straight month.
In 2019-20, Brimbank machines recorded nearly $102 million worth of losses despite venues being closed for between April and June.
Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello said the increases were hugely concerning and showed how important it was for reduced poker machine operating hours.
“Communities like Brimbank cannot sustain these kinds of losses,” Reverend Costello said.
“These are stressed communities being exploited by the gambling industry, at a time when local families and businesses are trying to recover from months of lockdown.
“In November, when there were restrictions on poker machine operating hours and other limits, we saw a reduction in daily losses. That was a real-time, real life experiment showing that gambling harm is reduced when opening hours are shortened.
“It’s simply absurd that Victoria has the worst pokies opening hours in Australia at 20 hours a day.”
In September, 13 councils including Brimbank wrote an open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews requesting poker machines be closed between midnight and 10am when restrictions eased.
Gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley, who lost 10 years of her life to poker machines, said it was imperative that the Victorian government learned from the pandemic.
“I’ve recently spoken to a gambling counsellor who had a client saving up for a bathroom renovation while the pokies were shut down. They saved $20,000 for that renovation with pokies off, and lost it all almost as soon as those awful, addictive, predatory machines came back on,” Ms Bardsley said.
“The amount lost in Brimbank says so much about how dangerous these machines are, and how much damage they do to our communities.
“Imagine the harm that is coming with that and the loss that represents to the local economy. Our communities deserve better.”
Brimbank council has long sought state and federal government support to get stronger gambling regulation and tougher enforcement of the state’s gambling code.