A flutter on the pokies is a bit of fun for many people. But gambling reformers have called for sweeping changes, saying the system is designed to beat the punters and for some people it is addictive as drugs and alcohol, with serious consequences for families.
Poker machine maximum bets should be cut to $1, hotel and club gaming lounge hours should be reduced and loyalty schemes that keep gamblers sitting at machines should be scrapped across NSW.
That's the view of gambling reformers after the latest official Liquor and Gaming NSW figures for 2018 showed profits from poker machines had risen by about $3 million across Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo to $86.5 million in the past year.
Lifeline has also called for education programs showing the dangers of addictive gambling to be introduced in schools.
Alliance for Gambling Reform NSW campaigner Dr Kate da Costa said cutting the maximum poker machine bet from the current $10 to $1 would reduce gamblers' potential hourly loss from $1200 to $120.
Dr da Costa said that was the difference between people not being able to afford to meet house payments to not being able to afford the weekly groceries.
Generally nothing good is happening in a VIP [gaming] lounge at 3am.Dr Kate da Costa, Alliance for Gambling Reform
She said the state government needed to enact poker machine reforms as clubs and hotels were reluctant to move independently for fear it would simply drive business and profits to competitors up the road.
"We want to minimise the harm from gambling," she said.
Dr da Costa said cutting opening hours and stopping loyalty programs, where regular gamblers have club and hotel staff get them meals, drinks and even supply a handy parking spot, would also reduce gambling losses.
"Generally nothing good is happening in a VIP [gaming] lounge at 3am," she said.
Dr da Costa said the figures showed hotels in the Central West had increased their poker machine profits significantly in the past year, whereas club profits had stabilised.
She said Central West economies were losing huge amounts of money a week due to gambling profits being taken out of the local economy through taxes and profits going to business owners outside the region and poker machine companies.
If you are gambling online you can sit on your own dunny and bet the house.Alex Ferguson, Lifeline Central West
Dr da Costa said poker machines were engineered to win.
"They are designed to make you addicted to them. It looks like a dumb box with lights but it's designed to capture you," she said.
However, Lifeline Central West executive director Alex Ferguson said restrictions on gambling would have little effect.
"You can put any rule you like but the people who are serious, addicted, will get around it," he said.
Mr Ferguson said gambling addiction was the same as people being addicted to alcohol, drugs and other vices. "What we do see is a tragedy," he said.
He said less than one per cent of the population were considered to be gambling addicts but it led to theft, family breakdowns, financial ruin and effected people around the problem gambler.
Mr Ferguson said education was needed from school level to explain the risks of gambling and people should use money wisely.
"Gambling is endemic in Australia from a fairly early age. It gets down to education. If you gamble you run the very high probability of losing money. You don't beat the system very often," he said.
"There is a need for our community to become far more savvy with money."
He said online gambling was an even bigger problem for the community as it did not have any of the safeguards clubs and hotels had introduced including giving players the opportunity to ban themselves from playing the machines.
"If you are gambling online you can sit on your own dunny and bet the house," he said.
Pubs with the most profitable gaming machines
- 1 Macquarie Inn Hotel
- 2 Milestone Hotel
- 3 South Dubbo Tavern
- 1 Dudley Hotel
- 2 Family Hotel
- 3 Kelso Hotel
- 1 Ophir Tavern
- 2 Royal Hotel
- 3 Robin Hood Hotel
Clubs with the most profitable gaming machines
- 1 Dubbo RSL
- 2 Club Dubbo
- 3 Sporties Railway Bowling Club
- 1 Bathurst RSL
- 2 Panthers
- 3 Bathurst Golf Club
- 1 Orange Ex-Services' Club
- 2 City Bowling Club
- 3 Wentworth Golf Club
Source: Liquor and Gaming NSW.
Bright lights turn a $50,000-plus profit
Each poker machine throughout the Central West made more than $50,000 profit, on average, in the past year.
And that is an average of $1950 each better than they did in 2017.
The latest Liquor and Gaming NSW statistics show the 1643 poker machines in clubs and pubs in Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo made a total net profit [the difference between what punters put into the machines and what they take away] was $86.5 million - up by $3.2 million on the previous year.
Dubbo has the most machines with 691 spread across 27 venues, followed by Orange with 481 machines across 19 venues and Bathurst with 466 machines at 25 venues.
The figures also reveal that almost all of the increased profits had been made at hotels in the three cities whereas clubs' poker machines profits were stable.
The biggest increase was in Orange were there was an increase of just over $1 million in hotel poker machine profits.
Liquor and Gaming NSW also ranks clubs and hotels across NSW according to the amount of poker machine profits they made - however it does not list the actual amount for each venue.
Dubbo RSL was ranked the 61st most profitable poker machine venue in NSW, ahead of the Orange Ex-Services' Club at 65th and the Bathurst RSL at 101st.
The highest ranking Central West hotel in NSW was the Macquarie Inn Hotel in Dubbo [25 poker machines] at number 302.
The highest ranked Orange hotel was the Ophir Tavern [29 machines] at number 392 while the most profitable Bathurst hotel was the Dudley Hotel [19 machines] at number 501.
Liquor and Gaming NSW releases the official gaming figures every six months.
These latest figures revealed even though there were 300 fewer poker machines in clubs and three fewer in hotels plus 47 fewer venues across NSW compared to the previous six month period, the net profits rose by 4.1 per cent for clubs and 13.4 per cent for hotels.
The Australian Hotels Association was contacted for comment.
How clubs give back to their communities
ClubsNSW has described their venues throughout the Central West as being "very much the modern-day town halls" for communities.
A spokesman said clubs provided jobs and poured significant funds into community projects.
He said in the Orange, Bathurst and Blayney council areas the various clubs employed 434 people and made a $10.8 million social contribution plus they donated $629,582 annually to local charities, sporting teams and community groups through the ClubGRANTS scheme.
The spokesman said those club had 48,998 members.
He said groups to benefit from club donations included Lifeline Central West, Bathurst Panthers junior and senior rugby league clubs, Cancer Patients Foundation, Orange Legacy, Western NSW Local Health District and the Bathurst Community Transport Group.
"Clubs in the Dubbo Regional Council area [also] make an enormous contribution to the community," he said.
With 30,000 members, the clubs employ 291 locals, made a $7.5 million social contribution and donating more than $412,000 annually to groups.
"These groups include Dubbo Legacy, Lifeline Central West, Group 11 Rugby League, the Dubbo Show Society and local schools," he said.
He said only 0.8 per cent of adults in NSW were considered to be problem gamblers which was "low by international standards.
"ClubsNSW is pleased that, after years of lobbying, the state government will shortly introduce a system of third party referrals, allowing family members to apply to have a loved one banned from venues in their local area if they believe they have a problem with gambling," he said.
ClubSAFE also operates a 24-hour gambling counselling helpline.
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