Most club and pub owners in NSW are celebrating following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, with venues now allowed to host customers for the first time in increasing numbers since restrictions were put in place by the government in March.
But the reopening of gambling rooms has the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Wesley Mission and the NSW Council for Social Service (NCOSS) fearing a potential flood of gambling harm and other public health issues.
Statistics show that people in the Mid-Western LGA saved $2.6 million since poker machines were turned off for ten weeks from March 23 to June 1 due to COVID-19.
In 2019, pokies in local pubs and clubs took more than $13.8 million. The split between gaming revenue in pubs and clubs is almost even; with over $7.8 million in clubs and more than $6 million in pubs.
The three groups are astounded NSW has reopened club and pub poker machines when every other state plans to keep them shut off for at least another month due to COVID-19 infection risks.
While the total number of poker machines decreased 2 per cent in 2019, losses have sharply risen by 8 per cent.- CEO Wesley Mission, Rev Keith Garner
They also have major concerns for a lack of preparation by the NSW Government to manage the risks associated with people being exposed to gambling again after a nine-week enforced break.
"While the total number of poker machines decreased 2 per cent in 2019, losses have sharply risen by 8 per cent. This tells us that reducing the numbers of gaming machines doesn't reduce the amount lost or the significant harm caused to people in Mudgee," Rev Keith Garner, CEO Wesley Mission said.
Throughout the Mid-Western region there are 310 electronic gaming machines (egm/pokies) with 179 of those in clubs and 131 in pubs.
NCOSS CEO Joanna Quilty said poker machines did their worst damage in vulnerable communities around NSW, causing sometimes irreparable harm to families and individuals.
"NCOSS remains extremely concerned about the harmful impact this form of gambling causes to individuals and the broader community, especially at such a vulnerable time," she said.
"This decision to reopen poker machines is not a solution to addressing concerns around social isolation, it is a recipe for disaster and our members will no doubt be left to pick up the pieces."
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