In the face of a burgeoning cost of living crisis, Australians witnessed an astonishing $14.5 billion disappear into the void of poker machines over the last fiscal year, and New South Wales alone accounted for more than half of this staggering sum.
These monumental losses don’t even encompass the money squandered on pokies within the confines of casinos, nor the multibillion-dollar hemorrhage associated with the gambling industry’s involvement in sports and animal racing.
The $14.5 billion poured into the one-armed bandits found in pubs and clubs across five states easily eclipsed the losses suffered in the 2018-19 financial year, which was the last uninterrupted fiscal year before the onset of COVID-19 restrictions. This unsettling revelation stems from recent research conducted by the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
Despite representing less than half a percent of the global population, Australia claims a disproportionate 20 percent of the world’s pokies and a whopping 80 percent of non-casino gaming machines.
Data freshly unveiled by the Alliance indicates that New South Wales residents, in particular, bore the brunt of these losses, tallying up a jaw-dropping $8.07 billion in losses to electronic gaming machines (EGMs) during the past financial year. This figure represents a daunting increase of 23.7 percent compared to 2018-19.
Queensland experienced the next heaviest losses, amounting to $3.2 billion, marking a 33.6 percent spike during the same period, while Victoria trailed closely behind with a 12 percent uptick, reaching $3 billion in losses.
South Australia experienced a shocking 34.6 percent surge in losses, as residents waved goodbye to $917 million, while Tasmanians, not to be outdone, lost nearly $190 million, representing a 10.5 percent increase.
Carol Bennett, the CEO of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, expressed deep concern about the latest data, emphasizing the urgent need for more stringent industry regulations. She advocated for the acceleration of mandatory cashless gambling cards as a potential solution.
“These astounding new loss figures underscore an industry that is spiraling out of control. Moreover, these figures do not even account for poker machine losses in our casinos,” Bennett lamented. She pointed out the extensive harm caused by these losses, affecting communities through financial hardship, family discord, domestic violence, anxiety, depression, and tragically, even suicide.
The repercussions of this issue extend far beyond what meets the eye. Although precise figures remain elusive, a report from the NSW Crime Commission estimated that criminals launder billions of dollars each year through these machines, funneling proceeds from organized crime activities such as drug trafficking, sex work, human trafficking, and other illicit endeavors.
Bennett underscored that New South Wales, with its 87,000 pokie machines, stands at the epicenter of Australia’s gambling predicament. She highlighted the alarming fact that these figures reflect a post-COVID landscape, with a marked increase in poker machine losses observed across the entire country.
A government report from 2017, tasked with assessing the risks associated with EGMs, identified that these machines employ sophisticated techniques designed to maximize player spending and time spent playing. These EGMs deftly employ complex “game mathematics” and psychological principles to encourage larger bets and extended usage, thereby heightening their addictive potential—a cautionary warning that rings truer with each passing day.
Pokie machines remained a hot topic during the lead-up to the recent NSW election. Bennett criticized the new Minns government for perceived slow progress and expressed reservations about their limited trial of cashless gaming cards—a measure that the ousted premier, Dominic Perrottet, had intended to make mandatory had he secured victory in this year’s election.