‘JobGambler’: Pokies win big in COVID handout
Poker machine profits have soared, with new state government figures showing people are losing more money under COVID-19 than before the pandemic.
The Liquor and Gaming NSW figures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph show pokie players lost more than $571 million in June, up from less than $530 million in the same month last year.
The $41 million profit increase is significant in that licensed venues have been forced to abide by strict COVID-safe regulations, which require every second machine to be turned off.
During this time, more people have been at home. While some have lost their jobs, government hand-outs such as JobKeeper have become available, while provisions have also been made for people to access their superannuation.
Sydney University Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic co-director, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, blamed boredom, anxiety and people having more money in their pockets for the spike.
Many gamblers who were forced to take a break from gambling when venues closed during the initial lockdown had returned and were spending more, either through boredom or anxiety or simply because they had a greater income due to JobSeeker, JobKeeper or not paying for things like holidays.
Other gamblers stopped or reduced their treatment during the shutdown, thinking they had their habit under control - only to find the temptation too great once venues reopened, she said.
"We did have people saying: 'Great, I have it under control, I don't need to come to treatment' only, when venues reopened, they reverted back to gambling, potentially in a higher way," she said.
"Some people justify it by saying: 'Well, I'm not going on holidays' to allow themselves to spend more. At the same time, we have more money in our pockets as we are going out less, and some people who were on relatively low incomes have more money in their pockets because of JobSeeker."
The centre will this week release a survey on the impact of the shutdown on gambling.
Centre clinical psychologist Dr Christopher Hunt said many clients struggling with problem gambling reported being relieved when venues shut down. While some had used the time to break their habits, others had not been able to resist the temptation.
"It was almost as if there was this pent-up desire to gamble," he said.
Dr Hunt said he believed people who may have been on Newstart but had since accessed JobSeeker had more money in their pockets.
He said problem gambling was not restricted to lower socio-economic areas, with the centre treating clients from Hunters Hill and Vaucluse.
The state government has been cracking down on gaming breaches, fining hotels that break the rules.
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Originally published as 'JobGambler': Pokies win big in COVID handout