October 18, 2017
A couple of years ago, the Moreland City Council conducted a survey of residents, which included a significant portion of the constituents in my electorate of Wills. Part of that survey sought to profile the gambling habits of residents as well as gauge the public sentiment towards gambling within the municipality. It revealed that 74 per cent of survey respondents took the view that poker machines had a net negative impact on the community, with only 24 per cent of the community choosing to use poker machines, even on one occasion or a couple of occasions. Figures from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation show that in 2015-16, $63.5 million—or an average of $174,031 each day—was lost on poker machines just in my electorate of Wills. It’s interesting to note that the Moreland council survey indicated that, of those who do use poker machines, 76 per cent use them at pubs and clubs locally, representing an increase from the statistics contained in a comparable survey back in 2011, with 24 per cent of people using them at the casino—a decrease from the 2011 survey. So it’s little surprise that the public have such a dim view of the 671 pokies that line the pubs and clubs in my electorate, with the clear and identifiable trend being that it is these pokies in our neighbourhoods that are costing families so much.
Very few people in this place would fail to understand the devastating impact that addiction has and how it touches families. According to a report by the Productivity Commission, alcoholism costs the community $14 billion annually, with illicit drug use costing the community $7 billion annually. So, it may surprise you, Mr Speaker, that gambling costs the community a staggering $16 billion annually. That’s more than alcoholism and more than illicit drug use. In fact, a 2013 report published by The Economist charted Australia’s per capita gambling losses as the highest in the world. I don’t want to minimise the severity of the other ills of society that I have mentioned—not at all. Clearly, the impact of all forms of addiction can be devastating and is devastating, but I do think it’s compelling to see the significance of problem gambling illustrated in these economic terms relative to the other categories of addiction.
We’re fortunate in my electorate to have many excellent venues that don’t rely on gaming machine revenue, like the Coburg Lions VFL club or the Coburg RSL. Rather, they rely on things like high-quality food, live entertainment or a good footy game to draw a crowd. But it’s hard for those venues, those clubs, to survive. I have spoken in this place before about the world-class live music scene at venues in my electorate. I have tried to use my position as a newly elected MP to protect those venues, which are under threat by overdevelopment. They are assets worth protecting. So I would encourage my constituents and those from outside my electorate who hold concerns about the adverse impact of pokies to support those establishments, to go to those locations, those sporting clubs and live music venues, which don’t have pokies that form the bulk of their revenue. Support those establishments. Vote with your wallets and purses, so to speak.
The cause and effect of easy access to pokies is a debate which has been raging since gaming machines were first introduced to Victoria in 1991. Successive state governments in Victoria from both sides of politics have acted to limit gaming machine losses through measures such as limiting maximum bets and removing ATMs from gaming venues. But, back in 1991, it would have been difficult to envision the rise of smartphone betting, for example, which of course has become extremely popular in recent years. While the adverse impact of gaming machines is still enormous, I think, as lawmakers today, we need to be cognisant and mindful of the new and emerging gambling products that technology makes available. The Australian Gambling Research Centre reports that the gross global yield from interactive online gambling has grown from US$1 billion in 2006 to US$12 billion in 2017. That is a remarkable increase. The surge in popularity of online betting markets has seen an increase from five per cent to 24 per cent of the global betting market.
I’m pleased that this current federal parliament has seen legislation which has dealt with these forms of gambling, including limits on in-play betting and strict controls on the advertising of such products, but I believe there’s more to do. Unfortunately, there are more than 35,000 Victorians whose gambling habits have put them in significant financial trouble and a further 122,000 people who are impacted by the problem gambling of others and of their family members. That is according to a report by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Gambling addiction is as difficult as any other addiction, and it’s something we need to deal with as best we can.