Editorial: More pokies means more misery for Bendigo

LET’S not sugar-coat it. 

In these times of high unemployment and increasing cost of living pressures, the last thing Bendigo needs is another 44 pokies.

But that is exactly what the city will get if Bendigo Stadium Limited, which owns The Wellington, is successful in its application.

Last financial year, Bendigo’s 600-plus gaming machines swallowed a staggering $48.7 million dollars, up from $47.6 million in 2014-15.

That figure is only likely to grow if the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Registration allows another 44 machines to be plugged in.

Worryingly, the Productivity Commission estimates that 40 per cent of the losses on the pokies are attributable to problem gamblers.

If correct, that means that in 2015-16, some $19.4 million was lost in Bendigo alone by people who lack the control to self-regulate their gambling. Clearly that is an issue that we, as a society, must address.

The ramifications of problem gambling on our communities are many and varied.

There is, of course, the financial stress, with many problem gamblers needing to beg, borrow or steal to feed their addiction.

But frequently a gambling habit also has a deleterious impact on relationships, employment, health and more.

However, the fact, as uncomfortable it might be, is that pokies are a legal form of gambling-based entertainment in Victoria.

There are 30,000 of them in Victoria. Crown Casino is home to 2628, while the remaining 27,372 are split evenly between clubs and hotels. Bendigo Stadium is perfectly entitled to apply for these additional machines and, as a not-for-profit organisation, it is true a significant portion of the revenues will be returned to the community in some form.

In this particular case, Bendigo Stadium has committed to putting $15 million over the next 10 years towards its $22 million expansion project, which will undoubtedly be of benefit to the city and surrounds.

But there is a major problem in a state that in 2014-15 had a gross state product of $355.6 billion when communities are becoming increasingly reliant on pokie revenues to fund infrastructure.

Harm minimisation measures are all well and good, but as long as there is ever easier access to pokies, this state’s gambling addiction will only worsen.

- Ross Tyson, deputy editor