The latest gaming expenditure data from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation shows that almost $80 million was lost on electronic gaming machines in central Victoria in 2017-18 – up from $77.9 million lost the previous financial year.
Almost all the region’s municipalities saw losses on pokies increase year on year, with losses in Greater Bendigo jumping from more than $47.4 million in 2016-17 to over $49.3 million the financial year just passed – a rise of 3.3 per cent.
But the most substantial increase was seen in Central Goldfields Shire.
Its two venues with gaming machines saw losses rocket up by 4.9 per cent, from $7.3 million to almost $7.7 million.
This was despite its number of pokies remaining steady, at 99: the maximum limit for the municipality, as set by the state government last November.
Campaspe Shire was the only municipality to see a reduction in the total of gaming machine losses, with losses falling by 3.5 per cent.
Its machine numbers, too, remained steady year on year.
Campaspe Shire also claimed the smallest amount of losses per machine in 2017-18, at an average of $39,547 per machine.
The shire with the greatest losses per machine was Mount Alexander – on average, each of its 30 machines claimed $96,751 over the course of the year.
Overall, the number of gaming machines in the region fell from 1125 at June 30 last year to 1086 at June 30 this year, mostly due to the loss of 39 at Bendigo’s City Family Hotel after it closed in September 2017.
That venue still recorded losses of almost $607,000 in the space of a few months, and will again open as a not-for-profit organisation that will put its pokies revenue towards projects to benefit the cycling community.
At June 30 there were 600 pokies operating in the City of Greater Bendigo, down from 641 the previous year.
Francis Lynch, regional director with Anglicare Victoria, said poker machines were one of the most harmful forms of gambling, and it was concerning losses had risen.
“When there are more losses from fewer machines, it’s likely that individual gamblers are losing more money or playing more often and more likely to be at risk of harm,” Mr Lynch said.
“It’s also a particular concern at a time when we know many people are switching to online gambling.”
The increase in gambling in the region was largely reflected in the numbers of people seeking help from Anglicare’s Gambler’s Help service in central Victoria.
The service, which is based in Bendigo, Kyneton, Castlemaine and Echuca in this region, saw 472 people in 2017-18, a 2.6 per cent increase on the previous year.
Mr Lynch said gambling harm was not only about losing money.
It affected all aspects of a person’s life, he said, including their relationships, physical and mental health, work, and social life.
More than 63 per cent of respondents to a recent Bendigo Advertiser survey said gaming machines were making problem gambling worse in their community.
The City of Greater Bendigo is currently reviewing its ‘Reducing harm in gambling’ policy and hopes to complete the process by the end of the year.
A 2016 report commissioned by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation found that gambling contributed to more than 101,000 years of life lost each year due to disability, resulting from decreased quality of life.
“Our results indicate that gambling presents a significant burden to the wellbeing of the Victorian community,” the report said.
“Comparisons to other conditions confirm that gambling has an impact in the same class as depression, and excessive alcohol consumption.
“The aggregate impact of gambling problems exceeds that of cannabis dependence, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and eating disorders combined.”
The report suggested that gambling caused harm even at levels below the threshold for clinical addiction.
It also revealed that males made up a higher proportion of problem and moderate risk gamblers, but females were overrepresented in the low-risk category, and almost half of the harm was attributable to people over the age of 55.
Across the state as a whole, there was a 3.3 per cent increase in pokies losses in 2017-18.
Victorians lost $2.69 billion, up from $2.6 billion the year before.
The $86 million jump represented the biggest one-year increase in a decade, the Alliance for Gambling Reform said.
The newest figures from the Commission illustrate a reversal of the slight decline in gambling losses that was seen in central Victoria from 2015-16 to 2016-17.
In that period, losses in central Victoria fell by 0.3 per cent, even though the region had more pokies in 2016-17 than the year before or after.
That drop followed an increase from 2014-15 to 2015-16.
Anyone concerned about their own or someone else’s gambling you can access free, confidential help from Gambler’s Help services in Bendigo, Kyneton, Echuca and Castlemaine by calling 1800 244 323.
People living in the Central Goldfields should call Gambler’s Help CAFS Ballarat on 5337 3333.
For online assistance, visit www.gamblinghelponline.org.au.
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