Anti-gambling advocacy group, Alliance for Gaming Reform, said Bendigonians have saved more than $19 million while poker machines have been switched off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest data from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation reveals a total of $37,393,438.34 was lost on more than 600 gaming machines at 11 Bendigo venues last financial year.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of gaming venues in late March and they have yet to reopen, with regional Victoria in the midst of stage three restrictions.
In the 2018-19 financial year, $50,671,967.86 was lost in Bendigo, with this year's losses more than a third less than those recorded a year ago.
Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Reverend Tim Costello said the savings to the local economy and community since the COVID-19 shut down demonstrates the blight of poker machines.
"We have experienced a silver lining to the pandemic - the shut down of poker machines has undoubtedly improved lives for people in Bendigo for the better, and perhaps even saved lives," Mr Costello said.
Gambling harm support worker Kasuni Mendis said most people who bet on poker machines have had a rare, welcome break from gambling during the pandemic.
"We have seen an increase in money lost to online and sports gambling, but nowhere near the amount lost to poker machines," Ms Mendis said.
Across Greater Bendigo's 11 gaming machine venues, McIvor Highway's All Seasons Hotel registered more than $8.2 million in gambling expenditure, down from $11.4 million a year ago.
Punters at The Bendigo District RSL Club amassed a spend of $6.3 million, the second highest of all venues.
Mr Costello said poker machines are an "effective drain on our economy."
"They prevent people from having the money to not only pay their bills, but to also do the little things in their community like a buy a coffee and cake," he said.
Gaming venues recently reopened in NSW, with residents crossing the border from the ACT to access clubs, which were still closed in the Territory, as reported in The Canberra Times.
Ms Mendis said a surge of people attending gambling venues once they reopen is likely to occur in Victoria.
"An increase in losses from gaming machines when venues reopen is likely in Victoria unless steps are taken to reduce gambling harm," Ms Mendis said.
"These could include re-orienting gambling counselling services to help people plan for re-opening," she said.
Almost $2 billion was spent on gaming machines in Victoria in the 2019-20 financial year, compared to 2.7 billion a year ago, a decrease of more than 25 per cent.
The City of Greater Bendigo is home to 661 poker machines, which is about three-quarters of the allowable number of machines.
VCGLR director of licensing Alex Fitzpatrick said Victorian gambling venues have been closed since March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The City of Greater Bendigo's Gaming Policy Framework, published in 2007, has not been updated since.
The current gaming policy focuses on an 'accessible but not convenient policy', which discourages poker machines in centralised venues.
The policy orders machines be kept out of areas with above-average disadvantage and be installed in places where non-gambling entertainment options were also available.