Pokies will be closed six hours a day but gambling losses are expected to increase in Victoria

Tax revenue from poker machines in Victoria is expected to keep rising next year despite the introduction of forced early morning closures, with the government yet to set a deadline for broader reforms that were touted as the strongest in the country.

Then-premier Daniel Andrews announced in July a crackdown on the state’s 27,372 machines in pubs, clubs and hotels that would force all gaming machines to be out of action between 4am and 10am – except those at Crown casino – by the middle of this year.

But Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission chief executive Annette Kimmitt confirmed the watchdog was still waiting to learn when the change would be implemented and stakeholders were waiting for news about broader promised changes. Under the new legislation, the mandatory closures must begin from October 3 at the latest.

The move followed concerns that venues had staggered their opening hours, co-ordinating with each other to allow patrons to move from one place to the next to keep gambling.

Last week’s state budget predicted tax revenue from the machines would increase in 2024-25, growing to $1.407 billion from $1.373 billion in 2023-24, despite the coming shutdown.

Gambling expert Charles Livingstone, an associate professor at Monash University, said this showed that the 4am-to-10am closures would not have a major impact. Most gambling losses occurred earlier in the evening, he said, pointing to population increases and inflation as factors in the revenue increase.

A timeline for the rest of the changes — including a cashless system that requires gamblers to commit to how much they are willing to lose a day — has not yet been locked in. Consultation work has been done, but a technical reference group is yet to convene, and stakeholders have called on the government to set a deadline.

Livingstone was frustrated that almost a year after the announcement, the timeline and framework were still unclear.

“We don’t know any of the detail yet,” he said. “It would be nice if we had a timeline. It would be nice if we at least had a framework for the characteristics of how this is going to work.”

But the budget papers predict that the further reforms will start to reduce gambling losses in another year. The budget forecasts that tax revenue from poker machines will start declining by more than $100 million in 2025-26, “which primarily reflects the impact of gambling harm minimisation measures … which affect electronic gaming machine revenue”.

By 2027-28, revenue is tipped to have fallen to $1.198 billion, an almost 15 per cent drop over three years.

A state government spokeswoman said the mandatory closures were to ensure people had a break in play, “so vulnerable patrons can get out of the zone and be more aware of their gambling behaviours”.

“Although very few people gamble at hotels and clubs at 4am, the people who do are at a much higher risk of experiencing gambling harm,” she said.

“Victorians will soon have the strongest gambling harm protections in Australia, with work and consultation progressing to bring in reduced spin rates, mandatory carded play and cash load limits – protecting vulnerable people.”

Livingstone wants statutory limits on how much a Victorian can lose to the pokies a day, pointing to $100-a-day caps in other jurisdictions, which a parliamentary inquiry last year recommended the state government examine.

Community Clubs Victoria chief executive Andrew Lloyd said clubs around the state wanted some certainty and to work with the government for a future-proof model.

“It’s still early days to understand the finality of what the model looks like,” Lloyd said. “At this stage, it is progressing relatively slowly.

“What the whole industry is petrified about to do with the carded play, if it’s not a thoughtful model … it could damage the viability of licensed clubs and push people to use other forms of gambling which are less safe.

“We don’t oppose carded play. We want a responsible, sustainable industry.”

Victorians lost $7.5 billion in 2022-23, mostly to poker machines, but online gambling was the fastest category of losses.

SW Accountants & Advisors – in research commissioned by Lloyd and Community Clubs Victoria – found that while gambling losses in Victoria had increased by more than $730 million over 20 years, losses had actually declined when inflation was considered.

Ranka Rasic, the mayor of the City of Brimbank, which has the highest losses from electronic gambling machines of all local government areas in Victoria, welcomed the proposed gambling harm reforms.

“But we haven’t received information about when the reforms for cashless gambling and pre-commitment systems will be implemented,” Rasic said.

There were 99 gambling-related suicides identified by the Coroners Court of Victoria between 2013 and 2016, with a high of 32 in 2015, mostly men. A parliamentary inquiry found communities experiencing social and economic disadvantage were those most vulnerable to gambling harm.

The new laws limiting the opening hours of poker machine venues were the first legislation introduced under Premier Jacinta Allan last year.

Ahead of the legislation being introduced, Australia’s largest poker machine operator, the Endeavour Group, voluntarily responded to the changes by closing its gaming machine areas between 4am and 10am.

Source: theage.com.au

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