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The Alarming Reality of Poker Machine Losses in New South Wales

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Poker machines have long been a contentious issue in New South Wales, with their ubiquity in hotels and clubs raising concerns about the significant financial losses incurred by individuals and families.

A recent analysis of data from the third financial quarter of 2023 has unveiled some shocking figures. In this period, New South Wales residents lost a staggering $2.1 billion to poker machines, averaging $23 million per day or $250 per person across the state. These revelations have reignited calls for immediate industry reform, particularly in Western Sydney, which appears to be one of the hardest-hit regions.

Related: NSW Launches Holiday Crackdown on Minors Entering Casinos

Western Sydney under Strain

Western Sydney has emerged as the epicenter of poker machine losses in New South Wales. The Markets Hotel in Homebush, the Crossroads in Casula, and the Wentworth Hotel in Homebush West reported the highest losses during the third quarter. Reverend Stu Cameron, Chief Executive of Wesley Mission, points out that Western Sydney already grapples with significant economic challenges, including mortgage and rental stress. The poker machine industry seems to cynically target regions where communities can least afford the financial losses generated by these machines.

Hotels operating with the maximum allowable 30 poker machines earned an average of $65,589 per machine in the 90 days from July to September 2023. This equates to over $262,000 in profit per machine annually. Shockingly, Wesley Mission's analysis reveals that 22 percent of hotels are responsible for a staggering 62 percent of reported losses. The iGaming industry's resilience to reform efforts is a growing concern, as it continues to siphon off substantial sums from the community that could be spent more effectively elsewhere.

Debating Poker Machine Reform

Calls for reform have been ongoing, with Chief Advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello, emphasizing the need for immediate action. Costello suggests the implementation of a cashless card system, requiring players to set a spending limit and time restriction before commencing play to curb excessive losses. Trials of the cashless gaming systems are already underway across the state to assess its effectiveness in curbing high gambling losses.

The Australian Hotels Association has raised concerns that gambling reform could jeopardize jobs. However, Costello counters this argument, stating that slot machines are actually job killers, as they generate fewer jobs for the same amount of money spent elsewhere. He emphasizes that a million dollars spent in retail create 20 jobs, while the same amount spent in hospitality generates 10 jobs, but a million dollars going through slots results in less than two jobs.

Clubs New South Wales defends the presence of slot machines in venues, highlighting that clubs are community-owned, with profits benefiting the community or being reinvested into members' facilities. They cite a report by Urbis, which found that NSW clubs contribute $9 billion annually to the state's social and economic well-being, including significant investments in community and sporting facilities, free entertainment events, and job support.

Need for Urgent Measures

The recent data on poker machine losses in New South Wales underscores the urgent need for industry reform. Western Sydney, in particular, has been hit hard, exacerbating existing economic struggles in the region. While the debate continues about the impact of potential reforms on jobs and community benefits, the alarming figures cannot be ignored, and the call for change grows louder with each passing day.

The implementation of a cashless card system appears to be a promising step towards addressing this issue and protecting vulnerable individuals and communities from the destructive effects of excessive gambling losses.

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