At what price that $7 schnitzel?
The poker machine industry is struggling to defend itself in the face of findings of new research released by UnitingCare Australia earlier this week.
National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds said the report shows that the heaviest poker machine losses are in some of the most disadvantaged electorates in the country, but that the money that flowed back into the community from clubs was insignificant by comparison.
Report author, Dr Charles Livingstone from Monash University said the study found that across the four Australian jurisdictions examined (NSW, Vic, Qld and the ACT) about $9.7 billion dollars was lost on poker machines in 2010-11, and about $180 million was claimed by poker machine operators as community benefit. That’s 1.9% of the total of losses.
“In New South Wales poker machine users lost just under $5 billion in 2010-11 while New South Wales clubs delivered community benefits of only $63.5 million back to local communities,” Dr Livingstone said.
“Mega-clubs like some of those in Sydney’s western suburbs are a world away from the ‘cottage’ image the industry likes to promote.
“User losses exceeded 30 per cent of median individual income in Blaxland in New South Wales (Paul Keating’s old seat), 20 per cent of the median individual income in Marybyrnong (Vic), Banks (NSW), Bruce (Vic) , Richmond (NSW), and Hotham (Vic) and more than 10 per cent in almost half the 41 electorates examined in the report, Dr Livingstone said.
Lin Hatfield Dodds said that every dollar lost to a poker machine is a dollar lost to local business and the local economy.
“And money lost on poker machines by problem gamblers, is diverted from essentials like rent, food, school uniforms and excursions.
“The costs are high. Our services see relationship breakdown, absenteeism and job losses, fraud and other criminal activity, imprisonment and mental health problems including suicide,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
UnitingCare Australia is calling on greater transparency and accountability measures for an industry, especially in New South Wales, that defends the indefensible using data that is difficult and expensive to access.
The UnitingCare network provides social services to over 2 million people each year through 1,300 sites in remote, regional and metropolitan Australia. The network employs 35,000 staff and 24,000 volunteers.
A copy of the report, Assessment of poker machine expenditure and community benefit claims in selected Commonwealth Electoral Divisions, is available here.