Residents of Wagga and surrounding towns have lost an estimated $63 million on poker machines over the 2022/2023 financial year, according to the latest available data from the state’s gambling regulator.
The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) has released data on net profit made by both clubs and pubs from pokies in the first half of this year, which it says is the closest indicator of how much people are losing on the gaming machines.
Wagga and Snowy Valley Local Government Area residents made a combined loss of $11,829,437 from 417 poker machines in clubs. On top of that, residents of Wagga, Junee, Lockhart, Temora and Narrandera made a combined loss of $17,522,168 from 362 poker machines in pubs.
When combined with figures from the last half of 2022, residents of Wagga and surrounding towns made an overall loss of around $63 million in the last financial year. Additionally, residents of Griffith and nearby towns lost just under $40 million over the same period.
Both Wagga MP Joe McGirr and lobby group Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello described these figures as “extraordinary”, given the small populations of the towns and current cost of living crisis.
“We know that eating chocolate and gambling are recession proof,” Reverend Costello said.
“It represents the anesthetising of pain – you are anxious, you need an escape, chocolate and gambling are the escape.”
Dr McGirr expressed similar sentiments.
“This is the sort of thing people will do when they’re stressed. People might go without a holiday but they’ll regard this as enjoyment.”
The revelations on poker machine use have come as the NSW Government commemorates GambleAware week, which is designed to focus people’s attention on how much punting may be costing them.
Reverend Costello said multi-million dollar losses to pokies in Wagga and Griffith impacted the entire community.
“It’s very sad, it means greater crime, it means greater domestic violence, it means kids going hungry. Pokies are often played by women, they’re the ones that manage the shopping budgets and that pay the rent or mortgage. The ripple effects for the kids and family are much more devastating.”
ILGA data states there are 376 poker machines in clubs in Griffith. Additionally, there are 129 pokies in pubs in Griffith, Leeton and the Murrumbidgee Local Government Areas.
Griffith’s Area Hotel and Gemini Hotel have tried to install more poker machines at their venues. The pubs’ owner was recently engaged in a Supreme Court battle with the regulator because it wanted to install them without employing certain harm reduction measures as directed by the ILGA.
After the pubs won the initial court case, the appeals court ruled in favour of the regulator, ensuring the new poker machines will be monitored by additional staff during their use.
“I was very pleased to see that decision,” Dr McGirr said. “I understand those two hotels and the reasons they would want to avoid the costs, but I would’ve thought in the current environment the requirement to have some support would have been a positive thing.”
Former Griffith councillors Pat Cox and Phoebe Harrison have both told Region they believe there are already far too many poker machines in the town.
The vast majority of people who responded to a recent Region poll on the issue said they would either like to see the number of pokies reduced in the Riverina or banned all together.