- »Punters Back at NSW Pokies Machines in High Numbers
Punters Back at NSW Pokies Machines in High Numbers
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down all non-essential businesses in mid-March, that order from the Australian government and health officials included clubs and casinos. Anyone who liked a little gamble from time to time had to find their favorite pastime online…if possible.
Many did just that. The number of players at online casinos increased significantly. Sports betting online didn’t see the same kind of growth because of the pause in so many of the world’s professional sports action, but online poker and casino gaming took care of their new customers.
Now that Australia is opening back up and trying to return to some semblance of normal life, people are returning to their normal activities at a somewhat slow rate. Not so with the pokies, though. Aussies are playing the poker machines at a much higher rate than before the Covid-19 shutdowns.
Online Gambling Okay for Some
Aussies who had never before tried online casinos took to the sites to give them a try. Not only were they not able to frequent their favorite clubs and pokies locations, they were mostly quarantined at home with little in the way of leisure activities.
Online poker, online casino games, and particularly live-dealer online games became popular with a new crowd over the past three months. The very first week saw online gaming participation up 67%, and by the end of May, participation had risen to nearly 150% of pre-Covid rates.
Some analysts predicted that players may stay online for a time, even after clubs reopened across the Australian territories. While some of those players may continue playing online, there was actually somewhat of a rush to get back to the live pokies.
According to MAX, a gaming machine monitoring service, the first week of June delivered more players than anyone anticipated to the clubs of New South Wales. Some establishments, like restaurants and bars, tended to see customers hesitant to return to crowded spaces, but club goers had none of those same fears.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported the numbers this week. MAX reported that pokies action was actually higher during the first week of June than in an average week in June of 2019, per a sampling of machines around NSW.
In NSW clubs, the daily machine average turnover was:
- June 1-30, 2019: $2,094 (previous year)
- March 1-23, 2020: $1,946 (shutdown month)
- June 1-7, 2020: $3,886 (99.7% higher than March 2020, 85.6% higher than June 2019)
The daily average machine net for this same region was:
- June 1-30, 2019: $174 (previous year)
- March 1-23, 2020: $161 (shutdown month)
- June 1-7, 2020: $324 (101.2% higher than March 2020, 86.2% higher than June 2019)
The clubs initially welcomed players back to the gaming floors with every other machine turned off so as to force social distancing. Since that remained a requirement, club managers removed games that underperformed and replaced them with others that proved more popular. This was done within the first few days of reopening.
NSW hotels reported similar shifts in daily average machine turnover:
- June 1-30, 2019: $4,445 (previous year)
- March 1-23, 2020: $4,298 (shutdown month)
- June 1-7, 2020: $7,927 (84.4% higher than March 2020, 78.3% higher than June 2019)
And the daily machine average net at the NSW hotels was:
- June 1-30, 2019: $378 (previous year)
- March 1-23, 2020: $363 (shutdown month)
- June 1-7, 2020: $682 (87.9% higher than March 2020, 80.4% higher than June 2019)
Gaming industry specialist Justine Channing explained the rise in numbers: “I suspect we’ve got a honeymoon, as people who enjoy gambling want to get out there and have a go.”
Alliance for Gambling Reform Executive Director Tony Mohr claims that many gamblers used their stimulus checks from the government to gamble, whether online during the shutdown or now at the pokies clubs.
“When there is more disposable cash at a time of crisis, people are simultaneously under more financial stress and vulnerable to trying to escape their concerns,” Mohr said. “What is surprising is the scale of it; for them to be seeing an increase is mind-blowing.”
Mohr’s suggestion to the NSW government was to reduce the number of poker machines in all establishments by 40%, which would thin the number down to 55,000 pokies. He said it would be a necessary part of the recovery from Covid-19 because he said mental health and family violence have been “exacerbated by Covid.”
The numbers in from NSW thus far, however, indicate an unlikelihood of machine removal. Per the Alliance for Gambling Reform statistics, NSW clubs collected $56.2 million during the first week of operations in June. Pokies pubs specifically took in an additional $35.4 million.
Per Mohr, it is a missed opportunity for NSW. “$92 million a week lost to poker machines is $92 million that would be much better spent on small businesses struggling to stay afloat,” he said.