- »Estimates about Pokies Savings During Crisis Raise Questions
Estimates about Pokies Savings During Crisis Raise Questions
The coronavirus pandemic relegated most Australians to their homes in the last weeks of March. Essential businesses remained open for groceries and such, but casinos closed. Every venue that offered gambling on pokies of any kind closed. And they will remain closed through April and likely a bit into May.
Meanwhile, some have decided to calculate how much money Australians are not spending on pokies during this time.
Mayne Tosses Up Big Numbers
Shareholder activist and self-described anti-gambling campaigner issued a tweet on April 10 that has garnered a lot of attention.
“Today is the 19th day since Australia’s 5000 pokies venues were shut. Given that we lose $38m a day on the pokies, that’s a community stimulus worth $722m so far.”
Nearly 10,000 people liked the post and more than 5,700 people retweeted it.
The number of pokies located in Australia is estimated to be approximately 200,000 in legal venues, more than any other country with regard to their presence in venues other than casinos.
Mayne then wrote an article about it, noting that the amount of “community stimulus” continued to climb by the day. And he added, “The record $14 billion in pokies losses the industry was targeting for 2020 might now struggle to even reach $10 billion, but it all depends on when the shutdown is lifted.”
He asserted that Australian pubs, clubs, and casinos have hired more than 30 former political staffers and MPs. They’ve donated more than $10 million to registered Australian political parties. And they’ve spent more than $30 million on their own political campaigning. All of this happened in the last two decades.
Additionally, Mayne predicted that pokies lobbyists will promise “millions in donations from July 1 onwards if governments move promptly to re-open their destructive businesses. The July 1 date is important because any payments received in the 2020-21 financial year wouldn’t be disclosed until February 1, 2022, under Australia’s pathetic campaign finance disclosure laws.”
Costello Pushes Big Numbers as Well
Anti-gambling advocate with the Alliance for Gambling Reform Tim Costello asserted that $1 million spent on pokies creates three jobs, while $1 million spent on hospitality creates 20 jobs.
These numbers were the impetus for ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to offer Canberra clubs $15,000 each to decline pokies licenses at the end of the coronavirus shutdown. Barr said the financial payment should be dedicated to retraining staff with skills not linked to gambling.
Costello not only supported this move but started a petition to urge all state governments to offer the same type of stimulus deals to help with coronavirus recovery.
“The rest of the world looks at us and says $13 billion per year lost and 20% of the world’s pokies,” said Costello, according the The New Daily. “COVID-19 is an opportunity to see a fog lifting and seeing clearly about things that just have to change. And this is one of them.”
His petition states the same. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild resilient, thriving communities without poker machines.” The goal is to tie financial assistance for businesses to a commitment to reducing gambling harm.
The petition differs from Mayne’s numbers, asserting that the pandemic is saving $34.2 million in pokies spending daily. But the numbers are similar enough to make the point.
It also states in its appeal to state and territory premiers and chief ministers, “We know that clubs and pubs are struggling, as are all businesses. We know that people need jobs. Your financial assistance packages can help employ more people if you focus on putting money into real jobs providing meals and live music, rather than the sparsely staffed pokie dens.”
Job Losses in Casino Industry
The exact number of jobs related to pokies is not clear, nor is the number of jobs that would be affected by moves like the one proposed by ACT.
Casino stand-down numbers do give some insight into the employee pools tied to large casinos. Crown Resorts and The Star Entertainment Group together stood down about 20,000 employees when properties closed in March.
These companies have requested help from the JobKeeper program offered by the Australian government. However, these are not necessarily the pokies operators targeted by anti-gambling advocates with the coronavirus stimulus proposal. They are aiming their efforts at the smaller clubs and pubs that have added pokies in the last decade to attract more customers.
The impact of the pandemic on businesses will be severe in any case. It will be interesting to see if governments turn down lobbying money in favor of the proposed anti-gambling measures…and how many businesses are willing to take the offers.