Victorian Council Wants to Reduce Gambling Venue Hours

up close shot of a wrist watch showing hour hands and seconds hands
A Victorian council is calling on the state government to reduce the maximum number of hours gambling venues can be open in a bid to minimise gambling harm.

Star News reports the Dandenong City Council’s proposal asks that hours of operation for gambling venues be lowered from 20 hours per day to 14 hours, a move which it believes will help gamblers retain money and benefit the community in the long run.

Under current laws, venues can apply for permits which allow them to remain open for 20 hours per day, with many closing at 4 am or 5 am, before reopening again at 8 am, the council said.

Director of community services Martin Fidler said the current hours of operation could be harmful and by enforcing the pokies to shut between midnight and 10 am, gamblers could save plenty.

“Being able to use gambling machines as late as 4 am or as early as 8 am, harms vulnerable residents,” Mr Fidler said.

“We want to reduce the risk of harm, particularly as our community recovers from the pandemic.”

According to Mr Fidler, in the 2018-19 period, Greater Dandenong residents lost $119 million to gambling machines at local hotels and clubs.

With the easing of restrictions and reopening of gambling venues from Monday, November 9, Mr Fidler feared that many gamblers would return to old habits.

He said that by reducing opening hours at venues, the council could “ease the hardship that will once again be inflicted upon many residents and families.”

“This is an opportunity to protect those with gambling problems from incurring the level of gambling losses they experienced before lockdown,” Mr Fidler said.

The Dandenong RSL Club runs a number of gambling machines and its president, John Wells said that he felt that “council has a limited role to play” in making decisions in relation to gambling licensing.

Mr Wells said that the proposed changes by the council “won’t affect our operations very much” as the club didn’t “use the full number of hours we’re allowed.”

“Even so, I think it’s people’s own business when they gamble and if they want to gamble. We have a very strong, responsible provisionary gaming program in place as many other sod,” Mr Wells said.

“Council should leave the operation as it is, how it was all licensed in the first place.”

As well as proposing to put the pokies to be, the Greater Dandenong City Council is urging the government to enforce a two-hour limit upon the time patrons can use gambling machines, “to lower the risk of transmission” post-lockdown and simultaneously “ease the impact of an expected surge in local gambling losses.”

Mr Fidler believes that by implementing both these changes, many people in the local community would be better off.

“These two steps would help reduce hardship gambling causes for many local families, helping them put food on the table and pay their bills,” he said.

South Australians flock back to pokies

slot machines in a casino aerial shot
Photo by – Chuma A

The temporary closure of South Australia’s pubs in July to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the state has led to residents flocking to the machines since restrictions have eased.

The Sunday Mail reported in December that South Australian’s spent $73.21 million in July, the highest monthly spend since August 2007.

The spending for the first four months of the financial year has raised concerns about the impact of machines on vulnerable South Australians.

The figures have been downplayed by the hospitality sector, who stressed the spending was a consequence of South Australians being unable to access venues for three months to do something they enjoy.

New figures from the industry and government against Consumer and Business Services showed that in the first four months of this financial year, South Australians embraced the reopening of pokies venues after they had been closed for three months in response to the pandemic.

The average monthly spend was $68.81 million, starting with $73.21 million in July and gradually tapering to $65.46 million in October.

Poker machines at the Adelaide Casino are not included in the statistics.

SA Council of Social Services chief executive Ross Womersley said the figures are concerning.

“From our perspective, it’s much worse than going back to normal, it has gone boonta,” he said.

“The withdrawal from poker machines for many people with real gambling issues was a Godsend, because, for the first time in ages, they were in positions where they were not spending that money and they were able to have it available to pay for their life requirements.

“We do know that there was some drift to other gambling activities but the real concern for us is if people are putting even more back in that has to be a reflection of a real increase in potential harm.

William Brown

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