Monday, 28 Nov 2022

Australias gambling addiction: can politics finally stop the money wheel turning?

Australias gambling addiction: can politics finally stop the money wheel turning?


Australias gambling addiction: can politics finally stop the money wheel turning?

Just off the freeway in a small suburb in Melbourne's west is the Kealba Hotel. It looks like any other suburban sports pub: there's a bistro and a beer garden, an indoor children's playground, and huge TV screens showing live football matches and horse races.

And there are 86 poker machines. This pub in the middle of Brimbank, Victoria's third most disadvantaged local government area, has had the dubious distinction, year after year, of being the venue in the state where people lose the most money on the pokies.

Last financial year, nearly $20.5m was lost in this building alone. That's the equivalent of 391 yearly salaries at the median wage. And yet it's a small number in the context of a very big, very expensive national problem.

Australia is addicted to gambling. About $25bn is lost to legal forms of gambling every year, according to recent estimates from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nearly half of this goes into poker machines.

The profits of pokies first and most obviously flow to the casinos, pubs and clubs that own licences to run them. When the chance of landing a jackpot on a poker machine is literally one in 35,640,000, the real jackpot is holding the licence to collect the losses.

But all aspects of Australian life are steeped in gambling money as it flows back and forth through the economy.

A substantial proportion of profits goes to the governments that allow poker machines to run. It flows to state and federal budgets through taxes, and also to political parties through donations.

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