BRISBANE, Australia — About a quarter of citizens in the northeastern Australian state, Queensland, play the pokies, with an average spend of about AU$625 ($461.91) per person annually, figures in a new harm minimization plan released this week show.

Queensland has flagged a review of its Responsible Gambling Code of Practice in the plan that shows pokies are both popular and problematic in the Sunshine State.

The state has about 40,000 gaming machines operating in about 1000 clubs and hotels, plus another 3700 in casinos.

More than 70 percent of Gambling Help service clients said, “gaming machines are problematic for me,” the plan states.

The State Revenue Office netted more than AU$820 million ($606.02 million) in gaming machine taxes last year. Queenslanders splurged close to AU$300 million a month since poker machines were turned back on in July 2020 following a three-month lockdown. This was a 31.5 percent increase over July 2019 figures.

However, more gambling collectively has meant consistently higher losses for the year 2021 relative to pre-Covid data. Just in the last 12 months, AU$2.8 billion ($2.06 billion) has been lost in pokies.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman says pokies “continue to be a key focus of government regulation”. (Dan Peled/AAP Image)

Every month from January through May has recorded more than AU$200 million ($148 million) losses, compared to the corresponding months in 2019. It has made 2021 the most profligate year of gambling since record-keeping began 17 years ago.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said pokies “continue to be a key focus of government regulation.”

“The new plan highlights our focus on strengthening harm minimization from all gambling products, including a review of the Responsible Gambling Code of Practice,” she said.

A review of the code as well as mandatory requirements “to strengthen and encourage effective harm minimization outcomes” are listed as one of the plan’s “key deliverables.”

“Queensland has gaming machine caps in place for the safety of Queenslanders, and almost 2000 fewer machines are operating compared to 2018,” Fentiman said.

The plan calls for a shift away from the “responsible gambling” message that puts the onus on individual consumers and toward “safer gambling.”

This “recognizes there are safe levels of gambling activity and ways for industry to provide safer gambling environments,” it says.

Currently, pokies in the state’s hotels and clubs have a maximum bet limit per spin of AU$5 ($3.70) and a minimum wait of three seconds between spins.

Note acceptor limits also prevent gamblers from inserting banknotes once the value of accumulated credit on the machine exceeds AU$100 ($73.91).

The limitations are intended to prevent gamblers from making “large spontaneous” bets.

The Productivity Commission floated AU$1 ($0.74) bet limits as a means of government intervention to limit pokie harm as far back as 2010.

Edited by Saptak Datta and Krishna Kakani



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