Most club and pub owners in NSW are celebrating following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, with venues now allowed to host customers for the first time in increasing numbers since restrictions were put in place by the government in March.
But the reopening of gambling rooms has the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Wesley Mission and the NSW Council for Social Service (NCOSS) fearing a potential flood of gambling harm and other public health issues.
Statistics show that people in the Lithgow LGA saved $2.5 million since poker machines were turned off for ten weeks from March 23 to June 1 due to COVID-19.
In 2019, pokies in local pubs and clubs took more than $13.2 million. Clubs were responsible for the largest portion at over $10.2 million in 2019.
The three groups are astounded NSW has reopened club and pub poker machines when every other state plans to keep them shut off for at least another month due to COVID-19 infection risks.
While the total number of poker machines decreased 2 per cent in 2019, losses have sharply risen by 8 per cent.CEO Wesley Mission, Rev Keith Garner
They also have major concerns for a lack of preparation by the NSW Government to manage the risks associated with people being exposed to gambling again after a nine-week enforced break.
"While the total number of poker machines decreased 2 per cent in 2019, losses have sharply risen by 8 per cent. This tells us that reducing the numbers of gaming machines doesn't reduce the amount lost or the significant harm caused to people in Lithgow," Rev Keith Garner, CEO Wesley Mission said.
Throughout the Lithgow LGA there are 275 electronic gaming machines (egm/pokies) with 228 of those in clubs and 47 in pubs.
In the Lithgow area, pokies in pubs took on average $62,000 per machine per annum.
NCOSS CEO Joanna Quilty said poker machines did their worst damage in vulnerable communities around NSW, causing sometimes irreparable harm to families and individuals.
"NCOSS remains extremely concerned about the harmful impact this form of gambling causes to individuals and the broader community, especially at such a vulnerable time," she said.
- To receive support from a specialist gambling counsellor, call gambling help on 1800 858 858