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Aussie pokie players turning their backs on local venues

NEW statistics released by Consumer and Business Services department show that South Australians are spending less time playing poker machines at clubs and venues.

The figures revealed that $79 million less was spent in the 2015-16 period in comparison to the peak of $793 million that was spent in 2006-07.

While the figures have been celebrated by anti-gambling advocates, the hotels industry are warning that the economy is at risk of taking a massive hit, given jobs could be potentially lost on top of the lost revenue.

Experts are fearful the downturn in venue spending is a direct result of an upturn in online poker machine gaming, which is not regulated or taxed like it is in pubs and clubs.

Australian Hotels Association SA general manager Ian Horne said a combination of economic instability, as well as a surge in online gaming has affected clubs in a negative way.

“The reality is that it’s a total package. At the end of the day, you make a profit or loss based on the total income of a premises being more than the costs,” Mr Horne said.

“When one revenue source has been in such significant decline, and there is no capacity to increase prices because competition is intense in food and liquor, people simply have to tighten their belts.

Horne believes the increase in pokie players turning to the online alternative is hurting the economy in a direct manor.

“That’s curtailing new employment, reducing hours of availability and new shutting times.

“These are some of the toughest trading times that we’ve seen for approaching a decade.”

The State Government relies on poker machine taxes for almost $300 million each year, but continually pushes harder for the industry to be more heavily-regulated.

Anti-gambling advocate Nick Xenophon wants to introduce a nationwide $1 betting limit on all poker machines, but there is conjecture as to whether the changes will have the intended impact.

Clubs Australia executive director Anthony Ball said the Xenophon proposal could cost the government up to $1.5 billion in lost revenue, while doing little to address the true root of the issue.

“The economic, social and employment costs of this policy thought-bubble from Xenophon and Wilkie are even more astounding when you consider that the majority of problem gamblers bet less than $1 per spin,” Mr Ball said.

While the screws threaten to tighten even further on venue operators, SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis believes more needs to be done to curtail the impact of online companies.

Mr Koutsantonis announced a plan to introduce national-first online wagering tax that applies to registered Australia companies. In addition, he has called for the Federal Government to take tough action against unscrupulous offshore operators.

Mr Koutsantonis said regulation had to move quickly to catch up with an ever-changing marketplace.

“It’s our health workers and community organisations who clean up the mess, so it’s only fair that taxes on the profits of betting companies help pay for the cost,” he said.

“These companies should be taxed where the social harm from gambling is done, not in whichever jurisdiction the company is headquartered.”

Our take – clubs and venues in danger of being left behind

Much like the downturn in punters going down to their local TAB to place bets, poker machine players are electing to play their games from the comfort of their own home or on the move.

Who can blame them? In Victoria alone there is a maximum bet value of $5 per spin (unless you are in Crown Casino), a $1000 cheque limit as well as limited access to ATM facilities within walking distance, and there is potential for further restrictions to come.

Counteract that by looking at the online realm. A wider range of games, no monetary constraints and an ability to deposit funds straight in if they desire.

And the clubs and hotels wonder why players are looking elsewhere?

We understand that both the federal and state governments continually look to stifle the ever present danger of problem gambling, but for venues that rely on revenue to survive it makes it almost impossible to compete alongside websites that not only offer a wider variety of games, but unlimited access to funds and bet values.

Further restricting venues’ abilities to provide gambling options to punters who choose to do so is doing a disservice not just to the pubs and clubs, but to the players themselves.

While there is a much more convenient option available that does not stymie players’ abilities to play, people are going to take advantage of that.

Unfortunately for the venues it is a ‘buyers’ market, and while the online option – which is far superior – exists in its present form there is just no way they can compete.

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