Spinning millions: Bega Valley runs $12.5m through pokies in six months

Recently released figures show gamblers put almost $12.5million through poker machines in Bega Valley’s clubs and hotels within six months. 

The region’s clubs made the majority of the net profits pulling in nearly $11m from 581 machines across 12 premises, while hotels made $1.6m from 96 machines in 11 premises. 

Liquor and Gaming NSW issued the data for the period from December 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018 for clubs and January 1 to June 30 this year for hotels. 

Club Bega’s general manager David Mitchell said clubs in the region donated a proportion of pokies revenue to various local charities and not-for-profits that benefited the whole community. 

He said, on average, under category one for grants the region’s clubs put about $90,000 back into the community each year, with individual branches donating more in category two.

“All up our club alone invested $29,500 in the local community in the last 12 months,” he said. 

Recipients of club funds included schools, sporting clubs, show societies, the Tathra Mayoral Appeal Fund, Bega Rotary, a Parkinson’s support group and Bega Valley Suicide Action Prevention Network.  

“I think an important thing clubs do, discreetly, is offer assistance with problem gambling,” Mr Mitchell said. 

One way was to offer self exclusion zones, which a person can ask to sign up to in order for them to be excluded from either the gambling areas of clubs or clubs as a whole. 

While Mr Mitchell said this was a “rare” occurrence at Club Bega, he was aware of people occasionally signing up at other clubs in the region. 

He said clubs also provided a space for sporting opportunities, to encourage a healthier lifestyle. 

Across the South Coast, clubs and hotels in Shoalhaven were the most profitable, where the region’s clubs made $31m and hotels another $5.7m. 

Shoalhaven also has the highest number of gambling machines in clubs (1388) and hotels (237) in the region.

Eurobodalla clubs and hotels earned the second-highest in net profits from gamblers.

Clubs made $15 million from 729 gambling machines and hotels $2 million from 97 machines.  

State-wide the highest net profit for clubs was recorded in Fairfield – they took in over $177m – while the highest profit for hotels was made in Sydney at almost $140m. 

State South Coast MP Shelley Hancock said most people gamble responsibly, but for a small number of people it is a problem and “we want to make sure that anyone who needs help, can get help”.

“We are committed to addressing problem gambling, having allocated $25 million for responsible gambling initiatives this year,” Ms Hancock said.

“Free counselling is available  including phone, online and face-to-face services, which benefit from this funding. 

“In March this year the NSW government also introduced the most significant gaming reforms in a decade. 

“We’ve introduced strict caps on the number of gaming machines in higher-risk communities and improved community consultation and transparency when venues apply for extra machines.”

For the Bega Valley, the latest figures showed a slight increase from the previous period in net profits made from pokies. From June to November 2017, $10.3m was made in the region’s clubs and from July to December that year $1.5m was put into hotels’ machines. 

Clubs and hotels in the Snowy Monaro Regional Council area earned the least from poker machines compared with others in the region. 

They also have fewer gambling machines compared with others in the region.

Snowy Monaro Regional Council area clubs made $8.2 million from 162 gambling machines, whereas hotels made a net profit of about $1 million from 99 machines.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform director Tim Costello said NSW suffers the highest level of poker machine losses of any jurisdiction in the world with average adult losses now running at almost $1000 a year.

“Every region is badly hit but the $80 million lost on the South Coast is doing enormous harm to the community. It would be much better to have that money circulating through the economy into more productive activities,” Mr Costello said.

“NSW needs to dramatically reduce machine numbers and make the machines less dangerous through reforms such as $1 maximum bets as recommended by the Productivity Commission, along with reduced trading hours and restrictions on cash advances.”