Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, most Australian residents were unable to gamble while the nation struggled through a lockdown. With the majority of the quarantine now being lifted, punters are rushing out to pubs and casinos in droves.

In the first month after restrictions were relaxed, Aussies lost a total of $800 million. For more on the impact of these losses, and the reaction of anti-gambling advocates, please continue reading.

State by State Gambling Increases

To get a sense of how pokie spending has increased, let’s look at some recent data for all six states:

  • Tasmania – Within five days of venues opening in June, residents had spent $2.6 million on pokie machines. Over the course of July, that amount skyrocketed to $19 million.
  • New South Wales – NSW citizens couldn’t wait to gamble, losing an estimated $571 million in June. That’s an increase of $40 million from the same period in 2019.
  • South Australia – In July of 2019, SA residents spent $62 million on pokies. One year later, that total had increased to $73 million.
  • Queensland – Despite restrictions on the number of people in pubs and clubs at one time, Queensland made $300 million on pokies in July. This marked the highest total in three years.
  • Victoria – Thanks to a second wave of infections, Victoria remains under a stage four lockdown for the time being. In July of 2019, however, locals and visitors spent $235 million on pokies. When the lockdown is finally over, expect that one-month total to be easily surpassed.
  • Western Australia – Thanks to WA law, electronic gaming machines are only available in casinos. Therefore, there’s no specific data available regarding increases.

Anti-Gambling Advocate

While 80% of adult Aussies engage in some form of gambling each year, there are still a few brave individuals willing to speak out against the practice. One of the more notable is Anna Bardsley, a former problem gambler and current advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform.

Australian gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley

According to Ms. Bardsley, “The money that wasn’t lost in those few months when lockdown was on instead went to small businesses. It went to supermarkets. It went to putting food on the table.”

She went on to say that getting a few month’s relief was helpful to many problem gamblers. However, it wasn’t likely to be enough.

“I know from my own experience it took longer than a few months to rewire my brain.”

Ms. Bardsley also called for additional reforms ranging from $1 bet caps to reduced hours for pubs and clubs.

“Gaming rooms are the only part of a pub that’s open at four o’clock in the morning. Nothing good is happening then.”

Another Voice of Reason

Longtime anti-gambling advocate Tim Costello echoed the sentiments of Ms. Bardsley. He called pokies “an effective economic drain” on the state, pointing out that every dollar wagered on poker machines could’ve been spent on the local economy.

Perhaps most alarming, he pointed out that the events of 2020 could make some citizens more vulnerable to problem gambling. Mr. Costello cited high unemployment rates and additional stress as two of the main contributors.

Food, Liquor and Gambling

Just a short time ago, many parts of the country were still under lockdown. Millions had lost their jobs, and more than 700,000 were forced to apply for Jobseeker benefits. Thanks to lost income, 1.35 million Aussies also applied to access $10,000 of their superannuation.

During this period, the priorities of many Aussies (for better or worse) became evident. Expenditures on travel dropped 33%, while pubs and clubs dipped 45%. Public transport was hit hardest, with revenue falling 58% against the average week.

While certain sectors suffered, others experienced a boom period. Alcohol and tobacco sales rose 22% during the period, while Internet gambling jumped 94%. Food deliveries were tops, enjoying an increase of 277%.

These increases were not welcomed by everyone. In fact, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson issued some especially damning comments. “There is grog chaos all over the country, from Cape York to the Pilbara. With JobSeeker and superannuation withdrawals, the normal level of grog and gambling has gone through the roof.”

Additional Reading

For more news and notes on gambling in Australia, please see the following: