There are grave concerns problem gamblers may return to the habit that eluded them for more than 200 days, a Wimmera counsellor expressed.
Christine Walker, a Problem Gambling Counsellor who works with affected community members from across the region, said months of positive work during the lockdown could be lost after one flutter on the pokies.
“I am concerned that people that were experiencing gambling related harm prior to COVID-19 may be tempted to gamble again now the pokies have reopened,” Ms Walker said.
“During isolation, venues were closed, and people impacted by gambling started seeking assistance.
Between March 30 and November 8, Horsham’s 119 electronic gaming machines laid dormant.
Based on data from the Victorian Government, from July 1, 2019, to the COVID-19 enforced closure, gamblers lost an average of $16,408 every day.
Based on these figures, the Horsham community saved $3.65 million.
While venues have not returned to full operating capacity, Ms Walker is still worried about the effects it will have on clients.
The Government must introduce provisions to minimise the harms of gambling as soon as possible.
Dr Tim Read, Victoria Greens
“Even with the pokie venues restricted to ten people in the gaming room at one time, and a limit of one visit per day for no longer than 90 minutes, we are concerned that people will be tempted to gamble again,” she said.
Earlier this year, Ms Walker said a new trend had quickly emerged since the state-imposed closure of all gaming venues across Victoria.
“The gaming venues are popular because they filled a need, such as socialisation or the opportunity to zone out.
Fortunately, the Problem Gambling Counsellor said help is still available.
“If you, a friend or family member would like support, Grampians Community Health can offer counselling and assistance to self-exclude from the pokies,” she added.
“Please call 5358 7400 so that we can assist you.”
Ms Walker’s concerns echo similar sentiments by the Victorian Greens, who called on the State Government to introduce dollar bets and jackpot limits to curb the harms of problem gambling.
Dr Tim Read, the party’s acting spokesperson for gambling, said Victoria should not return to its old spending habits.
“It’s great that we’re moving towards a Covid-normal, but there are still hundreds of thousands of Victorians that have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, increasing the harms of problem gambling,” he said.
“The Government must introduce provisions to minimise the harms of gambling as soon as possible – things like dollar bets, jackpot limits and restricted opening hours.”
The Greens also want to see restrictions placed on the opening hours of gambling venues to bring them in line with venues in other states.
In NSW and Queensland, pokies losses have increased since their venues reopened, with Queensland, in particular, seeing a massive 32 per cent increase in losses compared to the same months last year. Similar data is not available in Victoria until December 18.
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