According to new data, South Australians set a 13-year record for playing pokies following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Pubs were temporarily closed to help halt the spread of the Coronavirus, but now punters are rushing back.

In fact, the average monthly expenditure has been $68.81 million since July, with that month bringing in a high of $73.21 million. The latter is the highest total since August of 2007.

While the numbers fell to $65.46 million in October, they serve as a reminder of how much Aussies love their poker machines. As further proof, here’s a month-by-month breakdown for 2020 (minus numbers from the Adelaide Casino):

  • January – $57.57 million
  • February – $54.07 million
  • March – $37.13 million
  • April – COVID Shutdown
  • May – COVID Shutdown
  • June – $1.92 million
  • July – $73.21 million
  • August – $70.99 million
  • September – $65.59 million
  • October – $65.46 million

At this rate, it’s reasonable to assume that numbers will eventually fall back to levels from the start of the year. However, the recent spike provided a much-needed surge for pubs and clubs that were on shaky economic ground due to forced closures.

Cause for Concern?

While the uptick in pokies has been a shot in the arm for some businesses, it’s also generating more than a little concern. These worries are best summed up by the following quotes from Ross Womersley, chief executive of the South Australia Council of Social Services:

“From our perspective, it’s much worse than going back to normal, it has gone boonta.”

He continued, “The withdrawal from poker machines for many people with real gambling issues was a godsend, because, for the first time in ages, they were in positions where they were not spending that money and they were able to have it available to pay for their life requirements.”

“We do know that there was some drift to other gambling activities but the real concern for us is if people are putting even more back in that has to be a reflection of a real increase in potential harm.”

Downplaying the Impact

Meanwhile, the hospitality sector has downplayed the impact of the rising pokie numbers. According to Ian Horne, state chief of the Australian Hotels Association, “People who like playing pokies did not play them for three months, so there’s a little bit of pent-up demand. But it is hard to see how it is sustainable because, as other things are opening up all the time, it will be on the wane.”

Ian Horne of the Australian Hotels Association

Horne added that gambling in the state has been dropping since 2006/07, and it’s unlikely to ever reach the all-time annual high of $792 million again. He also pointed out that the sector’s tax requirements send 40% of gambling revenue to the SA government.

Other Forms of Gambling Prosper

While pokies have surged in popularity, it’s not the only form of gambling to generate greater interest. In May, Google data showed that Internet searches for “online poker” and “online casinos Australia” had quadrupled since the beginning of the pandemic.

The peak for gambling-related online searches came on March 22. Not coincidentally, this was the same day that clubs and gaming facilities closed by the thousands in compliance with the government-mandated lockdown.

While it may have nothing to do with the pandemic, the popularity of lotto tickets have also been on the rise. According to the Sunday Mail, residents of South Australia have spent $552 million on the lotto in the past financial year. That’s up from $539 million in the previous year.

Gambling Help in Australia

Currently, the government of South Australia operates 28 different services to help those with gambling problems. Therapy and counselling are offered at no charge, and anything you talk about will remain entirely confidential. Services are designed not only for gamblers, but also for friends and family who’ve been adversely affected.

According to Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink, “This year’s state budget committed $750,000 over two years to the Gambler’s Rehabilitation Fund, which funds programs and services for problem gamblers to offset a reduction in funding from the industry while gaming venues were closed due to COVID-19 health-related restrictions.”

There are two important resources to keep in mind:

  • 24/7 Gambling Helpline – 1800 858 858
  • Gambling Help Online website – www.gamblinghelponline.org.au

Additional Reading

For more Aussie gambling news, please see the following:

  • Tasmanians Lose Record Amount on Pokies
  • Crown Resorts Drama Continues
  • Queensland Project Omits Casino from Title
  • World Poker Tour Makes Australian Debut