Greens MP Michael Berkman has called for the Australian government to set up a pokies buyback scheme. Bekman made the statement after learning Queensland residents are saving almost $7 million per day during lockdown measures.
Australians, like the majority of the world, are in lockdown due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There are more than 4.1 million confirmed cases globally and more than 280,000 confirmed deaths. Governments around the world have implemented strict social distancing measures, including the closure of casinos, pubs and clubs. Massive savings from the inability to play pokies have resulted because of lockdown.
Berkman pointed out Queenslanders lost an average of $6.8 million per day on pokies before lockdown. This equates to $4,640 per minute, which is nothing short of staggering. He is calling for Queensland to implement a similar scheme to the ACT government.
“The Premier said last year she wanted fewer pokies in Queensland; this is her chance. The government has offered a $50 million pokies tax deferral, but they want to see pokies restart and keep sucking Queenslanders dry. If we manage to reduce the number of pokies by just 20%, that could put $480 million back into households and local small business every single year.”
Berkman’s War On Pokies Started Before Lockdown
Mr Berkman’s war on pokies started way before any lockdown measures came into force. He took exception to a popular family-friendly pub inside the Indooroopilly shopping centre been allowed to install 45 pokies. The venue got the green light despite objections from the local community.
“In the long term we need to phase out pokies from pubs and clubs but this is an important first step. Venues should reopen as vibrant community hubs. We should be willing to support them to transition away from gambling revenue with a pokies buyback.”
Berkman called for the government to start the scheme with the Pig ‘N’ Whistle in the Indooroopilly shopping centre.
Lockdown has Saved Australians $1.5 Billion From Losses
It’s difficult to talk about any positives about the COVID-19 lockdown but the Alliance for Gambling Reform has found some. They revealed Australians have saved $1.5 billion from gambling losses since lockdown started. This figure is closer to $2 billion when casinos are counted.
Gambling costs Australians approximately $25 billion annually. Pokies account for the majority of those losses.
Reverend Tom Costello from Alliance for Gambling Reform fired shots at the governments.
“It has been awful reading about the lives lost to COVID-19 in Australia. My heart goes out to the people who have been affected. But the shutdown of poker machines in Australia has undoubtedly saved live too. It has also improved lives for many people for the better.”
These straight-talking comments come as gambling companies prepare to come out of lockdown. Crown Resorts and several other entities held special meetings, detailing how to reopen as soon as possible.
Pubs, clubs, and casinos are desperate to reopen and resume operations. The lockdown has hit this sector hard with many outlets seeing their revenues drop to zero. Plans include reopening at 50% capacity to keep patrons separate from each other.
What Was The ACT Buyback Scheme?
Berkman spoke about the ACT pokies buyback scheme, but what was it?
Labor and the Greens agreed upon a policy to reduce the number of pokies in the ACT by 20%. Venues generate custom and revenue from having pokies so they were compensated.
The government offered $12,000 in cash to small and medium clubs for each machine authorisation they gave up. Larger venues received discounts on land-related costs. $14 million has been spent in an attempt to reduce the number of machines in the ACT to 4,000.
Some 4,982 machines operated at the start of the buyback initiative. Only 4,283 remained on November 30, 2018.
$648,000 of the $14 million cost is made up of cash incentives. The remainder of the money comes from other incentives made available to clubs over the next seven years.
Australians are ready to come out of lockdown. The gambling landscape they return to could look completely different from before.