Valley spends millions on pokies

LATROBE Valley punters spent more than $28.5 million on poker machines between July 2011 and January this year, according to figures just released.

Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation figures showed spending in January was slightly down on previous months but still stood at more than $3.7 million while preceding months all hovered around, or over, the $4 million mark.

Total electronic gaming machine expenditure in the Latrobe Valley, to the end of January, shows the region has continued to spend at levels which saw it identified as the highest per capita spending region in country Victoria in 2010-11.

In the 2010-11 financial year Latrobe City gamblers spent an average of $846 per adult on EGMs with $47.4 million passing through machines in that period, an increase on the previous year.

Only the cities of Greater Geelong and Ballarat, both with significantly larger populations, ranked above Latrobe City in total expenditure.

The latest figures come at a time of intensified debate about the Federal Government’s poker machine reform package, with Independent MP Andrew Wilkie reversing his support for the watered-down package, threatening to vote down the legislation if it is not overhauled.

Federal Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said she was “extremely concerned” Mr Wilkie had moved away from his previous support for the government’s legislation, putting it at risk of failure.

She said the Federal Government had been pursuing a trial of mandatory pre-commitment in the Act for almost a year but Mr Wilkie has raised doubts about the effectiveness of the trial and suggested a return to his original proposal for mandatory pre-commitment and $1 maximum bets.

Mr Wilkie withdrew his guaranteed agreement with the government earlier this year after it reneged on an agreement to roll out mandatory pre-commitment technology by 2014.

Meanwhile Latrobe Community Health Service continued its efforts to tackle the local impact of problem gambling,

It’s most recent Gambler’s Help Gippsland newsletter refers to a discussion paper , ‘Women and Gambling: Issues of difference’, which indicated women problem gamblers were more likely to gamble to ‘escape’. The newsletter said “generally the escape gambler tends to be someone who is playing the pokies…to escape from thoughts or situations they do not want to confront or cannot confront”.

The article detailed how ‘escape’ gambling escalated from a fun and social activity to one that saw the gambler end up in a cycle of lies and insurmountable losses, leading to “increased stress and isolation”.

Gamblers Help Gippsland now has a Facebook page to promote community awareness on gambling.

Brochures and posters are also available and anyone wishing to access advice or counselling about their gambling, or for people affected by someone else’s gambling, should contact Gambler’s Help Gippsland on 1800 242 696.