Gambling support providers say the $44 million dollars lost though poker machines in Latrobe City venues this past year is just part of the problem facing the community.
Latrobe Community Health Service counselling programs manager Ann Briggs said the significant figure of $44,333,821 lost across 13 Valley venues was concerning.
The region’s figure almost quadruples the roughly $12 million spent in Baw Baw Shire’s four venues and is more than double the $21 million spent in Wellington Shire across its eight venues.
Ms Briggs said the amount was only a slight increase from last year’s $43.7 million – a much smaller increase than other years – but also reflected a change in the gambling environment.
“Yes, people are spending money on electronic gambling machines, but now we’ve got internet and telephone betting. So that (pokies spend increase) coupled with the greater accessibility of gambling products – the whole picture is very concerning,” Ms Briggs said
Ms Briggs said gamblers could now place a bet almost anywhere, at any time of the day or night through the internet and smartphone applications.
“I think the accessibility of gambling-related products is enormous,” she said.
“On websites, very nicely, you get beautiful tutorials on how to gamble.”
She said the rise in accessibility came alongside an increase in younger gamblers.
“Unfortunately with online gambling they’re getting younger and they are exposed a lot earlier,” Ms Briggs said.
To keep up with the technology shift, Ms Briggs said LCHS was changing the way it provided its confidential problem gambling counselling and financial counselling services.
“People can access face-to-face counselling, but we’ve now started delivering telephone counselling and we’ll soon use online chatrooms to reach people,” Ms Briggs said.
She said she hoped more people could access help and overcome their fears of stigmatism because they could chat over-the-phone with counsellors outside their immediate area, if they wanted to.
To specifically combat problem gambling at pokies, LCHS worked with venues across the Valley for the past three years.
“We’ve built up some good relationships with the clubs, working to empower venue staff to recognise problem gamblers and give information on how people can be supported,” Ms Briggs said.
The 2013-14 financial year EGM loss figures were released this week by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.