What happens in Vegas should stay there

In the big casinos in Las Vegas, there is no sense of of time. There are no clocks on the football field sized gaming floors and certainly no windows. What’s happening out in the Nevada sunshine might as well be on another planet.

For the punters pouring their greenbacks into the slots – what we call pokies – all focus is on the minute chance they’ll hit the jackpot. 

The sound is much the same as it is in the bigger gaming rooms of our larger clubs here on the South Coast: almost total silence except for the electronic beeping from the machines.

Thankfully, we are a long way from Vegas when it comes to gambling but we should be concerned about the cash consumed by the disproportionate number of poker machines here in the Shoalhaven.

We have a disproportionate number of people on low or fixed incomes who are the least able to afford a flutter when the odds are stacked so heavily against them. And they certainly cannot afford to chance their futures on a full blown gambling habit.

Imagine what the $61 million taken by poker machines in 23 Shoalhaven venues would buy the people parting with that kind of cash. Cast the net wider across the whole of NSW and imagine what the $5.46 billion spent on the pokies between 2015 and 2016 could have achieved. 

We know local clubs employ many people and are the social hub for local communities and for that they do a lot of good. But it’s a stretch to argue the enormous pokie turnover being extracted from one of the poorest areas on the entire NSW coast does not come at significant social cost.

The argument that clubs in the South Coast state electorate employ 728 people, pay $10 million in gaming tax and make a $16.7 million social contribution to the local community is a little thin when you consider the $61 million being spent on the pokies. Clubs in the Shoalhaven donated $313,000 in 2016 under the mandatory ClubGrants scheme, which requires them to donate to community and sporting groups. 

And the supposition most of the pokie revenue is generated by tourists is open to challenge given the region has a 12-week holiday season in a good year and falls quiet outside Christmas-New Year and Easter.

Justin Field’s call for measures to curb problem gambling is not new. We understand it’s expensive to retrofit machines but the net social cost of doing nothing might be much higher.