Northern Rivers pokies spending 'on the up'
POKIES sucked more than $200 million from Northern Rivers gamblers in the last financial year, with the Alliance for Gambling Reform calling for urgent action over the chronic social issue.
Tweed Shire led the spend, with hooked punters putting $1 billion into more than 2000 machines, to lose a total of $96.9 million.
Tweed Shire's population is double that of Lismore but it boasts four times the number of pokies, with 2084 machines to Lismore's 470.
Lismore punters lost $18 million over the same period, while Ballina gamblers lost almost $24 million. Richmond Valley spent $11.8 million.
In total, $207 million was lost across the region's 4967 machines, figures which include the Clarence Valley and Tenterfield.
Monash University gambling researcher and public health expert Dr Charles Livingstone said the money being spent on pokies in the Northern Rivers was going in one direction only.
"It's certainly on the up - and the amount of money that's being shifted into the coffers of the pokie operators is huge," he said.
The public health expert said poker machines were as addictive as cocaine and contributed to family breakups, domestic violence and other harmful social effects.
"62% of the money that goes through pokies comes from people with some degree of a gambling problem," he said.
"It's money that's not being used to support the necessities of life, like paying the mortgage.
"It's very undermining of local communities."
He also said the money spent in pokie machines had a poor multiplier through the local economy compared with other types of spending.
"$1 million spent in pokies generates about two jobs, while $1 million spent in a restaurant would generate about 20 jobs," Dr Livingstone said.
Sporting clubs which double as pokie venues also pay no corporate tax, and are effectively getting a number of subsidies from government to operate a product which gambling reform campaigners say undermines local economies.
Dr Livingstone accused the State Government of having a vested interest in avoiding poker machine reform by making it difficult to access the statistics published in this story.
"(It's an) attempt by the New South Wales Government to keep it under wraps ... (because) if people knew how much money was coming from the regions they would be absolutely shocked," he said.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform is campaigning to introduce measures to reduce the harm of poker machines, including reducing the maximum bets and implement changes to machines to make them less addictive.
ONE ARMED BANDITS
Poker machine losses 2015-16:
Tweed $96.9 million / 2084 machines
Byron $12.9 million / 429 machines
Ballina $23.9 million / 574 machines
Lismore $18 million / 470 machines
Richmond Valley $11.8 million / 378
Kyogle-Tenterfield $18.2 million / 181
Clarence Valley $26.2 million / 851
Total $207,961,645 / 4967 machines