By Andrew Starke
Northern Territorians are losing more than three times as much money on twice as many electronic gaming machines (pokies) at Territory clubs and hotels than they were 12 years ago.
A study of poker machine expenditure in the Northern Territory has found that the number of pokies in community venues across the Territory increased from 495 in 1996/97 to 1173 in 2008/09.
Total expenditure (money spent minus any winnings) jumped from $16.2 million to more than $78.6 million in the same period.
In the Territory’s community venues and casinos combined, there were 2059 poker machines in the 2008/09 financial year with a combined player loss of $170.2 million. In the casinos alone, player loss on pokies was $91.5 million.
The study’s co-author and leading gambling researcher at Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research, Dr Martin Young, said Darwin’s northern suburbs, Palmerston and Alice Springs’s northern and western suburbs were now the jurisdiction’s pokie machine “hot spots”.
Dr Young said the growth in the number of machines was a concern.
“Problem gambling is partly determined by how easily people can access gambling venues, including pokies.”
He also said that the research, which is funded by the NT Government’s Community Benefit Fund, was essential for the design of effective gambling regulation.
“What this research tells us is that evidence-based gambling harm minimisation policy should focus on supply. In almost every venue where the number of pokies has increased, we’ve seen an increase in spending and player loss.”
The study also revealed that gambling expenditure followed a seasonal pattern.
“Every year, more money is spent on pokie machines in the winter and less in the summer. We don’t actually know what proportion is spent by Territorians or by tourists,” Dr Young said.
Considering the first pokie machine outside of the Territory’s two casinos was switched on in the Nightcliff Sports Club on New Year’s Day 1996, the study has revealed a dramatic shift in NT gambling activity.
But unlike other parts of Australia, the study revealed no evidence of a correlation between the number of pokies and social disadvantage within the venues local area.