Pokie losses fall across Northern Grampians Shire

PUNTERS in the Northern Grampians Shire lost almost $4.9 million in the 2013-14 financial year according to data released by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

The figure of $4,875,816 is almost $70,000 less than for the previous 12 months and a massive $719,205 down on the figure for the 2011-12 financial year.

Northern Grampians Shire Council Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin said lower gaming revenue presented as a double edged sword for sectors of the municipality.

"The lower figures mean big benefits for some of the social aspects of society, however, it does impact on retail, but where a business can diversify, a family finds it much harder to recover from some of the social problems that can arise from problem gambling," he said.

The 2013-14 figure is the lowest recorded in the last 12 years. The highest occurred in 2008-09 when in the wake of the Rudd Government's financial stimulus package Northern Grampians residents splurged 5,692,137 at gaming venues across the shire.

Currently, there are 88 electronic gaming machines in use at three separate locations (Stawell Harness Racing Club - 30, Town Hall Hotel - 23 and St Arnaud Sporting Club - 35) across the Northern Grampians Shire.

People appear to be flushed with the most cash in August, with total expenditure for that month in each of the last three years the highest of any other month of the year.

Players forked out as much as $457,905 at the pokies in August 2013 and as little as $356,802 in December of the same year.

Town Hall Hotel Manager, David Stanes said overall the figures are positive for the community, but present a challenge for his business moving forward.

Mr Stanes said for 16 years he was able to give some of the revenue raised by gaming machines directly back to the community.

He estimates he delivered sponsorship and donations to the tune of almost $1.7 million over that time, but state government regulation over the last two years has now made that near impossible.

“The reality is the revenue we make from our gaming venue now goes towards some new tunnel in Melbourne,” he said.

Mr Stanes said the amount of tax the business pays has risen from eight percent when the Tatts Pokies licence expired and was not renewed in 2012, to 59 percent today.

“We are down year on year, but with some positivity about the potential for a research laboratory looking into Dark Matter we have experienced a bump in the last couple of months,” Mr Stanes said.

Council’s Chief Executive Officer, Justine Linley said the latest figures are no real surprise to council.

“The three venues in the Northern Grampians Shire have all reported a downturn in the popularity and attractiveness of gaming machines in recent years, with patrons often choosing to spend their limited discretionary money on other forms of entertainment,” she said.

“A positive is that all venues have diversified and are placing a strong emphasis on the more social aspects of live music, good food and local wine.

“Our residents and visitors can still have a bet, but it is more about the atmosphere and environment and experience.”

Ms Linley said the downturn in electronic gaming could be countered, in part, by the increase in patronage of country racing, both harness and thoroughbreds.

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