According to the latest report issued by the Office of Liquor and Gambling, Australian gamblers spent $173.18 million on pokies during the first quarter of 2010. This figure is down several million from the same period last year, marking the third consecutive quarter of declining government revenue from the sector, with tax takes dropping lower every month.
According to Ian Horne, general manager of Australian Hotels Association SA, there are two things to blame for declining pokies revenue, though the two are closely related. First, the smoking ban introduced back in November 2007 has driven many gamblers away; and second, competition from online gambling sites in Australia.
“Our biggest challenge is online gambling,” says Horne. “Sports betting is enormous and we’re being inundated with it.”
Because many popular online gambling sites are hosted offshore, they are unregulated and untaxed. Money spent gambling online is effectively removed from the local economy.
“When our revenue’s down, government revenue’s down. That means less funding for police, hospitals, schools and other programs,” says Horne.
Anti-gambling senator Xenophon agrees that this is an issue. He is critical of pokies, calling them “unsustainable”, but is equally frustrated with the current state of online gambling in the country. Xenophon notes that reliable numbers describing the amount of money spent on internet gambling in Australia are not accurate since most sites are unregulated, or are regulated overseas.
Xenophon’s latest attack targeted free iPhone casino games, especially the ones that look and play like pokies. Even though these games don’t involve real money bets, they are accessible to children, and the senator is concerned that they will lead to the development of gambling habits in young people.