With the Victorian state election looming, Victorian Green Party leader Samantha Ratnam has announced on Twitter a plan to reform gambling laws in the state.
“Today the Greens announce their plan for a slots-free Victoria”, She wrote.
“Since their inception in the state 30 years ago, the Victorians have lost $66 billion on slots and we are currently on course for record losses this year.”
Does Mrs Ratnam know her gaming history? Did the Victorians Lose $66 Billion on Poker Machines?
RMIT ABC Fact Check investigated.
Mrs Ratnam’s claim is an understatement.
Data released by the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) shows that since their inception in 1992, Victorians have lost a nominal $65.4 billion from club and hotel poker machines.
Once adjusted for inflation and expressed in 2022 dollars, that figure is $89.7 billion.
Additionally, the VGCCC data does not include losses stemming from the more than 2,600 poker machines at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, which is about a tenth of the state’s total.
It is worth noting that poker machine losses have not increased evenly over the past 30 years.
The impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns has led to a sharp reduction in poker machine losses in recent years.
While there has been a strong rebound in recent months, data adjusted for inflation and household income show a long-term decline in losses from the early 2000s to the onset of the pandemic.
The context of the claim
In her tweet, Ms Ratnam said Victoria was “on track for record losses this year”.
in the a second tweetShe outlined a series of policies the Greens wanted to implement to limit losses, including betting limits, higher taxes, a poker machine buyback program and a ban on political donations from the gambling industry.
The Victorian Pre-Election Budget Update, released in November, reports “increased electronic gaming machine (EGM) activity” and forecasts an increase in tax revenues from poker machines this fiscal year.
This activity follows a sharp drop in casualties in recent years as the state imposed strict lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Charles Livingstone, an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and chief of the Department of Gambling and Social Determinants at Monash University, told Fact Check that the monthly data appeared to show a for the first three months of 2022-23 Increase in poker machine losses.
“It’s come back with a vengeance from what we’ve seen from the monthly data released so far,” he said.
Prior to the pandemic, however, poker machine losses were well below levels of the early 2000s by various measures.
Poker machines in Victoria
Electronic gambling machines, or “pokies” as they are colloquially known, began appearing in Victorian hotels and clubs in July 1992, following legislation passed by the Kirner government in 1991.
dr Livingstone told Fact Check that the “most authoritative source of current data” on poker machine losses in Victoria was published by the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission.
In its data set, the VGCCC refers differently to “expenses” and “player losses” at poker machines.
Annette Kimmitt, CEO of VGCCC, told Fact Check in an email that the two terms are used interchangeably within the dataset and are defined as “the amount of money deposited into slot machines less the amount of money withdrawn from slot machines within the venue ” have been defined.
For the years 1992/93 to 2021/22, data is available for accounting for full financial years.
In addition, at the time of Ms Ratnam’s lawsuit on November 2, data for the months of July, August and September 2022 were also available.
Associate Professor and Executive Director of the South Australian Center for Economic Studies at the University of Adelaide, Michael O’Neil, told Fact Check that national statistics on poker machine losses are also available. This data, broken down by state, is released on a rotating basis by each state and territory.
National statistics were last released by the Queensland Treasury in April 2021 and cover the period up to 2018-19.
In an email, a spokeswoman for Ms Ratnam Fact Check said her claim was based on analysis conducted by the Alliance for Gambling Reform using VGCCC data.
adjustment for inflation
Ms Kimmitt told Fact Check that the VGCCC data was only nominally released.
dr Livingstone said these numbers could also be adjusted to account for inflation, which reflects the “real” value of gambling losses over time.
The national figures, which are only available up to 2018-19, are published on both a nominal and real basis. Fact Check adjusted the VGCCC data using the same methodology as the national figures.
Other analyzes included in the national publication include losses as a percentage of disposable household income and losses per capita.
What the numbers show
On a nominal basis, the data shows that between July 1992 and September 2022, Victorians lost a total of $65.4 billion from poker machines at clubs and hotels across Victoria – just below Ms Ratnam’s claim of $66 billion.
As the chart below shows, nominal player losses increased steadily after the introduction of poker machines in July 1992, before remaining relatively stable over the next two decades.
Fiscal years ending in June 2020, 2021 and 2022 saw significant falls in player losses as Victoria imposed a series of COVID-related lockdowns.
Once adjusted for inflation and expressed in 2022 dollars, the data shows that player losses totaled $89.7 billion over the same period.
The inflation-adjusted figures also illustrate a longer-term decline in poker machine losses from 2002-03.
As the chart below shows, this trend can also be observed in the national statistics which calculate Victorian player losses as a percentage of disposable household income up to 2018-19.
Melbourne’s Crown Casino
The VGCCC data includes losses stemming from poker machines at clubs and hotels across the state, but excludes losses stemming from the more than 2,600 poker machines at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, which account for about 10 percent of the state’s total.
dr Livingstone told Fact Check that this means the VGCCC’s dataset significantly underestimated the total value of poker machine losses statewide.
Since 2016-17, Crown Casino has isolated the ‘operating revenue’ of the Victorian ‘Main Floor Machines’ in its annual reports. The latest report available at the time of the claim was for the 2020-21 financial year.
In addition to club and hotel losses, Crown Casino’s poker machines recorded an additional $1.9 billion in revenue between 2016-17 and 2020-21.
As a result, even on a nominal basis, poker machine losses in Victoria have far exceeded Ms Ratnam’s claim of a total of $66 billion in losses over the past 30 years.
Once adjusted for inflation and expressed in 2022 dollars, the krona figure is $2 billion.
What the experts say
dr Livingstone told Fact Check that gambling revenue is a significant tax revenue base in the state.
“Total gaming revenue was over 11 per cent of Victoria’s state tax revenue during the slots peak, which is now down to around 8 per cent – and most of that comes from slots,” he said.
“What we’re looking at is a system where the state government gets a reasonably significant portion of their state revenue from this source.”
Mr O’Neil told Fact Check that recent casino research has also highlighted the significant social harm associated with poker machines.
“The Real Effects/Stories of Excessive Gambling [and] bad regulation is the harm it causes and crimes that are often associated with gambling, as we’ve seen with the various casino inquiries,” he said in an email.
Main Researcher: Sonam Thomas
- Samantha Ratnam, Twitter, November 2, 2022
- Samantha Ratnam, Twitter, November 2, 2022
- RMIT ABC Fact Check, Josh Frydenberg says Melbourne is the world’s most locked down city. Is that true?, October 25, 2021
- Australian Institute for Family Studies, How Electronic Slot Machines Work, June 2017
- Victorian Gaming and Casino Control Commission, Australian Gambling History and Analysis, October 1999
- Victorian Gaming and Casino Control Commission, Spending Data, 2022
- Queensland Treasury, Australian Gambling Statistics, 2021
- Alliance for Gambling Reform, press release, 2022
- Victorian Gaming and Casino Control Commission, Slots Caps and Limits, 6 July 2018
- Crown Casino Annual Reports 2018 – 2020, 2022
- Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and License, Report 15 October 2021
- Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance, Pre-election budget update, 10 November 2022
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