Photo: Loren Elliott/Reuters
Nearly two-thirds of Sydney’s gambling losses come from western Sydney, and lawyers are concerned that the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating problem gambling in the region.
A research paper from Western Sydney University, which calls gambling-related harm a “silent epidemic”, also says three LGAs in western Sydney are responsible for a third of Sydney’s total gambling losses.
The report found that Canterbury-Bankstown accounted for the highest daily losses on electronic slot machines at $1.8 million, followed by $1.7 million in Fairfield and $1.2 million in Cumberland.
This compares to daily losses of just $210,000 in Canada Bay, Hunters Hill and Lane Cove, and $170,000 in daily losses in Mosman and North Sydney.
The results came as no surprise to Christopher Hunt, a senior clinical supervisor at GambleAware, who manages support and advisory services in western Sydney.
“There is a lot of evidence showing that these LGAs have a combination of both large deprived areas, many new migrants and a large number of poker machines.”
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Hunt said gambling can often be motivated by a “desire to improve one’s situation,” which can fuel gambling addiction in low socioeconomic areas.
“People in deprived areas are more drawn to gambling because they are under financial pressure. They look at gambling as a way to relieve some of their burden.”
“Given that money is often scarce in financially disadvantaged households, even a relatively small amount of gambling can have a disproportionate impact on family profits.”
Hunt added that the clinics are seeing more and more people in financial distress, adding that the cost-of-living crisis exacerbated gambling addiction.
“So because of rising interest rates, rising rents, rising food bills, people who already gamble are increasingly turning to gambling, to try and recoup some of the losses.”
“But it is clear that they suffer greater gambling losses as a result. So cost-of-living pressures are really straining people in western Sydney right now, adding to the gambling problem that we’re seeing.
The report also showed that there were more machines per person in the region, with one Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) for every 105 people in western Sydney, compared to one EGM for every 113 people in the rest of Sydney.
WSU report author Tom Nance said the region’s “over-saturation” of slot machines made things more challenging.
“Simply put, if there’s a casino on every corner, people are more likely to suffer gambling-related harm.”
“It’s not about an individual necessarily making bad choices. It is about structural issues, such as socio-economic deprivation, such as over-saturation of electronic gaming machines, such as a lack of art, culture and leisure opportunities in western Sydney compared to the rest of Sydney, that actually contribute to this.”
Lakemba MP, Jihad Dib, said that while it was important to look at gambling in a holistic way, the “pressure” of the crisis on the cost of living worried him.
“People are having a hard time right now, harder than I’ve ever seen. And I’m really concerned, especially since interest rates (and rents) have risen so much; this has a huge impact on already tight family budgets”
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“I can’t claim to know the reasoning behind someone’s gambling decisions, but it’s worth considering whether someone who is under financial pressure can take this risk because they see a potential win as a quick financial fix.”
Gambling and poker machines have become a major issue in the NSW election, with Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet looking to introduce a cashless gambling card and Labor wanting to see the trial.
A ClubsNSW spokesperson cited the $300 million contributed by the local clubs to community initiatives in the Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Cumberland Council LGAs.
“These funds support local youth sports clubs and a range of valuable community and charitable groups, as well as helping to build roads, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.”
They said the Gaming Code of Practice adopted by all ClubsNSW members, which includes regular welfare checks, additional training for staff and family-initiated exclusions, would address the issue.