There has only been a slight increase in the number of machines here since May 2009, from 380 to 387.
There has only been a slight increase in the number of machines here since May 2009, from 380 to 387. Brett Wortman

Country folk gamble more

GYMPIE punters are blowing a million dollars a month on poker machines.

That's $32,000 a day or $1400 every hour - a fair chunk of cash for a region with 7.2% unemployment and the second worst rent stress in the state.

There are almost 400 poker machines registered within the boundaries of the Gympie Region and more than 3400 throughout the Wide Bay Burnett, where punters flush away about $10 million a month.

A new report by the Roy Morgan Gambling Monitor has found that regional and rural residents are more likely than capital city dwellers to have played poker machines in the past 12 months, with 31% of country folk having a go on the pokies compared to 22% of those living in capital cities.

Country folk are also more likely to place a bet, buy a lottery or scratch ticket, and play Keno.

GYMPIE punters are not losing too much more on poker machines than they were three years ago.

Last year they blew slightly more - up to almost $1.3 million in July and again in August - compared to $1 million a month this year. And there has only been a slight increase in the number of machines here since May 2009, from 380 to 387.

Member for Gympie David Gibson said yesterday while the Gympie figures were concerning, they needed to be looked at in the context that Australia had always been a nation of gamblers.

"Indeed, early reports regarding the Gympie Goldfields often made mention of gambling as a sign of its prosperity and indeed in 1905 it was reported that 'Gambling in (Gympie) hotels was very rife, and one speaker said he was told of 200 men in one hotel on Sunday, where gambling was going on. Statements were also made that police were in hotels on Sunday'." (The Sydney Morning Herald).

"For me the real concern isn't just the pokies but the increasing opportunities to gamble online," Mr Gibson said.

"For the people who already have gambling problems this increased access to gambling will increase opportunity to lose money anywhere, anytime.

"I recognise that gambling isn't for everyone, but neither is alcohol or smoking. What we have to balance is the impacts on the community against the rights of the individual."

Mayor Ron Dyne said he was concerned that people were losing money but "it is after all a matter of choice and today we have too many people telling us what is best for us and what we should do and not do".

Federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie this week offered his "reluctant" support to the Federal Government's poker machine reforms.

Mr Wilkie said on Tuesday he had secured two "very important" amendments to the bill after months of negotiations with the government.

The first amendment meant specific reference would be made in the bill to the mandatory pre-commitment trial in the Australian Capital Territory and ensured only independent organisations were involved in its implementation.

Mr Wilkie said this would safeguard the trial in law.

The second amendment meant all poker machines would be capable of changing to mandatory pre-commitment at the "flick of a switch".

Mr Wilkie said while the changes were a "shadow of the reforms that were agreed after the 2010 federal election between the Prime Minister and myself", he would support the bill.

"I've got to be realistic - what's on the table now is the best we can get," he said. Mr Wilkie said he would not be the "person standing in the way of getting something done".

In January, the Federal Government walked away from its deal with Mr Wilkie to roll out mandatory pre-commitment for all poker machines.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the time, the legislation did not have enough support in the Parliament to be passed.

She instead flagged a trial of mandatory pre-commitment in the ACT and a plan to expand pre-commitment technology to all poker machines by 2016.

Mr Wilkie said the watered down reform would set a "very important precedent" and would make it easier for future governments to "go further" in combating problem gambling.

"It will be historic for the Federal Government to, for the first time, intervene in the regulation of poker machine gambling in Australia," he said.

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale and anti-poker-machine campaigner Nick Xenophon said they were disappointed with Mr Wilkie's decision.

They said they would not support the bill in its current form. Mr Di Natale said the Greens would support the reform if the "bill was improved".

This would include legislating to make all machines $1 bet-ready and setting a date for the implementation of $1 bets or mandatory pre-commitment.

Gympie Times

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