Queenslanders lost $4000 a minute on poker machines in August – the most ever recorded in a month across the state.
Experts were unable to explain the spike, but Mission Australia Queensland claimed up to 40 per cent of regular punters had a “problem”.
Gambling Help Network chairman Derek Tuffield said he believed some gamblers were still trying to “win their way out of financial trouble” but he could not attribute the surge to one factor.
The rise comes as the Gillard Government faces pressure over efforts to help problem gamblers with controversial pre-commitment technology.
Labor is locked into pushing through the reforms by May after Independent Andrew Wilkie based his support for the Government on the overhaul.
The controversial pokies plan is facing bitter opposition from the clubs industry, which has launched a targeted campaign against Labor MPs.
Figures released by the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing show that poker machines in Queensland took more than $1.25 billion in January-August this year, compared to $1.18 billion in the same period last year.
In August last year, pokies took about $169 million in the worst month for losses in 2010 – about $10 million less than the almost $179 million poured into poker machines during the same month this year.
The August 2011 figure equates to losses of about $5.8 million per day or $4000 per minute, and comes as the State Government is forecast to rake in $568 million from gambling taxes this financial ye
Under the Wilkie plan, poker machines will be reprogrammed to cap losses at $120 an hour rather than $1200 an hour while lower-intensity machines will not require any form of pre-commitment.
If the legislation fails, Mr Wilkie will withdraw support for the Government, potentially forcing an election.
While Queensland has forged ahead with voluntary pre-commitment technology, the clubs industry opposes any mandatory requirement, saying it will not only send clubs broke, but will force gamblers online.
Queensland Labor MPs Shayne Neumann in Blair, Graham Perrett in Moreton, Kirsten Livermore in Capricornia, Yvette D’Ath in Petrie and Bernie Ripoll in Oxley have all had their heartlands targeted with their faces plastered on glossy brochures that read: “Why don’t you stand up for your community?”
Returned and Services League branches have joined the chorus of discontent and Clubs Australia yesterday released research showing pre-commitment would drive problem gamblers online.
A study of 3000 people in Norway, commissioned by a gaming company, found that problem gambling rose from 1.3 per cent in 2007 to 2.1 per cent in 2010.
Mr Wilkie yesterday said he was confident the Government would pass the legislation, adding that Clubs Australia was “prepared to say or do anything” to protect its members’ deep pockets.
Clubs Queensland CEO Doug Flockhart said while the new financial year traditionally brought an increase in pokie revenue, he could not explain the sudden rise at a time when retail forecasts were grim and saving rates high.
He said that despite the high pokie revenue rates this year, clubs were still struggling and smaller operators faced closure if the Federal Government went ahead with its plans to limit gambling on poker machines by 2014.
Western District Community and Sporting Club manager Sheryl Dowley said her club, which was flooded in January, had only just brought the not-for-profit organisation’s 20 machines back online.
Ms Dowley said the club, at Chelmer, in Brisbane’s west, was still struggling to meet the costs of maintaining its sports fields, with income down about 50 per cent since the floods.
Ms Dowley said while gaming revenue once contributed up to 50 per cent of the club’s income, the figure was now closer to 25 per cent.
“Gaming is just awful at the moment and I would be surprised if many of the smaller places are making much money,” she said.