Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Family fight where pokies prosper

In the past five years, instances of family violence have increased by fifty per cent across Victorian communities, from an average of 5.5 to 8.3 per thousand people. Recently-released data from the Victorian Commission of Gambling and Liquor Regulation indicates family violence rates may be linked to pokies.

More pokies, more crime
Across the state, economic losses at electronic gaming machines have declined slightly in the past year, likely the result of Victoria’s ATM ban in pokies clubs. But community-level data from 2012 highlights a more sobering story: there is a higher rate of violence in communities with higher gambling losses per person. On average, communities with low pokies losses reported about seven instances of family violence per thousand people. On the other hand, communities with high losses reported an average of ten instances per thousand people. The difference may seem small, but it is enough people to fill two Rod Laver arenas.

Communities that spend more on pokies (per person) experience, on average, higher rates of family violence. Medians based on data from: Victoria Police and Victorian Commission of Gambling and Liquor Regulation

Although the Commission data does not state that pokies directly cause violence, a report from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office found that “gambling can lead to family dysfunction and domestic violence including spouse and child abuse.” A separate Department of Justice report stated gambling was second only to drug use in its connection to crime. In the report, researchers found the link between pokies and crime remained positive and significant even after taking other factors—such as the size of the Local Government Area and wealth—into account.

Reverend Tim Costello, AO and member of Enough Pokies in Castlemaine (EPIC) agrees there is a link between pokies and family violence. He said that the gambling machines are “like locusts in a tree. It just strips the whole orchard bare…I’ve sat with families who have been utterly ruined.”

Click on each Local Government Area for population, family violence and pokies spending rates in 2012. The darker shading represents higher net pokies expenditures per adult.

Local community victorious over pokies
Last Thursday, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) upheld an appeal from the Mount Alexander Shire Council and EPIC, agreeing that installing 65 new pokies would have "a negative impact on the community".

Mr. Costello was pleased with EPIC's victory. "It stops the tide of the pokies lobby getting whatever it wants against community opinion and concerns,’’ Mr Costello said.

Political donations drive policy
The gaming lobby has been working hard to prevent pokies profits from dipping any further. The lobby has argued it makes a vital contribution to the state's economy. Vegas Poker Machines CEO, Mr. Ian Goldfingers said, “Our company alone has provided over 1,300 jobs in Victoria.” 

According to the 2012 Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data, the company Vegas Poker Machines was the largest Liberal Party donor during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.  

The AEC numbers showed the hospitality and gaming industry donated nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to politicians, accounting for one-fifth of all political donations in 2012. Andrew Norton of the Grattan Institute wrote that "...the main industry players for 2011-12 were industry groups involved in pokies regulation and the carbon tax." 
Source: Australian Electoral Commission

Despite spending by the gaming lobby, legislation was passed in 2012 to ban ATMs and install pre-committment technology across Victoria. The Department of Justice plans to publish a follow-up report in 2018, after laws have taken full effect.

 Pokies, Family Violence and Political Donations: An Explainer

Think you can do something with these numbers? The raw data for this article is public. 
See anything interesting? Contact squirrel.main @

Author disclaimer: Squirrel Main holds stock in Vegas Poker Machines. Also, the data and companies in this article are fictitious creations for a University assignment.

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