BALLARAT community leaders and public health experts have joined forces to fight for poker machine reform.
The Ballarat Action on Gambling Harm group is made up of people dealing with repercussions of gambling addiction, from Ballarat Community Health, the Salvation Army, Anglicare, Central Highlands PCP and other agencies, as well as Federation University researchers.
“We’re definitely not anti-gambling, but it’s about making it safer, just like any product,” Federation University Australia researcher Deborah Greenslade said.
The group is calling for $1 spins and a limit of $120 an hour, a move supported by the City of Ballarat.
Anglicare’s Geoff Ryan said the impact of pokies in Ballarat was felt immediately when they were introduced to the city.
“Demand for emergency relief went up by 80 per cent when they came in. They tend to take over people’s lives,” he said.
Salvation Army captain Claire Emerton said greater limits on pokies would help problem gamblers.
“Limits on bets would make pokies safer,” she said.
Another side of the campaign is to raise awareness of the dangers, because those with gambling addiction do not often publicise the consequences.
“We are seeking to raise awareness of the harms, because people don’t often speak about it because they feel ashamed,” Ms Greenslade said.
Sebastopol Bowling Club general manager Rodney Beckwith said restrictions on pokies were already strong and there were other gambling sectors in need of greater regulation.
“Gaming venues are the most highly regulated part of the industry. Pokies are an easy target because we’re a physical presence, (but) if you go online there’s not so much scrutiny,” he said.
Mr Beckwith also said gaming venues gave back to the community, sponsoring charities to sporting clubs, among other things.
Ms Greenslade said the clubs only contributed a “small fraction” of revenue to community organisations, and that was well outweighed by the harm caused by gambling problems.