BALLARAT punters have lost nearly $1 billion on gaming machines since pokies were introduced just over 20 years ago.
A forum at the Ballarat Town Hall on Thursday also heard more than $50 million has been put through pokies annually since 2004-05, which equates to $4 million monthly, $1 million weekly and about $150,000 daily.
It is expected Ballarat’s losses will hit $1 billion next June.
"The impact of poker machines is primarily picked up at a local government level"Professor John McDonald
The forum also heard the penultimate findings of a Federation University research study, Exploring Community Impacts of Poker Machines.
The university’s School of Education and Arts dean, Professor John McDonald, said Ballarat’s annual pokie losses almost equalled the council’s yearly rates collection.
“It also extracts 1.5 times more than the state government provides the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation,” Professor McDonald said.
However, he said local government and community groups were becoming much stronger advocates against pokies-related harm.
“There is quite a distinctive shift in which the local communities are taking a stand,” he said.
“The impact of poker machines is primarily picked up at a local government level.”
Ballarat City councillor Belinda Coates said $1 billion could fund many valuable programs.
“I can only think about what projects we could do with that as a council. We could target every vulnerable street in Ballarat with that,” Cr Coates said.
Researcher Deb Greenslade has nearly completed the four-year research study looking at an unnamed Victorian town and how it was affected by its poker machines.
She said the machines were “sold” to the town as a way of building better community facilities and were considered harmless because they were placed in a local club with very strong community links.
“The presence of the pokies got quite woven into their celebrations and became quite normalised,” Ms Greenslade said.
“It legitimised their presence, seeing the benefits to the community.”
However, she said her research showed 89 cases of harmful gambling, with 49 strongly linked to the club, in the town of 4300 people.
“There was also a high level of misinformation in the community. People underestimated the losses and overestimated the benefits back to the community,” she said.