Ballarat residents lost more than $5 million to pokies in March, with expenditure returning to pre-COVID levels.
According to figures released by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor regulation, $5,075,205.34 was spent at Ballarat venues in March, an increase from the $3.79m lost in February.
There are 14 venues with electronic gaming machines, or pokies, in the City of Ballarat, with 637 individual machines, 96 per cent of the municipal cap.
While the figure is not comparable to the losses in March 2020 - pokie venues were closed because of the pandemic on March 16, meaning $3.13m was lost - it's almost as high as the $5.072m monthly average spend between July 1 2019 and February 29 2020.
It's also almost as high as the monthly spend in January 2021, which was $5.11m.
Despite hopes spending on pokies would reduce following lockdowns, the immediate bounce back to pre-pandemic levels has sparked concern - in 2018-19, the last full year numbers were recorded, $57.54m was lost in Ballarat, and in the first three months of this year, a total of $13.98m has been lost already.
The City of Ballarat last week submitted a response to the VCGLR regarding an application from one CBD hotel for more pokies - mayor Daniel Moloney reacted with alarm at this month's figures.
"My own personal view, I think they cause so much massive harm to our community and it's money not being spent on other things," he said.
"I think they're pure evil - they suck millions and millions out of our local economy and I personally won't go to any place that has them.
"One of the biggest concerns I have is it's money not spent in a beneficial community way, often they don't meet permit obligations (to contribute money to community groups), and when they do, it's spending money within the same club.
"I have zero goodwill towards poker machines, and can only see the harm they do."
He said the $5.08 figure was "outrageous".
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"The things you could do as a community with $5m, the jobs that could be created across retail and hospitality, there's sporting and community groups that genuinely need it - and it's targeting the people who can afford it the least," he said.
"These machines pray on the most vulnerable.
"Council's rates pay for nearly 100 different services across the community - and this is just going to coffers of the very few, and to prop up the state government's budget."
Need to talk? Phone Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858, Ballarat Cafs on 5337 3333, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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