I recently wrote about regional caps on pokies in Victoria, using the City of Hume as an example of how they work… or don’t work, as the case may be. It bears mentioning why we have regional caps in the first place.
When pokies were introduced into Victoria in 1992, there were few restrictions in place on where they could be located, and how many could be installed. There was a statewide cap of 27,500 machines, and hotels couldn’t run more than 50% of the pokies in the state. That was it.
Over the next decade, the pokie industry exploded across the state. Venues sprang up everywhere, advertising was all over the TV, the radio, the newspapers… you couldn’t turn around without being confronted by a poker machine. The government of the time belatedly realised that the state was going to hell, and starting trying to implement measures to stop the rot.
One of these measures was the regional caps. In 2001, five areas had limits imposed on how many machines were allowed within their boundaries. These limits were called regional caps, and the areas they were applied to were “areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage and high losses.” Initially, the caps covered all or part of Darebin, Greater Dandenong, Maribyrnong, Bass Coast and LaTrobe.
Over the next eight years, more and more areas have had regional caps applied by the government. There are currently 20 regionally capped areas, but the intention is still the same… to limit the spread of pokies into areas that can least afford them, and to miminise the losses in those areas.
So are the regional caps working? I could tell you the short answer to that one… but instead, let’s take a look at the dozen highest-earning venues over the past financial year. Maybe that will spell it out.
WERRIBEE PLAZA TAVERN (Wyndham)
PLOUGH HOTEL (Whittlesea)
EPPING PLAZA HOTEL (Whittlesea)
SKYWAYS TAVERNER (Moonee Valley)
KEYSBOROUGH HOTEL (Gr Dandenong)
GLADSTONE PARK HOTEL (Hume)
BUNDOORA TAVERNER (Whittlesea)
SEAFORD TAVERNER (Frankston)
EXCELSIOR HOTEL (Whittlesea)
DEER PARK HOTEL (Brimbank)
TAYLORS LAKES FAMILY HOTEL (Brimbank)
KEALBA HOTEL (Brimbank)
Between them, these 12 venues took in over $215 million from gamblers in the past financial year. They are the ultimate cash cows in the state… and ten of them sit within regionally capped areas.
That’s right; from the above list, only the Werribee Plaza Tavern and the Seaford Taverner are located outside of the state’s regional caps. The remaining ten are bleeding their profits from the very “areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage and high losses” that the regional caps were intended to protect.
For certain areas, it’s even worse. The Whittlesea regional cap covers only a small portion of the City of Whittlesea… yet four of these top dozen venues lie within that zone. Similarly, the Brimbank regional cap covers only a small portion of the City of Brimbank… yet they’re well represented with three of the top dozen venues within those boundaries.
It’s clear that, whatever good intentions the state government may have had, the measures they’ve put in place aren’t working. Regional caps are a joke, and do nothing to stop the one-way flow of money out of the areas that can least afford it. The current system is fatally flawed, and needs to be completely overhauled.