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Media Release: Refugees and migrants at risk from pokies scourge

16 January 20140 comments

Refugees and migrants with poor language skills are at risk of becoming problem poker machine gamblers, according to gambling counsellors and experts on the social effects of gaming.

The poorest suburbs are the areas when the lion’s share of money is lost on poker machines, gaming statistics show.

And it is these same suburbs where many refugees or new migrants settle because they offer affordable rental housing.

In Melbourne, among the highest pokies losses recorded were those in the local government areas of Brimbank and Dandenong, with more than $48.1 million and $38.8 million lost respectively for the 2012-13 financial year. Both areas have large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers or new migrants.

The Whittlesea and Wyndham areas are also home to significant numbers of refugees and migrants and also have relatively high pokies loss rates with $32.7 million and $32.1 million respectively.

Victorians poured $2.5 billion into the state’s 26,000 poker machines last financial year – or about $284,000 every hour.

A recent Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission report said there were 30,000 problem gamblers in Victoria. Economic and social costs of the issue were estimated in the report at around $2.8 billion with the State Government set to reap just $1.25 billion in taxes from pubs and clubs.

Staff at settlement agency AMES have, anecdotally, reported several instances of clients falling into debt after gambling on poker machines.

In one case, a refugee client from Afghanistan won $12,000 in a single session at a pokies venue. The man is now $4,000 in debt to friends because of subsequent losses.

Research by Dr Charles Livingstone of Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine shows poker machines were disproportionately located in disadvantaged areas.

“If you have poker machines in areas of disadvantage, people will use them. The industry is aware that disadvantaged areas are more lucrative and they have located machines in these areas since they were first introduced in the 1990s,” Dr Livingstone said.

AMES CEO Cath Scarth said people with poor English skills and those out of work were particularly at risk. “One of reasons problems may develop is the ease of access – gambling is everywhere,” she said.

“And one of the reasons gaming venues may be attractive to people living in low socio-economic areas is because they offer the chance, however forlorn, that things could get better for them,” Ms Scarth said.

AMES has in place measures to help its clients with gambling problems.

For images, interviews and more information please contact AMES Media Advisor, Laurie Nowell at or 9938 46031 or 0498 196 500.