Expenditure on poker machines in the Greater Shepparton region, labelled losses by the Alliance for Gambling Reform, increased 7.5 per cent last year, almost twice that of the rest of Victoria.
Total expenditure rose from $31.7million in 2017, to $34million last year according to data supplied by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.
Total poker machine expenditure in Victoria for 2018 was $2.7billion.
Greater Shepparton has eight gaming venues with a total of 329 poker machines.
Four of the venues are denoted for-profit hotels, while the other four are not-for-profit clubs according to the VCGLR.
Goulburn Valley Hotel received the largest share of expenditure last year, $7.3million, up 13.5 per cent from $6.4million the year before.
On average, each of the GV Hotel’s 40 machines took in $182254.
Tatura’s Hill Top Golf and Country Club attracted the lowest share for the year, $389733, at an average rate of $38973 a machine.
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Stephen Mayne said it was concerning expenditure growth in the Greater Shepparton region was outpacing the rest of the state.
‘‘It’s very disappointing that areas like Shepparton have seen such growth,’’ he said.
‘‘To rip $34million out of the Shepparton community is not what’s needed. Imagine what you could do with the money if people weren’t wasting it like this.’’
Australian Hotels Association Victoria chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan said there had been areas of expenditure growth and decline across the state and Victoria had a much lower rate of poker machines per person than comparable states such as NSW.
‘‘We have less than six machines per 100 adults. If you go to NSW that’s around 16,’’ he said.
Victoria did not have ATMs co-located with poker machines and bets were limited to $5, Mr O’Sullivan said.
‘‘The industry is heavily regulated and highly taxed,’’ he said.
‘‘As a whole, we employ 52000 people across the industry with an annual payroll exceeding $1.8billion.
‘‘The (poker machine) revenues are basically used to run the business that the gaming rooms are housed in, particularly when it comes to operational costs, electricity and staffing costs.’’
But Mr Mayne said it was ‘‘unconscionable’’ Australian businesses relied so heavily on poker machine revenue.
‘‘Australia has 72 per cent of total poker machines located in pubs and clubs,’’ he said.
While acknowledging getting rid of poker machines was an unrealistic goal given the size of the billion-dollar industry, Mr Mayne would like to see further restrictions placed on their use.
‘‘You have to be realistic ... we think $1 maximum bets and reduced trading hours would help limit the damage,’’ he said.
Reducing the number of licences available would also lower the harm caused by poker machines, Mr Mayne said.
Greater Shepparton’s eight poker machine venues were contacted for comment.