Queensland Plans to Address Covid Gambling Uptick

The latest gambling data from the Queensland Government was concerning. Poker machine earnings increased significantly after officials lifted lockdown measures in 2020. It just so happened that the Queensland Government had already put together a five-year gambling harm minimization plan to start this year. That recently-released plan dictates some practical solutions to a worsening problem.

All in the Numbers

The Queensland Government recently released gaming machine data. It compared poker machine earnings reported in the last six months of 2019 to those corresponding months in 2020. Some thought the numbers would have decreased in 2020 due to the periodic shutdowns and capacity limitations on various establishments. Others believed that the unemployment and general economic instability due to the pandemic would keep people away from the pokies.

The reality was the opposite. More people played pokies during available times than before the pandemic. The numbers told the story:

  • July 2019 at $222,659,461 to July 2020 at $292,846,170 = 31.5% increase
  • August 2019 at $230,260,271 to August 2020 at $279,503,945 = 21.3% increase
  • September 2019 at $204,135,184 to September 2020 at $245,107,192 = 20.1% increase
  • October 2019 at $212,496,416 to October 2020 at $246,540,280 = 13% increase
  • November 2019 at $207,490,489 to November 2020 at $225,160,460 = 8.5% increase
  • December 2019 at $210,115,814 to December 2020 at $253,783,875 = 20.7% increase

According to ABC News, pokies players in Queensland lost $2.8B – that’s billion – in the past 12 months.

In fact, that $2.8B number is the highest loss in a particular year since 2004.

Possible Reasons for Spikes

Former gambler and current community educator for Relationships Australia David McAnalen believes that employment stresses and uncertainty, combined with government subsidy payments during the worst of the pandemic, prompted more gambling. He told ABC News that gambling is comforting to some people. It is not even so much about the money as the feeling of winning.

Central Queensland University gambling researcher Alex Russell told ABC believed a lot of money from the JobKeeper and JobSeeker government programs went to pokies. The machines are readily available and one of the few forms of recreation opened – when clubs and pubs opened – for people anxious to find entertainment and excitement after the lockdowns.

The two men hail from very different backgrounds and experiences but form the same conclusion. Gambling harm initiatives must start earlier as more of a prevention or stop-gap. Helping people after the addictions have caused damage is one thing. But working harder to try to prevent the addictions in the first place is a better goal.

Minimization Plan Introduction

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman MP took the opportunity at the kickoff of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week to reveal Queensland’s gambling harm minimization plan for 2021-2025. It was a comprehensive look at an action plan for the government, industry, and community.

Using a public health approach, the plan presents a holistic view of problem gambling, as well as related determining factors and the value of interventions. While studies provide important data, evidence has shown that more people experiencing harm from gambling don’t fit traditional criteria. That leads to the conclusion that it is more important than ever to take action to reduce the potential for gambling harm. And it needs to happen before the harm occurs.

Therefore, they hope to shift the conversation from responsible gambling to safer gambling. That will include:

  • Recognizing that there are safe levels of gambling consumption for some people
  • Reinforcing the safety aspect and consumption of gambling
  • Reducing harms associated with gambling regardless of where/when the harm occurs on the gambling behaviour spectrum

This will include all forms of gambling – online and land-based mechanisms, regulated and unregulated products, and games that resemble gambling.

How to Measure Success

Queensland’s Responsible Gambling Advisory Committee will coordinate all actions. Individual actions, however, may be led by the government, industry leaders, and others working in partnership with the government. The Committee will evaluate everything annually to adjust methods and plans, but they will track progress more frequently.

The overall goals are simple: Create a safer gambling environment. Within that broad goal, however, they want to help the gambling industry deliver safer products and services. They consumers and communities to feel empowered, protected, and supported. And finally, they want to update the regulatory system with the latest technology while increasing its effectiveness and public trust.

They will measure progress with more specific goals in mind. The Committee will want to see evidence of the following measurements:

  • More industry commitments to safer gambling standards and customer well-being
  • Increased stakeholder involvement in identifying problems and co-designing solutions
  • Improved community awareness and understanding of gambling harm and its impacts on the gamblers and those incurring associated harm
  • Reduced rates of at-risk and problem gambling instances via general population gambling surveys
  • Fewer barriers to accessing best-practice help and treatment services

This may all sound somewhat generalized in scope, but the gambling harm minimization plan did break out the goals, strategies, and deliverables by four strategic pillars:

  • Leadership and culture to create a socially responsible industry and cumulative efforts to drive change
  • Technology and environment to develop updated products and use innovations to increase safety
  • Public health approach to focus on all potential harm instead of individual pathology
  • Regulatory framework to focus on evidence and outcomes while being transparent and accountable

Motivating Factors

The post-lockdown gambling machine numbers are concerning, of course. Queensland knew long before the release of those figures that there was work to be done. They developed their plan based on these statistics, among others:

  • 70% of Queenslanders gambled as of 2016-2017
  • More than 70% of Gambling Help clients admit EGMs were problematic
  • Average annual spend on gambling machines was $625 per person in 2018-2019
  • 40,381 gaming machines in operation in Queensland in 1,080 clubs/hotels in February 2021
  • 3,736 gaming machines operate in Queensland casinos in January 2021
  • 4% of Queenslanders gamble recreationally as of 2016-2017


Rose Varrelli avatar
Rose Varrelli
Senior Casino & News Writer

Hi there! I’m Rose, and with nine years behind me in the iGaming industry, I craft engaging narratives at CasinoAus. My education in Communication across Europe has sharpened my skills in fintech, casino legislation, and digital marketing. Backed by a strong foundation in SEO, storytelling, and cross-cultural communication, I’m passionate about creating content that resonates globally and educates our audience.

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