At the end of each financial year the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation releases expenditure figures, which is another way of saying player loss, on poker machines. How one should interpret those figures depends on how the information is presented. Each of the following statements is correct:

  • Player loss in 2010/11 showed the lowest positive growth figure recorded since poker machines were introduced into Victoria
  • Player loss in 2010/11 was the second highest figure ever recorded in Victoria
  • There was more than a 6% turnaround in the growth of poker machine expenditure last year
  • Poker machine expenditure per gaming venue was the second highest ever
  • Poker machine expenditure per adult is about 12% lower than at its peak in 2001/02

So, here are the facts. Poker machine expenditure in 2010/11 at hotels and clubs throughout Victoria totaled $2,651,367,032. This was $54,184,455 (or 2.1%) more than for the same period last year.

The total number of club and hotel gaming venues offering poker machines as at 30 June was 512, two fewer than at the same time last year, while the number of poker machines in those venues rose slightly from 26,682 to 26,802.

Given the adult population of Victoria has grown by an average 1.8% per year for the last decade, an increase of 2.1% suggests minimal real growth in expenditure per adult which remains at around $612 per adult. This compares with $696 per adult in 2001/02, the year before smoking bans in gaming rooms were introduced.

How does all this compare with previous years? Well, after explosive growth during the 1990s when poker machines were being introduced throughout the State, the past few years have seen a mature market with little change. For the last nine years, the rate of growth has not gone above 4.5% in any year. In fact, in three of those years growth has been negative – twice due to the implementation of the first round of smoking bans which banned smoking in the gaming room of a poker machine venue. The other year of negative growth was 2009/10 when growth fell 4.1%.

At the venue level, the highest level of expenditure for the year was at the Epping Plaza Hotel in the City of Whittlesea where players lost $21,019,064 on 100 poker machines. It was the venue with the third highest player loss figure the previous year (with $18,867,108). Last year’s leader of the pack with just over $19 million in player losses, Werribee Plaza Tavern, came in second this year with losses of $20,633,456.

And the lowest? That’s a bit harder to explain. Eleven venues are listed as having received no gaming revenue in 2010/11, eight of which must have closed during the year – or at least ceased to offer gaming – as each had gaming revenue in the previous year. The next four lowest earning venues have also closed, so the venue with the record for the lowest level of player loss and which traded throughout the year was the Ouyen Club where players lost $223,321 on the club’s five machines.

It has been known for many years that average player losses on poker machines in hotels are around twice the average loss on club machines. But the differential between Victoria’s top and bottom venues is an almost five-fold factor.

But whether you think Epping Plaza is the top venue and Ouyen Club the bottom, or vice versa, might depend on your attitude to poker machines.