Alarm at pub pokies growth

More than 100 poker machines a month are being added to pubs and clubs across Queensland.

New figures show the number of pokies in the state has topped 40,000, prompting concerns from welfare groups and the Opposition that problem gambling will increase.

At the end of February, there were 40,171 machines in Queensland, up 539 from 39,632 last September.

This does not include poker machines in the state’s four casinos.

Welfare groups warn that Queensland now had more poker machines per head of population than Victoria.

But the Government says the percentage increase is less than population growth.

Liberal leader Bob Quinn, who requested the figures from the Government, said studies had shown there was a direct relationship between the number of poker machines and the number of problem gamblers.

The Coalition has vowed to review the number of machines and possibly cut them by up to 20 per cent if it wins office.

„A cynic would be forgiven for wondering if this Government’s priority of allowing more poker machines has anything to do with the fact that pokies are a lucrative revenue raiser,“ Mr Quinn said.

But Treasurer Anna Bligh said the growth in poker machines was „moderate“ and a recent survey found no increase in problem gamblers in the past five years.

She said the number of poker machines in hotels was still below the cap, which would rise to 20,000 over the next five years.

„I’m pleased these figures show growth is well under control,“ Ms Bligh said. „There is such significant population growth in Queensland with new residential developments and new hotels being built that we believe there will be a take-up of these extra machines.“

Ms Bligh said the Government was putting significant resources into combating problem gambling.

Almost AUD 300 million had been paid to community groups under the Gambling Community Benefit Fund.

But Neil Mellor, the program leader for gambling help services at Relationships Australia, said most other states were capping or reducing poker machine numbers.

He urged the Government to reduce the number of machines and introduce measures to combat the problem, including reducing operating hours at gaming venues and having mandatory breaks in play.

While there is not a statewide cap on the overall number of machines for clubs, sites cannot have more than 280 machines each.

The Government expects to collect AUD 527 million in gaming machine tax next financial year, rising to AUD 657 million in 2008-09.