Dee Why RSL gaming area. generic/ pokie machines/ gambling/ casino/ northern Beaches
Dee Why RSL gaming area. generic/ pokie machines/ gambling/ casino/ northern Beaches

Pokies hit the jackpot with tax relief package

A new bumper tax relief packaged designed to boost the economy and ease household cash pressures for Aussies has likely been gambled away by some, as new data reveals a record spend on Townsville's pokies.

The July spend on the pokies cracked $10 million for the first time, and again in August.

It followed a tax relief 'cash in hand' measure from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which passed through parliament soon after his election to government. Under the Federal Government's tax cut package, the maximum tax offset for middle and low income earners doubled from $530 to $1080.

The latest data for 2019 up to November revealed punters in Townsville spent $103 million on the pokies.

The Department of Liquor and Gaming Regulation statistics showed this was up from $99.4 million in 2018 and $97.2 million in 2017.

Tax return time does result in a spike in how much is spent on the pokies, but experts have attributed the larger-than-usual increase in 2019 to the tax relief package.

Others say it's a positive sign of a lifting economy.

The pokie spend in Townsville has also managed to surge despite a drop in the number of machines.

At its peak, there were 1772 operational poker machines in the Townsville area but hundreds were wiped out during the floods, with poker machine numbers stabilising at about 1650 as of end 2019.

There are 40 sites in Townsville with poker machines, nine of which are community clubs.

Industry representative group Clubs Queensland heralded the pokie spend as a sign of renewed consumer confidence.

"This data is good news for Townsville as it shows a renewed vigour for the city after such a terrible start to last year," communications manager Laura Bos said.

"Plus, community clubs are not-for-profit entities that provide support back into Townsville, so it is certainly a win/win for the community."

But Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Reverend Tim Costello said the apparent correlation between the timing of last year's tax rebate and an increase in poker machine losses in Townsville was "disappointing".

"If those millions of dollars... had instead been spent shopping, eating out or using services in Townsville then there would have been a real benefit to the local economy," he said.

"It's also a sad fact that around Australia that some of the highest gambling losses occur in communities that can least afford it." James Cook University Associate Professor of Psychology Wendy Li said many treat tax returns "as a gift" and thus don't feel bad if they blow it.

"All money should be treated as the same in the way we spend it, in theory, but this is often not the case," she said.

"Money form tax returns, particularly the tax returns after the 2019 election, people may regard it is unexpected additional money.

"I think this will be a surprising finding for the government."

CQ University's Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory Dr Alex Russell said gambling spend traditionally increased when people came across extra income and the tax relief package could be a big factor, but asserted they were other reasons at play.

"It depends on whether people are going through a tough year … some years are just tighter for some people and other years not," he said.