Gambling in Suburban Australia

Research Report – March 2019

3. Community context and local environment

The following chapter examines local community characteristics in relation to the accessibility and use of EGM venues in each of the two sites. This chapter presents analysis of secondary data comparing the two sites, followed by results from local residents and observations by researchers about the nature of amenity of each site. These data describe participant reports about access to alternative recreational facilities and public transport, their experiences or perceptions of crime and safety, and the availability of local gambling venues.

3.1 Census, crime and gambling statistics

Sites for this study were selected on the basis of a range of similarities and differences. Analysis of census and regulator data assisted in determining appropriate sites for this study. The 'vulnerability model' of Melbourne5 (Rintoul et al., 2013) helped to identify boundaries for each site. The two sites are similar in terms of population and land size and are nearly equidistant from the central business district (CBD), in opposite directions. They also have a similar number of households. However, they are markedly different in terms of their history, socio-economic status and ethnic composition. A narrative description of the social and historical context of each site is provided in Appendix C.

As Table 3.1 demonstrates, Site 1 has a high level of socio-economic disadvantage - with population-weighted mean suburb SEIFA IRSD scores (872) well below the state average of 1,010. By comparison, Site 2 has an IRSD score of 1,042, above the state average (ABS, 2016).6

The VCGLR provide venue-level data on their website for each hotel and club EGM venue in Victoria (Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, 2016). This shows Site 1 has higher levels of EGM density and utilisation compared with Site 2, reflected through the number of EGM venues, number of EGMs, losses per EGM and overall losses. Site 1 has many more venues (eight vs three), double the number of EGMs (416 vs 208), and more than three times the amount of EGM losses per adult ($1,252 vs $383).

Victorian crime statistics show that there are much greater incidents of police-reported family violence in Site 1 compared to Site 2 (State of Victoria, 2018). This reflects recent research that has shown a significant association between the number of family violence incidents and assaults and the density of EGMs (Markham et al., 2016).

The key differences between these sites include the proportion of people born overseas, the level of accessibility to gambling opportunities and the higher level of disadvantage in Site 1. All suburbs within Site 1 are ranked in the SEIFA IRSD Deciles 1-2, whereas the range of rankings from Site 2 are 4-9.7 Table 3.1 shows that the rate of police-reported family violence is also higher in this area (8.9/1,000 people in Site 1 vs 3.1/1,000 in Site 2).

The following section reports the views of participants in each site and the research team observations about the community context and local environment. This is intended to provide context about 'pull' and 'push' factors that may lead local residents into gambling venues. It covers alternative recreational facilities available locally, public transport and perceptions and/or experiences of crime.

The responses of participants are largely reported separately by site, given there were very different experiences described.

Table 3.1:Census, gambling and crime statistics, by site
Characteristic/variable Site 1 Site 2
Geographic and demographic data
Land size 34.36 km2 23.13 km2
No. of households 21,581 26,495
Adult population (18+) 45,255 50,718
SEIFA IRSD population-weighted mean score 872 1,042
Australian born (%) 39.5 56.1
Top 3 countries of birth other than Australia Vietnam, India, Malta China, India, Malaysia
Top 3 language groups other than English Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese Mandarin, Cantonese, Greek
Rate of police-reported family violence-related incidentsa/1,000 adults 8.9 3.1
Gambling data
No. of EGM venues 8 3
Clubs 3 2
Hotels 5 1
No. of EGMs 416 208
Range venue no. of EGMs 18-78 39-103
Total EGM losses $56,673,722 $19,402,885
Range EGM venue annual losses $516k-$13.65m $2.5m-$8.56m
Loss per EGM $135,486 $90,761
Expenditure per adultb $1,252 $383
EGMs/1,000 adultsb 9.2 4.1

Notes: In 2015-16, Victoria had 509 club and hotel EGM venues, 320 of which were in Melbourne. During that financial year, $2.6 billion was lost on EGMs at these venues across the state, $2.06 billion in the Melbourne Metropolitan area. a Police-reported family violence rates are calculated using an aggregation of reports from the Victorian Crime Statistics and the 2016 Census population data. Reports include family violence-related: common assault, stalking, harassment and private nuisance, threatening behaviour, serious assault, breach of FV order, breach of FV intervention order. b Expenditure (or EGM losses) per adult and EGM density are calculated using 2015-16 VCGLR EGM data and the 2016 ABS Census population.

Participant codes

Quotes from participants reported in the results section are coded to provide anonymous context with reference to the site (1 or 2), study categorisation (person who gambled [G], significant other [SO], local resident [LR], Vietnamese local resident [LRV] or professional [P]) and gender [M] or [F].

3.2 Amenity and recreational facilities Site 1

Consistent with socio-economic data reported in section 3.1, Site 1 was described by many local resident participants as a traditionally working class and disadvantaged area. Researchers and participants observed indications of gentrification in this area, such as increasing real estate values, houses undergoing renovation, and council improvements to streetscapes and infrastructure such as lighting and building redevelopments. However, despite this, large industrial areas are located within Site 1, and enduring disadvantage remains apparent. Overall, Site 1 was described as lacking in a range of amenities.

Participants reported a lack of appropriate and accessible recreational and other facilities in the area:

It's boring always, all night, all day, doing something, especially those pensioners. 'Is there anything we can do not gambling?' Yeah, there should be an alternative [to EGMs]. (1GF)

There's not enough local parks, there's not enough meeting spaces … like there is a few hotels in the area. They're not necessarily what I would call family-orientated places … There's a lot of alcohol, a lot of gambling. (1SOF)

Public transport accessibility and safety were a concern for a number of participants in Site 1. Difficulties included living in areas not serviced by the local train network, limiting accessibility to activities for the whole family:

We don't even have an actual Metro train 15 kilometres from the city that stops at our station … we only have a V/Line train. So, we can wait around for a bus and they're talking about … taking away one of the bus services that runs past our street … Or, you wait for a V/Line train. On a weekend, there can be four hours between V/Line trains that stop at our station … it's really hard to send [teenage] kids off to do stuff on their own … a lot of the community centres in this particular council area are very spread out like that. So you need to be able to drive to get to these places. So, it's not - you can't just pack your kids off or if you don't have a car … whereas all pubs and clubs are actually quite easily accessible. (1SOF)

Many participants reported a need for improvements to accessible activities to support community cohesion:

They've got a culture day once a year … That's not enough for the whole community to get in … We've got a neighbourhood [house] around the … corner from my house. I've seen bugger all people there. Back in the day, the neighbourhood house would chuck odd street parties. Not just a street party, they'd have Santa come around, there'd be flyers left, right and centre, there'd be colour in the street … The world's so grey now … I reckon, around this whole Brimbank area … people need to see life. Not people dying, 'cause that's what it is in a pokie venue. It's death on the street … There's no footballs kicking around in the middle of the street. (1GF)

Some participants in Site 1 mentioned that there were great local Vietnamese restaurants and others acknowledged recent improvements to infrastructure such as parks, street lighting, bike paths, playgrounds and railway stations. However, there was a general lack of awareness about the facilities and activities available to residents:

I think nearly every local park I've seen has got new play equipment. And we go up to a park up in Sunshine North that has … new concrete paths and they've got a dog park there now. (1LR)

Many people aren't aware of [facilities available] … we've just built a $12m centre down in Braybrook. And [a] lady said to me one day, 'When's the hospital going to be finished across the road?' I said, 'It's not a hospital. It's a community centre with all the facilities for the community in the area and a library as well'. (1LR)

Problems associated with gentrification were also reported:

The process of gentrification again is not pushing people out, it's because people don't know where else to go now … At the same time, they see other people who are cashed up coming in and buying houses and the … the price of everything is going up across the board. (1P)

Participants in all categories (local residents, professionals, people who gambled and significant others) in Site 1 described awareness, or experiences of, crime and an overall sense of a lack of safety in this area. This contrasted with participants in Site 2 who overwhelmingly reported low crime levels (see section 3.3).

Some participants in Site 1 reported that the long opening hours of EGM venues allowed them to leave the house, and were often the only place in their community where they could go at night:

I'm very scared … for my safety and my daughter's safety … Some women got stabbed and killed on the [traffic] lights not long ago … people are not friendly anymore … anything can happen to you. (1SOF)

I'm scared … I don't go for walks anymore … When … you're home with your husband and if you're not getting along and … he's sitting watching TV, I'm here, not a word, no nothing, I might as well go out and I may go to the poker machines, where else do I go? (1GF)

A number of participants felt public transport in Site 1 was unsafe to use:

There's a lot of substance use, there's a lot of - you see a lot of violence around there. (1SOF)

Oh yeah, at the station, the new station. Not long ago, there was a stabbing there … People are not going, especially after dark. (1GF)

Concerns about public drunkenness and drug use were reported by residents and local professionals alike in the Site 1 area:

For years, you know, people have known it [EGM venue] to be … pretty rough ... especially at the moment … every Friday night … they're always in that park [across the road] fighting. (1GM)

Where I live there are drugs readily available. I know of the people that deal in our area ... I know who they are, I just keep out of their way. Look, where I live, I feel safe most of the time ... I often see people who seem to be on ice. From what I've heard described, people come, you know, close by our house and are affected by ice (crystal methamphetamine) because they've purchased it. (1SOF)

The Brimbank Council was running a series of community cultural events during 2015 to address concerns about safety. This included infrastructure improvements and local events such as an outdoor cinema in a local park and live music at the train station:

Sunshine's been fraught with danger and there is a lot of trepidation from the local population about wandering around at night. So … the place managers had organised to get the lighting improvements around the inner-city area. (1P)

A community professional involved in the campaign reported that it had some level of success but acknowledged that the underlying causes of crime and safety concerns would take time to address:

I don't think we completely shattered any notions about safety in Sunshine but we … made some impression that safety … is possible ... We had several touchy situations … at the bus interchange, there was … a group of people that would gather there every evening. Highly aggressive, always intoxicated or high on drugs [ice and other drugs]. Um, the police there constantly ... But again, police are overstretched. (1P)

There was a convergence of reports from many sources relating to crime at EGM venues, including armed robberies, drug dealing, stolen goods and money laundering. Gambling-related criminal activity in commercial venues is reported separately in section 4.2. Links between gambling, drug and alcohol use are reported in section 4.2 and section 7.1.

3.3 Amenity and recreational facilities Site 2

In contrast to these largely negative reports from participants in Site 1, participants in Site 2 spoke proudly of their local area and reported that people aspired to live locally as the area 'has got a lot going for it'. Also in contrast to Site 1, low crime levels in Site 2 were described as key to the area's liveability. This does not suggest that residents in this area haven't experienced crime or had safety concerns, but Site 2 participants did report a lower degree of concern about safety than Site 1 participants.

Overall, Site 2 was described by locals as 'well-established' with 'history', and a great 'variety of food and culture'. Participants reported their area as relatively spacious, characterised by areas with trees and green space. The Blackburn creek reserve was described as a great natural asset. Participants also praised the good 'public transport accessibility', and the local hospital was described as 'phenomenal' and 'fantastic'. Participants in Site 2 were in agreement that it is a desirable area to live and residents are well catered for:

I think these sorts of suburbs here are attracting people who are trying to move into, moving up the social scale. People are moving from the outer, outer suburbs to this area, the houses are expensive here now and they've always been just that little bit [better]. (2LR)

One participant described his use of the range of local sporting and exercise facilities:

Our local area is … quite well set up … we actually have a personal swimming pool but there's a [public] pool at the end of our street, which we can take our granddaughter to, where it has slides … We're heavily involved in cricket … I … usually go to every Victorian [football] match and quite often, a couple of interstate ones as well ... I have family who play golf, so there's a link with the golf club. (2GM)

Others in this area also reported participating in a wide range of activities locally such as attending private gyms, mountain biking, pottery, yoga and meditation:

We come to the local library almost every week. There's story time for little kids. The [council] run things like the Australia Day fireworks, they run the Christmas concerts … music sessions … I even went and did mindful parenting [course] … there are lots of things out there … And then, yeah, we pay for additional things on top of that. (2SOF)

Most participants in Site 2 were enthusiastic about the '[g]ood variety of great food and culture' (2LR) in their area. A number of participants also noted the convenience and suitability of local cafes for meals with children:

But there's so many other nice restaurants to go to than the pub … When you can go to a really nice restaurant here at Box Hill or Thai or whatever and get much more value for your money. And I'd rather have kids eating that food than, you know, parma and chips or whatever. (2SOF)

Observations of the local area made by the research team noted more pleasant streetscapes with electricity wires hidden underground and more open green spaces.

3.4 Geographic accessibility of gambling venues

High density of gambling venues in Site 1

Many participants in Site 1 reported that they found the high density of EGM venues in close proximity to their homes to be problematic, as they would end up attending these venues due to the convenience of their location rather than an intentional interest in gambling:

How many [EGM venues] I've got not far from me? I tell you. One, two, three, four, five. About six. It's only 10 minutes' drive. That's terrible ... Lot of them and they're in where the houses are and right where the neighbourhood is. (1GF)

There's a really high density of pokies in this area … it's terribly hard to go anywhere without the pokies, you know? (1LR)

Some described this saturation of gambling opportunities as predatory:

I'd say that maybe they've [operators] possibly targeted certain areas of Melbourne, assuming, 'Okay, this end is going to be more vulnerable, more desperate. This is where we can get our money back' … So, they've just gone … 'Okay, dump a whole lot of pokies there.' … I think they should have a restriction on the area, for the whole area … in poorer areas, they should have less. (1LR)

Accessibility of local venues is a major influence on visitation. People who gambled described how the venues were located in areas incidental to their everyday activities, and many described visiting venues to use bathroom facilities or for free tea and coffee facilities. Some participants would find themselves using machines without previously intending to:

I had family living right across the road from [Venue name 1] … [Venue name 2] was like on the way to the supermarket ... there's the venues if you're on your way to shopping and you look and, 'Oh I'll just go in there for a little bit'. (1GF)

One person who gambled described spending so much time at his local EGM venue that he used the venue's phone number as the place his mother's carers could contact him in the event of an emergency:

Because it was close to home and you know … especially the last couple of years of Mum's life … she was in a nursing home, we didn't know whether we'd be called, so we gave the nursing home our home address and the [Venue name]. (1GM)

Another person who gambled described the proximity to the local hospital where family were attending appointments as creating opportunities for him to gamble:

I lost $700 and I come back. My wife [in hospital], she didn't know nothing because I hid the [lost] money ... Oh many times. My wife, she had problem in hospital and my son too but I tried to get the time for me to go there [Venue name] half an hour, an hour. (1GM)

While some participants described visiting local Vietnamese restaurants as an enjoyable feature of the Site 1 area (see section 3.2), many participants reported often reluctantly attending EGM venues, in part due to the lack of other options for dining out:

We really struggled to go somewhere for a nice meal that doesn't have pokies … I would prefer it [an alternative venue], having a 12-year-old child, but every time we go in there, he's like, 'Can we have a gamble on the horses?' (1LR)

Some described that dining at a gambling venue might lead them to gamble unintentionally:

I mean if you go in and have a beer or a feed, you're going to go into the TAB or the pokies. (1GM)

I want to take the kids out to dinner over Christmas, you know? But they [EGMs] happen to be there … there's not a lot going on for the kids and I probably will get to the point where I need a break. There's no one to give me one, so, I will probably go to a pokie venue. Unfortunately. They're too fucking close. (1GF)

Venue accessibility in Site 2

Although there were far fewer venues in Site 2 (three venues), proximity to gambling venues was still a factor for some participants' gambling:

Basically, it's about nearness. It's [venue] near. (2GM)

Participants often reported visiting the venue closest to their house more frequently:

Yeah, it's the closest too. I can walk there. (2GM)

This person who gambled described the attractiveness of EGM venues as being that they are well maintained, clean and conveniently located on his way home from work:

Really just convenience and just having a bit of fun really and just spinning the wheel. It's kept very clean, yeah. I quite like that whole aspect and all that ... Coming home from work, it would definitely be on the way, yeah. (2GM)

Similar to reports in Site 1, close proximity of the local hospital to a venue in Site 2 provided gambling opportunities for hospital staff finishing their shifts:

Mum's a shift worker, she used to work at the Box Hill Hospital. So, she'll finish her shift in the morning, she'll go straight from work into the RSL, she'll stay there all day, [then] go and do her nightshift. (2SOF)

However, unlike Site 1, where participants reported a lack of alternative activities in which to engage, in this area some participants described a wide range of alternative activities that could be diverting from EGM use:

I read the local paper, I see lots of free events and different things that I would choose to go to rather than go out to a pokie venue. So, I guess it depends if there are things that might tempt people to do other things apart from go to that venue, potentially that might help. (2SOF)

The range of alternative social activities in Site 2 described by participants is discussed earlier in this chapter (see section 3.3).

Distance from EGM venues described as protective

The only 'dry area' of Melbourne covers about half of Site 2. While alcohol is available for purchase in this area, additional hotel, club or on-premises liquor licences can only be granted if approved by residents of this area. This has reduced the number of venues able to operate EGM licenses in the area. The existence of the 'dry area' indicates that where local communities have a decision-making opportunity - in this case, through a requirement to conduct a liquor license poll on each application - the harm-creating potential of dangerous commodities can be significantly reduced. This has led to a very different landscape of EGM accessibility compared to Site 1, as regulations stipulate that only those venues with a license to serve liquor can operate EGMs:

I mean if you're going to get in your car and go and drive there and it's a hassle and traffic and all that sort of thing, you tend to not … [My preferred pub is] in Auburn Road and, look, I love it down there because there are no machines, there's no betting, there's no TAB. I'm meeting up with a bunch of guys [tonight] that um none of them are into gambling at all. So, we'll just have a nice night … I'll buy a meal and a couple of beers and go home and I'll be very happy with that ... And there's no guilt trip, you don't wake up in the morning thinking you shit, I shouldn't have spent [that money on gambling] ... [Whereas] you can go to other places and have a beer and then bet on dogs … or feed 50 bucks into a machine and not get it back ... that night can cost you 150 bucks and tonight might cost me 50 bucks … If they're [EGMs] not around, you don't think about 'em. (2GM)

However, some people who gambled in Site 2 reported how a lack of other available venues with a liquor license in the area actually exposed them to EGMs at the local RSL club:

You go to the RSL because it's the only licensed place in Box Hill … You don't go to restaurants just because they've got a liquor licence, you go to the RSL. It's a substitute hotel … I would like Box Hill to have a proper hotel, no machines, because then you can sit and talk with friends, you can go out for a counter lunch without worrying about the machines in another room. (2GM)

Migrant experiences of gambling venues

Migrant participants in both sites reported that they were unaccustomed to the widespread availability of legal and commercial forms of gambling offered in Australia and noted the difference between the laws in their country of origin and Australia. In many other countries commercialised gambling is illegal:

I think it's different absolutely because … it is illegal in Vietnam [in a commercial setting]. (1LRV)

It [gambling] was not legal so there were no casino or no pokies or nothing else ... And when I first came here I just faced them for first time in my life. (1GM)

One South-Asian migrant described how she found herself in an EGM venue and felt a sense of shame in gambling, which is considered taboo in her culture of origin:

I went inside because I was curious … it's almost like a forbidden fruit that you're not allowed to take 'cause you're not allowed to see. And growing up, my parents [would say] 'All pubs are all full of drugs and alcoholics' … So, there were all these fears put into me. (1GF)

3.5 Summary

Participants in Site 1 described a lack of non-gambling facilities in their area, compounded by an overabundance of gambling venues. Gambling venues encourage a wide range of people to attend their premises by providing a wide range of facilities and activities, appealing to a broad demographic.

An earlier study (Rintoul, et al., 2013) identified a social gradient in expenditure on EGMs across the metropolitan Melbourne area. This study developed a regression model, which found 40% of the apparent effect of disadvantage was accounted for by machine density. The uneven distribution of venues between the two sites explored here highlights a structural inequity in the regulation and governance of gambling in Victoria. This uneven distribution of EGM availability is readily amenable to policy change and regulation.

Data from the census demonstrates that Site 1 is an area of higher socio-economic disadvantage compared to Site 2. VCGLR data shows Site 1 has more venues (eight vs three), with double the number of EGMs (416 vs 208; or 9.2 EGMs per 1,000 adults vs 4.1/1,000 adults) and losses of over $56 million per year vs $19.4 million in Sit 2. The findings presented in this chapter demonstrate how widespread availability of EGMs, as in Site 1, compounded by a lack of alternative recreational options, resulted in residents reporting that they reluctantly attended EGM venues.

The venues in Site 1 were described as being easy to access from home and offering a range of affordable food and drinks and other facilities, making them a main option for socialising when outside the home. This contrasts with evidence from Site 2, where a relative abundance of alternative social spaces and activities were combined with far fewer EGM venues. However, even in Site 2, where there are significantly fewer opportunities to gamble, people who gambled described difficulties in avoiding the use of EGMs in their local clubs.

Some participants in Site 2 reported that the co-location of EGMs with hotels is potentially problematic, in that it exposes those who were intending to meet for a social drink to machines when they may otherwise not have chosen to attend an EGM venue. Several people who gambled reported that they ended up using EGMs because they were available in the hotels or clubs they originally attended for social drinking purposes.

The requirement that EGM operators must have a liquor license in order to operate EGMs may lead some residents who may not otherwise gamble to use machines. This aligns with findings from the recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report (Wilkins, 2017) that found that frequent drinkers were much more likely to gamble and to report gambling problems (Wilkins, 2017), indicating that the co-location of these activities may be problematic.

5 This study developed a geographic information system (GIS) of venue locations, losses and population data to predict vulnerability to gambling-related harm across Melbourne.

6 Victorian State suburb IRSD scores taken from

7 SEFIA IRSD Decile 1 is the most disadvantaged and Decile 10 the least disadvantaged.