The closure of Victoria’s pokie rooms through coronavirus lockdowns may have saved gamblers $225 million a month, according to a huge new report which outlines how government measures actually lifted some people above the poverty line during the pandemic.

Once more for the people in the back: $225 million. Every month.

More on that in a moment.

The report, compiled by folks from RMIT and the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS), states that measures like the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement and the JobKeeper wage subsidy reduced financial stress for huge chunks of the population.

Data shows a “very large reduction in poverty” after the schemes were introduced in May, particularly in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, which were “badly affected by the spread of the virus and within which large numbers of people received the benefits.”

The average household income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 20% as a result of those measures, the report states.

Pokies aside, the authors argue “most people — and certainly those on Centrelink payments during the pandemic — probably experienced a rise in their standard of living rather than a fall.”

They acknowledge huge chunks of the population, namely international students, undocumented migrants, and certain casual workers were left high and dry by those programes.

However, they state the supplements amounted to a “a social policy fairytale”.

The caveat here is that both the Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper are being ratcheted down, and the report shows the poverty-alleviating benefit of those measures weakening as time goes on.

In a statement accompanying the report, VCOSS CEO Emma King said it’s “absolutely heart-breaking the Federal Government is planning to plunge thousands of Victorian back below the poverty line.”

As for the pokies? Well, cop this.

There’s a long-established correlation between poorer postcodes and bigger losses on the pokies, but the report spells it out with shocking clarity.

The closure of venues with pokie rooms was massive, “especially for the low-income areas that experienced the highest rates of coronavirus infections and also the highest federal income support payments,” the report states.

Drawing on February data from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, the report states the closures were likely to have saved punters in the local government areas of Whittlesea, Hume, and Casey between $6.5 million and $7 million a month.

All up, the state potentially avoided $225 million in pokie gambling losses each month.

The authors note “the decline in gaming machine losses is a wonderful policy outcome”. But, like the planned reduction of welfare payments, it’s another ‘fairytale’ which might not last.

As now, as always: blow up the pokies.

You can read the full report here.

Image: Picture Alliance / Getty Images