NSW Government Gambles With Elderly Lives As Pokies Return


As of today, gaming facilities are now open for business in the state of NSW, despite advice from the federal government which recommends that high-touch and high-density areas like gaming rooms should be among the last venues to reopen.

As the bright lights and alluring sound effects once again fill large rooms across the state, the majority of people waltzing through the doors will be over the age of 65.

People of this age group are over 30% more likely to be playing the pokies than the rest of the adult population, and a large portion of this demographic are also in the age group (70+) who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

ClubsNSW has revealed that gaming venues across the state will enforce social distancing, directional signage, and strict cleaning schedules to help mitigate the risk of infection.

But is it worth it?

After more than two months of lockdown to prevent the spread of a virus which can have devastating effects on the elderly population, it seems absurd that the NSW government would go against federal advice and open venues that attract older demographics.

Over the last two months, Australians have saved over $1.5 billion due to the closure of pokie venues, with many anti-gambling advocates believing now is the time to rid the country of pokie machines altogether.

According to statistics released in 2018, Australians gamble close to $11,000 per person

when averaged out across the entire population, making us the worst gamblers in the word. 

Despite the devastating effect that it has on individuals and families every year, gambling is still very much romanticized throughout Australian culture – highlighted by Victorian citizens receiving a public holiday due to a horse race.

Why Are Elderly People Prone To Gambling?

Sadly, responsible gambling organisations believe that much of the elderly population’s gambling habits stem from feeling socially isolated.

As people age, their social circles can become smaller due to mobility and transportation issues, or the simple fact that many friends from their age group may have passed away or be experiencing health problems.

The pressures of the current day working world also make it less likely for families to take the time to visit or interact with their elderly family members, and unlike many countries from around the world, Australians are less likely to have elderly relatives living with them.

Elderly people whose spouses have died, or who have recently retired, often try to fill the void left behind with gambling as a means to pass the free time and attain some mental stimulation.

While elderly Australians should have the right to enjoy gambling just as much as any other group of adults, it’s extremely unfortunate that one of the driving factors behind their penchant for gambling comes out of internal desperation for interaction.

Gaming venues understand the financial benefits of catering to an elderly clientele and many offer a number of incentives to make the experience more enticing for elderly patrons.

Cheap meals for the elderly, free entertainment that is geared towards the age group, and free shuttle bus transportation are just some of the ploys being utilised by gaming establishments around the country with the hope of bringing in more elderly people.

With a rapidly ageing population, there is a very high likelihood that the percentage of gamblers over the age of 65 will continue to increase in the coming years.

Unfortunately, current circumstances resulting from COVID-19 mean that large portions of the elderly population may be feeling more isolated than ever before – which for some, means more prone to gambling.

So if you have an elderly loved one or neighbour who is at risk of feeling isolated, now is the time to go ‘all in’ with your time and effort to ensure that they feel valued and meaningfully engaged.


If you or someone you know is concerned about their gambling, support is available, including phone support, online chat, and in-person counselling. Gambler’s Help offers free, confidential support 24/7  on 1800 858 858 or visit www.gamblershelp.com.au.

Photo Credit – iStock – mbbirdy

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