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Poker machines a blight on rural life
By Rhett Watson - Daily Telegraph (NSW Metropolitan, 31 January 2009)

SOME of the biggest gamblers in the state live in rural areas.

State Government figures on poker machine spending reveal rural towns make up the bulk of areas considered most at risk.

New laws coming into force today restrict poker machine numbers in areas identified as having the highest usage but the least ability to afford it.

Every local government area in the state has been broken up into three bands, with band three considered the areas most at risk.

Rural areas make up 26 of the 37 areas in band three, with Murray, in the state's southwest, topping the list with $1007 spent each quarter, on average, by the 6941 residents.

"These new laws reduce poker machine numbers and stop poker machine increases in high-risk areas," Gaming and Racing Minister Kevin Greene said yesterday.

"The new Local Impact Assessment scheme protects high-density gaming areas from increases in poker machines while encouraging pubs and clubs in low-density areas to trade and forfeit poker machines so that overall numbers continue to fall."

Classifications will be reviewed every three months to ensure accuracy.

Salvation Army problem gambling services co-ordinator Gerard Byrne is not surprised country NSW is highly represented. "Rural areas are being hit hard (by problem gambling)," he said.

"In times of financial hardship people sometimes turn to gambling to win big. Salvation Army welfare in country areas has had an explosion in calls for help in recent years."

He believes the push to identify high-risk areas should only be the start of a problem gambling crackdown.

He wants to see similar get-tough measures for poker machine owners that have been placed on problem pubs.

"When it comes to alcohol we have identified hotspots and put measures in place to fix them such as limits on drinks and plastic cups," he said.

"Why can't we start to do stuff like that with gaming?" | End

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