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Domestic violence impacts should be considered when regulators make decisions about granting licenses for poker machines. AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Areas with more poker machines have higher rates of domestic violence

Our recently published research suggests a link between the number of poker machines in an area and levels of domestic violence.

We compared publicly available data on poker machine numbers with police-recorded domestic violence incidents in Victoria between 2005 and 2014. Specifically, we compared the number of pokies and pokie venues in each Victorian postcode to the number of “family violence incidents” recorded by the police, and the number of those incidents that led to a formal charge of assault.

Police-recorded domestic violence is associated with many other social indicators apart from poker machines. For that reason, we statistically adjusted for other local indicators. These included:

  • economic gender inequality;

  • social and economic disadvantage;

  • the proportion of people from an English-speaking background;

  • the average number of children per woman;

  • the proportion of residents who identify as Indigenous;

  • the median age; and

  • geographic remoteness.

What we found

We found a statistically significant correlation between poker machine density and police-recorded domestic violence rates among postcodes. This relationship existed even after accounting for the contextual factors listed above.

In terms of relative risk, the police recorded 20% fewer family violence incidents and 30% fewer domestic violence assaults when postcodes with no poker machines were compared with postcodes with at least 75 pokies per 10,000 people.

Similar patterns were evident when the number of poker machine venues was analysed instead of the number of poker machines.

Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

These correlations are stronger than we expected. However, it is important to note they account for only a small part of the variation in police-recorded domestic violence rates between postcodes.

We found a correlation between police-recorded domestic violence and poker machine accessibility. But we need to stress that we are not in a position to make strong claims about cause and effect. What we can say is there is more police-recorded violence in areas with more poker machines.

How it fits in to what we know

What our research suggests is the uneven provisioning of poker machines across Victoria may be contributing to the incidence of domestic violence in areas with many poker machines. This should perhaps not come as a surprise.

Previous research in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania has shown that more than half the people receiving problem gambling treatment have recent experience of domestic violence, either as survivors or perpetrators.

Nationally representative research from the US suggests that, compared to otherwise similar individuals, “pathological gamblers” are more than 20 times more likely to be violent to their spouse.

It may not merely be the case that those involved in abusive relationships become entangled with poker machines – although this is undoubtedly the case for many people. Rather, our study points toward the possibility that the increased provision of poker machines may lead to an increased risk of violence at the population level.

Our research did specifically explore the processes driving this relationship. We think a complex range of dynamics are likely to be involved. What is clear is that more poker machines in an area generally leads to more gambling and more problem gambling. And, as previous research suggests, a very substantial proportion of problem gamblers come to be involved in abusive relationships.

As such, our study suggests domestic violence impacts should be considered when regulators make decisions about granting licenses for poker machines.

We are not making the case that poker machines cause violence directly. Gender inequality is clearly the root cause of domestic violence. However, it is apparent from decades of research that many other factors are indirectly implicated in the population-level incidence of domestic violence. It appears poker machines may be part of the mix in Australia.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

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