Gambling is Western Sydney’s silent epidemic, new analysis finds

With gambling reform shaping up as a key NSW election issue, new analysis sheds light on the extent of the gambling epidemic in Western Sydney, with the region enduring 63 per cent of Sydney’s electronic gaming machine losses despite only containing 52 per cent of its population.

Regional thinktank, the Centre for Western Sydney based at Western Sydney University, has released its issues paper, Paying the Price: Gambling related harm in Western Sydney. It highlights just how much Western Sydney is hit disproportionately hard by gambling-related harm.

Even more alarmingly, a high percentage of these losses are sustained in a small number of places, with Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Cumberland accounting for a third of Sydney’s electronic gaming machine losses.

This is despite the fact that these three LGAs in the inner ring of Western Sydney contain only 17 per cent of Sydney’s population.

The issues paper highlights a ‘casino on every corner’ – a high prevalence of electronic gaming machines across the region, serving as a critical enabler for the high rates of gambling-related harm and compounding the layers of vulnerability that already exists across these communities.

The report’s analysis of the latest ABS Census data and data from Liquor and Gaming NSW reveals:

  • There is one Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) for every 105 people in Western Sydney, compared to one EGM per 113 people in the rest of Sydney.
  • Fairfield has the lowest amount of people per EGM – 54 people – more than half the regional average. Additionally, Canterbury-Bankstown, Hawkesbury, Penrith, Cumberland and Campbelltown LGAs had lower numbers of people per EGM than the regional average. This compares with 124 people per EGM in Randwick-Woollahra, and 122 people per EGM in Sutherland.
  • Canterbury-Bankstown LGA had the highest daily electronic gaming machine losses – $1.8 million – followed by $1.7 million in Fairfield and $1.2 million in Cumberland. This compares with $210,000 in daily losses in Canada Bay, Hunters Hill and Lane Cove, and $170,000 in daily losses in Mosman and North Sydney.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic’s lockdowns saw a short-lived decrease in electronic gaming machine losses in Sydney, but latest figures from Liquor and Gaming NSW shows that losses have now surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

Report author, Mr Tom Nance, said there is no single reason for the extraordinarily high rates of losses and gambling-related harm in Western Sydney – rather, it is a confluence of intersecting factors.

“Multiple policy and planning decisions have resulted in the extreme oversaturation of electronic gaming machines in some parts of Western Sydney,” said Mr Nance.

“Most critically, we see a clear correlation between the levels of socio-economic disadvantage and susceptibility to gambling-related harm. This disadvantage is particularly prevalent in LGAs which are regarded as the frontlines of gambling-related harm in Western Sydney.”

Western Sydney has higher rates of residents who do not hold any formal qualification compared to the rest of Sydney. The majority of LGAs in Western Sydney also have a lower median household income compared with Greater Sydney, with Fairfield’s median household income at $1,390, followed by Canterbury-Bankstown at $1,556 and Cumberland at $1,678.

Western Sydney’s high levels of cultural diversity – a major asset to the region in so many ways – can also be a contributing factor to gambling-related harm.

“There are a range of factors experienced by diverse populations which increase their vulnerability to gambling-related harm. These include experiences of migration and acculturation, access to employment, cultural attitudes towards help-seeking behaviours and the inaccessibility of appropriate resources and support."

Mr Nance said tackling gambling-related harm is complex. Tax revenue from EGMs nets the state over $2 billion a year and accounts for up to 80 per cent of pubs’ and clubs’ revenue, however the Government must consider the wider economic impacts beyond just tax and revenue losses.

“There is a sense from advocates that this is a once in a generation opportunity to make change. There is unprecedented pressure on both sides of politics to demonstrate they are serious about addressing gambling-related harm in the community,” said Mr Nance.

“Led by community-based organisations with a proven track record of addressing gambling-related harm in the community, grassroots campaigns have emerged as a key voice for gambling reform. However it cannot be addressed by community alone – it will take a concerted effort from the NSW Government and industry peak bodies to make a meaningful impact.”

Policy reforms set out by gambling harm advocates for consideration in the lead up to the NSW election include introducing a cashless gaming card with the ability to set limits, restrictions on the operating times of electronic gaming machines and introducing a strong self-exclusion system.

To view the Centre for Western Sydney’s Paying the Price: Gambling related harm in Western Sydney issues paper, visit the web page (opens in a new window).


6 February 2023

Media Unit