THE social and economic costs of problem gambling will be under the spotlight in a new state government inquiry.
Victorian gamblers lose $5billion a year on all gambling. They lost more than $25billion on pokies alone in the past decade.
The Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission (VCEC) will examine direct and indirect welfare, justice and health costs, along with costs to business and the impact of gambling-related crime.
Losses from pokies in the City of Maribyrnong were more than $56million last financial year, Melbourne's third-highest rate per adult ($985).
Losses are particularly high in Braybrook ($16.6million), the second-most-disadvantaged suburb in the state.
A recent UnitingCare study showed pokies players in the Maribyrnong federal electorate lose an average of a quarter of their income on the machines.
The Productivity Commission estimates problem gamblers account for about 40per cent of poker machine losses.
Public health advocate Charles Livingstone, of Monash University, said proving the cost of problem gambling had always been a difficult task and the gambling industry was often unwilling to accept findings. "We've have a long history of having inquiries and not a hell of a lot changes. The problem is, a lot of the costs are intangible."
VCEC will consult with responsible gambling and welfare organisations, health and community groups, the gambling industry, business and relevant government agencies.
Treasurer Kim Wells said the inquiry was promised at the 2010 election. "The inquiry will contribute to an important body of knowledge and better inform the community of the costs of problem gambling, not just to individuals but to families, businesses and government."
The state government stands accused of being dependent on the proceeds of gambling taxes, due to reach more than $1.8 billion this financial year. Gaming Minister Michael O'Brien said this revenue was often the focus of debate about gambling regulation, but more needed to be known about the economic costs of problem gambling.
"We know through involvement with the criminal justice system, mental health and social welfare services, that problem gambling imposes a significant cost on government and others in the community," Mr O'Brien said.
The final report is due by December 14.