Washing machines and libraries: What life is like in Indian farmers’ protest camps

In November, farmers infuriated by new agricultural reforms drove in tractor conveys from around India to set up multiple blockades at the city’s borders.

This camp at Ghazipur on the border between Delhi and the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh is one of three major temporary settlements on the outskirts of the capital. Almost everyone here is from neighboring Uttar Pradesh, but farmers at other camps have come from states including Haryana and Punjab — the latter is known as the “bread basket of India” due to its large food production industry.

Around 10,000 people — mainly men, both young and old — are stationed at Ghazipur alone, according to camp leaders, although the number fluctuates from day-to-day as farmers split their time between their homes and the camp. Many have family members minding their farms, allowing them to stay in the capital for long stretches.

The farmers face challenges — the cold winter temperatures, clashes with police and security forces, and restrictions on their internet access, among others. Despite that, farmers say they have no plans to leave until the government overturns the laws.

A makeshift town

Here at Ghazipur, the camp hums along like a well-oiled machine.

By night, the farmers who choose to stay asleep in brightly colored tents pitched on the road, or on mattresses underneath their tractors (and in hundreds of vans and trucks). By day, many help run the camp.

All their basic needs are catered for. There are portable toilets — although the stench makes it unpleasant to get too close. There’s also a supply store which has plastic crates of shampoo sachets and tissues — these supplies, like all those in the camp, were donated either by farmers or supporters of the farmers’ cause.

Water is brought in from nearby civic stations. Jagjeet Singh, a 26-year-old from Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, uses his tractor to bring back 4,000 liter (1,057 gallon) tanks of water each day (he brings in about 10 to 12 such tanks a day) that can be used for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Some men stand by the tank washing the grimy black mud from the wet road off their shoes and legs.

Meals are cooked over a small gas fire in a cast iron pan held up by fire-blackened bricks, and provided for free from inside of a tent that’s been constructed from bamboo poles and plastic. A farmer wearing blue medical gloves scoops pakora — a kind of spiced fritter — into bowls for farmers who are wrapped in scarves, jackets and hats to brave against Delhi’s winter chill. Nearby, cauliflower and potatoes burst out of burlap sacks.

A farmer gives out food at the camp in Ghazipur, on February 4, 2021.

Kuldeep Singh, a 36-year-old farmer, helps to prepare the meals. He came here over 60 days ago. Like many others, his family are helping cover his work back home, although he goes back and forth between the camp and his farm.

“Be it the work back home or the camp, both are equally important,” he said.

Himanshi Rana, a 20-year-old volunteer operating the camp’s makeshift medical center, has also been here for more than two months. She helps treat people’s diseases, and tended to farmers who were hit by tear gas during violent demonstrations on January 26 — India’s Republic Day. On that day, thousands of protesters stormed New Delhi’s historic Red Fort as police used tear gas and batons against the demonstrators. One protester died, although protesters and police disagree over the cause of death.
Himanshi Rana at the medical tent in Ghazipur on the outskirts of New Delhi, on February 4, 2021.

“My father is a farmer, I am a farmer’s daughter. Me being here is inevitable,” she said. “We are here to serve the people … we will stay put until the government agrees to the demands.”

One thing the protesters are not asking for are face masks. Despite India reporting the most coronavirus cases of any country in the world bar the United States, no farmers at Ghazipur are wearing face coverings.

Farmers at Ghazipur say they’re not worried about coronavirus — according to Rana, they believe that they have strong immunity from their physical labor, meaning they’re not scared of catching it.

What life is like in the camps

The mood of the camp is joyful, more like a festival than a demonstration.

The camp itself is a kind of protest — the farmers are blocking the road to help bring awareness to their cause. It’s also the base for demonstrations, including the rally that turned violent on Republic Day.

For many, there are hours of downtime when they’re not helping run the camp or holding demonstrations. A group of men sit in a circle smoking hookah pipes, while others play cards on a blanket. More than a dozen men sit or stand on a red tractor, playing a pro-farmer song from the speakers as they ride through the camp. There’s a library for the youngsters that includes books on revolutions in multiple languages.

Every now and again, a group breaks into a chant. “We’ll be here until the government gives in!”

As the water collector Jagjeet Singh puts it: “I don’t feel like I am away from home.”

Farmers in Ghazipur gather fresh fruit from the back of a supply truck, on February 4, 2021.

And there are people besides the protesters, too. Young children dash through the camp, trying to scavenge things to sell elsewhere. Vendors from nearby villages spread out pro-farmer badges on blankets and curious onlookers from nearby areas come to see what’s going on.

But all this belies the serious reason why they’re there — that for many this is a matter of life or death.

Farmers say the new laws aimed at bringing more market freedom to the industry will make it easier for corporations to exploit agricultural workers — and leave them struggling to meet the minimum price that they were guaranteed for certain crops under the previous rules.

And while the mood within the camp is calm and relaxed, there’s a constant reminder that not everyone supports the farmers’ fight.

Down time in Ghazipur as farmers gather together outside of a makeshift tent, on February 4, 2021.

Large barricades erected by the police and topped with barbed wire stand a few hundred meters from the hubbub of camp life, hemming the farmers in and keeping them from encroaching any closer to the center of Delhi. Security forces line the sides of the camp, keeping watch for any trouble, although they have not tried to clear the camp — likely because it would be politically unpopular.

The farmers say the barricades make them seem like outsiders — like they are foreigners in their own land who don’t belong here.

“The government is treating us like we are Chinese, sitting on the other side of the fence,” Kuldeep Singh said, referring to the tense border dispute currently taking place between India and China in the Himalayas.

Difficulty for protesters

As the months have worn on, protesting has become harder.

The winter temperatures have dropped to below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Farenheit) at night. And tensions have ramped up during the protests. Last week, internet access was blocked in several districts of a state bordering India’s capital following violent clashes between police and farmers there protesting the controversial agricultural reforms.

The government has been criticized not only for the controversial farm laws themselves, but also how it has handled the demonstrations. At the end of January, India’s main opposition party, the Congress Party, and 15 other opposition parties, said Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party have been “arrogant, adamant and undemocratic in their response.”

“(Hundreds and thousands) of farmers have been … braving biting cold and heavy rain for the last 64 days for their rights and justice,” they wrote in a joint statement. “The government remains unmoved and has responded with water cannons, tear gas and lathi charges. Every effort has been made to discredit a legitimate mass movement through government sponsored disinformation campaign.”

According to Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of protesting farmers, at least 147 farmers have died during the course of the monthslong protests from a range of causes, including suicide, road accidents and exposure to cold weather. Authorities have not given an official figure on protester deaths.

Nevertheless, farmers are continuing to arrive at the camps, Samyukta Kisan Morcha said earlier this week.

“Typically these village groups work against each other but this time they have all united for the collective fight,” said Paramjeet Singh Katyal, a spokesperson for Samyukta Kisan Morcha.

What happens next

Protests are fairly common in India, the world’s largest democracy. And it’s not the first time that large protests have rocked the country. In 2019, India’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gave Indian citizenship to immigrants from three neighboring countries, but not if they are Muslim, prompting mass demonstrations.

But these protests are a particular challenge for Modi.

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for 58% of India’s 1.3 billion population, making farmers the biggest voter block in the country. Angering the farmers could lose Modi a significant chunk of votes at the next general election in 2024. Modi and his government continue to insist that they are supporting farmers, and called the new laws as a “watershed moment” which will ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector. Besides calling the move long overdue, Modi has not said why he opted to introduce these measures during the pandemic, which has caused India to suffer its first recession in decades.

In a statement issued this week, the Indian government said that the protests “must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the ongoing efforts of the government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse,” and that certain measures, such as the temporary internet block, were “undertaken to prevent further violence.”

The camps have also created a headache for nearby commuters and trucks bringing food into Delhi — people who would have traveled on the expressway at Ghazipur are forced to take different routes, sometimes doubling their travel time.

But the farmers are showing no interest in backing down.

A farmer sports a protest slogan meaning "I love farmers" at a protest camp in Ghazipur, on February 4, 2021.

Rounds of talks have failed to make any headway. Although the Supreme Court put three contentious farm orders on hold last month and ordered the formation of a four-member mediation committee to help the parties negotiate, farmers’ leaders have rejected any court-appointed mediation committee.

Last month, central government offered to suspend the laws for 1.5 years — but to farmers, all of this is not far enough.

Sanjit Baliyan, 25, has been at the camp for over a month, working at the supply tent. He points out that farmers have done a lot for Modi’s government, only for Modi to introduce a law that removes any minimum prices for their stocks.

“We haven’t spoken against the government for last seven years. But, if we are at receiving end, we will have to speak,” he said.

Some, like 50-year-old farmer Babu Ram, want the protests to end. “A prolonged protest is neither good for the farmers nor for the government. The protest, if it’s stretched, will create a ruckus.”

But he added: “This protest will only end once the government agrees to our demands … we have to stay here till the end.”

While Kuldeep Singh agrees that there’s hardship — farmers’ households have cut their own consumption to contribute to the protest camps — he says farmers will only leave once the laws are repealed. “We will sit here for the next three years. We will sit till the elections, till the laws are scrapped.”

Jouranlist Rishabh Pratap and Esha Mitra contributed to this story from New Delhi.

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Online Platforms Have Become Chaos Machines. Can We Rein Them In?

In January, a Reddit message board called r/WallStreetBets sent the stock of a beleaguered video-game retailer, GameStop, skyrocketing, costing some Wall Street hedge funds billions of dollars. Wild as the story of retail traders rocking markets may be, we’ve seen this kind of thing happen before: The saga is just the latest chaotic consequence of people’s ability to communicate and coordinate, en masse, on online platforms. Its recent precedents vary dramatically, from the relatively benign (thousands of teens coordinating on TikTok to inflate attendance expectations for a Trump rally, for example) to the malignant (insurrectionists using the platforms Gab and Parler to plan and execute their attack on the U.S. Capitol). It’s a story that we’ll likely see repeated in new ways, with increasing regularity, from here on out.

The question now is: How do we — as citizens, corporations, and governments — responsibly wield the burgeoning power of online platforms and reckon with their real-life consequences?

To try to answer this question, I spoke with Sinan Aral, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and author of The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health—and How we Must Adapt, about how this latest story fits into the emerging trend of unwieldy and deeply consequential activity on online platforms.

What would it mean to regain control over online platforms?

We’ve seen a lot of the peril that can come from social media — especially recently. But we’ve also seen a tremendous amount of promise. So, I like to think of the question as, “How are we going to achieve the promise of social media and avoid the perils?”

We have four levers at our disposal, in my opinion: money, code, norms, and laws.

By money I mean the platforms’ business models, which provide the incentives for user behavior, advertiser behavior, and investor behavior.

Code is the design of the platforms and the algorithms that underlie them, whether it’s newsfeed algorithms or “people you may know” algorithms and so on.

Norms are the real-world social behaviors around the platforms. How do people actually use this stuff?

And then laws, which encompass everything from antitrust to Section 230 to privacy legislation to the modernization of SEC guidelines.

And I do think that we can steer this technology towards good and away from bad. But in order to do that, we really need to dig into the science of social media and pull those levers accordingly.

In your book, which was published last September, you predicted an event like the attack on the Capitol on January 6th. You also described the likelihood of economic disruption not unlike what we saw last week with the GameStop story. Having thought about the disruptive potential of social media for some time, what are your impressions of the events of January 2021?

I think we’re witnessing, in real time, society grappling with the emergence of social media as a very powerful force. Experts who have been studying this stuff have been warning for months, if not years, that these types of disturbances could happen as a result of online platforms. And this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen social media activity manifest in a real-world threat to democracies or disruption of an economy. But the scale, publicity, and extremity of these recent events feels new in the U.S.

What disruptive potential of online platforms are you most concerned about in the near future?

Well, the third element of the trifecta in my book’s subtitle is public health. I think that’s relevant to the current moment of the pandemic because vaccine hesitancy is proliferated by misinformation. And we’re already starting to see some of that now. We saw anti-vaccine protesters fueled by social media misinformation shut down the vaccination site at Dodger Stadium a few days ago — and this is just a replay of what happened with measles in 2018 and 2019. I’m sincerely hoping that we don’t see more of these kinds of events come to pass.

This month, we’ve seen platforms begin to self-regulate much more aggressively. Twitter and Facebook and other platforms banned former President Trump. Discord briefly banned r/WallStreetBets and the trading platform Robinhood has restricted trades on GameStop, AMC, and Blackberry. What do you make of these attempts?

The events are certainly different in important ways, but both raise a fundamental question about content moderation. We’ve seen historically that platforms begin with a mostly hands-off policy. But in the past year or so, we’re starting to see public pressure mounting — and the specter of regulation rearing its head. We’ve got the antitrust case against Facebook. We’ve got a lot of talk about reform or repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. And in the face of that kind of pressure, as well as more and more evidence that platforms are having an effect on real-world behaviors in ways that society doesn’t want to see, these companies are starting to make more aggressive moves to moderate content, to ban accounts that violated their policies and, and to draw the lines.

How and where do they draw the lines?

That’s the big question. It ultimately comes down to the difference between free speech and harmful speech, whether it’s around politics or financial information. There are some obvious breaches — we don’t want coordinated attempts to kidnap and kill the governor of Michigan, or livestreams of mass murders on these platforms, for example. Those kinds of things are clearly harmful and easier to moderate. But when we’re talking about kinds of communications that are technically legal, but potentially harmful, those are much trickier to categorize and moderate if you’re a platform.

So, who should make those calls? Should it come down to platforms self-policing or government regulation?

Well, it’s important to note that President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, said that she would favor the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration leading a reform of Section 230. But in my opinion, agencies drawing the lines between harmful speech and free speech is not a great idea, because they’re run by political appointees.

The right place to do that is in Congress — the most representative, deliberative body we have — and in the courts, in case law.

What we saw happen on Reddit last week — the coordinated effort of an online community to boost the value of certain stocks — doesn’t only raise questions about what kind of discourse is allowed on platforms. It also raises important questions about the future of financial rules and regulations. What kind of response do you think this is going to trigger?

I expect the SEC will conduct an investigation of these market moves that we saw this week. We’ve seen the SEC investigate Lidingo Holdings and DreamTeam for creating market-manipulative social media posts back in 2014. The same type of investigation could certainly happen here.

We don’t yet know enough about the GameStop situation. For example, it’s not clear the David vs. Goliath story is exactly right. Who exactly was in this crowd? Were they tied to financial institutions with a stake? There were hedge funds like BlackRock and private individuals like Ryan Cohen, the former Chewy.com CEO, who made a lot of money. That’s not illegal, but new paths to economic instability have been revealed. For example, if we thought Russia found it productive to disrupt our democracy through social media manipulation, what do you think they are thinking, after GameStop, about the prospect of disrupting our economy with a similar strategy? We need to know more.

What outcomes of this story will matter most?

Well, I think we saw the GameStop thing already expand very rapidly beyond one stock — to AMC and then to Blackberry — to become sort of a social movement, right? So, whether this continues to happen or not depends on a couple of things. Number one, who gets burned financially? Number two, what kind of regulatory response do we see from the SEC? Those outcomes will dictate what happens next.

What do you think is an underrated takeaway of the GameStop story that you think people should pay attention to?

I think it’s important for people to realize that when it comes to markets, social media doesn’t operate in isolation. Of course, social media is a crowdsourcing mechanism where lots of people can coordinate their behavior, or spread misinformation, or decide to buy and sell stocks, etc. But it’s coupled to very sophisticated systems that are analyzing the sentiment on platforms and linking that sentiment to automated trading algorithms, as well as recommendations to institutional investors to buy or sell stocks. And so there’s a feedback loop. Institutional investors have plugged their sensing systems into the crowd. This ends up complicating the story; it’s not two systems at odds with each other, it’s actually one big system getting tangled.

Thank you for dropping by My Local Pages and checking this article on World Business International and Political news titled “Online Platforms Have Become Chaos Machines. Can We Rein Them In?”. This news article was presented by MyLocalPages as part of our news aggregator services.

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Tech expert reveals Ga. voting machines connected to Chinese vendor

Voters cast their ballots at Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia. (Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 9:30 AM PT – Friday, January 1, 2021

Just days ahead of the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, a tech expert unveiled key vulnerabilities in the peach state’s voting machines.

During a Thursday livestream, inventor Jovan Pulitzer revealed dominion machines set to be used in the key election seem to be connected to a vendor in China.

This followed Pulitzer’s Wednesday testimony before the Georgia Senate Judiciary subcommittee when he demonstrated his ability to connect a dominion voting machine to the internet. This came despite claims by state election officials that the electronic voting machines do not connect to the web.

“At this very moment at a polling location in the county, not only do we now have access through the devices to the poll pad, the system, but we are in,” Pulitzer stated.

The inventor noted this as a key design flaw which opens up the machines to tampering efforts by malicious actors.

Pulitzer announced he will bring forward two reports on his findings in the coming days.

MORE NEWS: Ariz. Citizens Hold Press Conference On Voter Fraud

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POTUS has authority to appoint special counsel and seize machines

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 6:15 AM PT – Friday, December 25, 2020

As concern over election integrity continues, some are raising the question as to why President Trump does not take federal action to aid in the investigation.

One America’s Christina Bobb sat down with former Defense Department official Andrew Knaggs to discuss the President’s options.

MORE NEWS: President Trump issues 26 new pardons

The post POTUS has authority to appoint special counsel and seize machines first appeared on One America News Network.

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Giuliani: Dominion machines set to give Biden 2-5% ‘lead’

LANSING, MI – DECEMBER 02: U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani waits to testify before the Michigan House Oversight Committee on December 2, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 5:30 PM PT – Thursday, December 24, 2020

According to attorney Rudy Giuliani, recent forensic audits found Dominion Voting Machines were programmed to give Joe Biden an automatic advantage over any number of votes for the President.

“We believe from what we saw in Michigan that the machines have an inaccurate vote,” Giuliani said on the Bernie and Sid radio show. “That they’re programmed to give Biden somewhere between a 2 percent and 5 percent advantage.”

The President’s attorney also pointed out that Democrat officials continue to resist subpoenas by state lawmakers to allow a broader examination of voting machines. Giuliani claimed Democrats are obviously hiding the evidence of voter fraud.

“If she’s so confident that we’re so wrong, I don’t understand why [she] won’t let us examine the machines,” Giuliani said. “We won’t do any damage to them, you can watch us, it’s a bunch of military people who would do it… So we’re gonna pursue that, we’re also doing the same thing in Arizona.”

Giuliani also added illegitimate votes will be challenged on Capitol Hill on January 6 amid ongoing litigation in key states.

MORE NEWS: President Trump Urges Supporters To Contact Legislators, Demand They Investigate Election Fraud

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Japanese Libraries Add UV Light Book Sterilization Machines for Covid-19 – Jewish Business News

Japanese Libraries Add UV Light Book Sterilization Machines for Covid-19

If you take books out of a Japanese library Covid-19 might not be a problem.

Japanese News Story Youtube Clip

Covid-19 has wrecked havoc on the world, both financially and socially. One type of place hit especially hard are libraries because they cannot be sure if the books returned do not have any Corona Virus remnants left on their pages. But now Japanese libraries are using an ultra violet light solution.

Most libraries around the world, when they reopened, implemented quarantine policies on returned books. To be safe they waited at least three days before putting returned books back on the shelves. And the librarians still need to be concerned about touching the books themselves. While patrons must be concerned about all of the people who had come and gone and touched books which they did not take out.


Now The Japan Times reports on how Japan’s libraries have a better way to both get books back into circulation faster and to allay people’s concerns about touching the books on the shelves. They are putting a machine that sterilizes books using ultraviolet light at the take out desks. The device only takes 30 seconds to work, and it also cleans books of dust.

Remember when President Trump suggested that the U.S. Government should look into using UV light to sterilize the inside of people’s bodies from the Corona Virus? Well in the real world such tech could some day be used to sterilize all surfaces and objects which would have greatly reduced the spread of Covid-19 if we had already had it.

Eriko Isozaki, who comes to the library weekly to borrow children’s books, told Reuters that her children were amused by the device.“I’m not sure how effective this is, but I think it’s better than nothing,” she said.

77-year-old Yasuhito Kobayashi said, “I feel relieved because it sterilizes the books… but I’m not sure if it’s actually effective.”

Read more about: Corona Virus, COVID-19

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Trump legal team to probe Mich. Dominion voting machines

President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks during a Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee public hearing Wednesday at the Wyndham Gettysburg Hotel to discuss 2020 election issues and irregularities. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 3:50 PM PT – Sunday, December 5, 2020

A Michigan judge approved a probe into potential voting machine fraud in the Great Lake State.

The Trump legal team is reviewing Dominion voting machines in Michigan after a state judge issued a decision to allow them to. The order was issued on Friday and it permits forensic photos to be taken from the 22 precinct tabulators in Antrim County.

Melissa Carone, who was working for Dominion Voting Services, speaks in front of the Michigan House Oversight Committee in Lansing, Michigan on December 2, 2020. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, praised the decision and said that allowing the forensic review is a “big win for honest elections.”

On Sunday, Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis spoke on the move. She said the team will spend several hours inspecting the machines and gathering data.

Rudy Giuliani, personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump, looks at documents as he appears before the Michigan House Oversight Committee in Lansing, Michigan on December 2, 2020. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Local authorities confirmed the machines in question are the same as the ones that were used in the presidential election on November 3.

The machines were originally brought into question by a voter who claimed ballots were damaged during a recent recount of a marijuana proposal vote.

A similar examination recently occurred in Georgia as President Trump has raised concerns of widespread voter fraud, which rigged the elections.

MORE NEWS: Calif. Father Arrested In Death Investigation Of Two Kids

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Voting Machines in Georgia County Back up After ‘Glitch’

Voting machines, which went down countywide in Georgia’s Spalding County Tuesday morning due to what officials described as a “glitch,” are back up and operating.

Spalding County Elections Supervisor Marcia Ridley originally confirmed the “glitch” to Channel 2 Action News. According to the outlet, “Ridley said she is not sure when the glitch will be fixed but urged everyone to be patient and assured that they will be able to vote.”

The Spalding County Sheriff’s Office released an update on the issue Tuesday morning, reporting that paper ballots would be used at all locations until the issue was resolved:

Shortly after, the county confirmed that machines in each precinct are “now up and running as they should be.”

“Officials say workers in Spalding County incorrectly loaded information onto the poll pads Tuesday morning so none of the machines were working,” the WSB-TV reported.

President Trump won Spalding County in 2016 by over 60 percent.

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Binge gambling the next next fear when poker machines reboot after COVID-19 gaming shutdown

Victorian gamblers have saved $1.3 billion in poker machine losses since the machines were switched off due to COVID-19.

Club gaming rooms and TAB outlets in Victoria were closed on March 23, when coronavirus restrictions were introduced, and they are likely to remain closed until at least November.

Anti-gaming groups say the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to help problem gamblers stay off the poker machines when venues reopen.

“Although some people have appreciated being able to take the break, a lot of people are looking forward to getting back,” said Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation principal clinical advisor Tony Clarkson.

Tony Clarkson says there is likely to be an increase in player losses once pokies venues reopen.(ABC News)

He said in New South Wales there had been an 8 per cent increase in poker machine losses since venues reopened, and in Queensland, losses had increased by 32 per cent.

“People can certainly get some benefit from taking a break, stopping and thinking about their gambling behaviour, having a think about what role gambling plays in their life, and what benefits they might have achieved or accrued from the lockdown period when they weren’t able to gamble,” Mr Clarkson said.

Surge in online gaming

In Gippsland alone, gamblers have saved $64 million since coronavirus restrictions forced the closure of gaming venues.

At the Sale Greyhound Club, 80 poker machines sit idle.

The operators have rearranged the gaming room to put all poker machines 1.5 metres apart to meet social distancing rules, but general manager Peter Johnston fears it could be Christmas before they are allowed to reopen.

“There’s a lot of Chinese whispers within the industry at the moment that it will be a 10:00pm close for venues,” Mr Johnston said.

“We’re also hearing that even venues that have separated machines, that every second machine is going to have to be turned off.

“So in our case, 80 machines will turn into 31 machines, so that’s going to be an issue for us long term as well.

Poker machines shut down at Sale Greyhound Club
Poker machines have been closed in Victoria since March 23, due to coronavirus restrictions.(ABC Gippsland: Kellie Lazzaro)

He said there had been a significant surge in online gaming, including greyhound betting, as poker machine players turned to alternative forms of gambling.

“The poker machine industry is a really controlled environment with limits on what you can spend and how long you can spend in a venue,” Mr Johnston said.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Government said venues in metro Melbourne and regional areas will potentially reopen with seated venues and patron caps when Victoria moves from the third step to the last step in the reopening plan — if there are no new cases for 14 days as directed by the Chief Health Officer.

“We’re working hard to minimise the risk of gambling harm with plans underway to ensure the reopening of gaming in Victoria can be achieved safely, both from a health and a gambling harm perspective,” the spokeswoman said.

Good time for reforms, say anti-gaming group

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has called on the Victorian Government to reduce the operating hours of poker machine venues and introduce a $1 maximum bet when COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

“We know we’re stuck with them, but at least cut down the hours so that we don’t go back to where we were before the pandemic,” alliance spokeswoman and reformed gambler Carolyn Crawford said.

In 2016, at the age of 64, Ms Crawford was sentenced to prison for stealing money from her employer to pay for her gambling addiction.

“I was lucky that I have a great counsellor who helped me through the feeling of wanting to go to the pokies again, even after 18 months in prison,” she said.

Ms Crawford said the shutdown may have helped some people realise they need help, but others would be eagerly awaiting venues to reopen.

Latrobe Community Health Service (LCHS) is offering free and confidential help and advice, including therapeutic counselling and financial counselling for people who have gambling debts.

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